Friday, April 19, 2013

An Etymological Voyage Through The Solar System: Part 1

If you remember our post on polytheism and the days of the week, then you know that our day-to-day lives are dominated by Latin, Greek and Norse mythology. The same can be said for the night sky.

The route of our linguistic trip.
Traditionally, the shining objects in the night sky were so bright and wondrous that the only thing they could be were deities. Thus several of the brightest objects, which also tend to be the closest, were named as gods, which has stuck with us to this day. Today and tomorrow we'll be travelling through the linguistic past and etymology of the Solar System and the gods who share their names. Let's start at the centre with...

The Sun

The name for the brightest star in our sky, at least during the day, came from the Old English Sunne via the Germanic Pagan god, Sól or Sunna. The Latin name for the sun, Sol, is where we get the name Solar System.


The first planet in our solar system is named for the Roman god of the same name. Though Mercurius, to use his Latin name, was the guide for souls on their way to the underworld, he also dabbled in being the god of financial gain, poetry, eloquence, luck, fortune and thievery. A real jack-of-all-trades. Just watch him whizzing around the night sky. He certainly keeps himself busy.

There's a reason Venus is the goddess of beauty.

The goddess of love and the brightest object in the night sky, Venus was the epitome of beauty and pretty much the most powerful sex symbol in human history. She also represented fertility and prosperity, which anyone who has children will tell you are complete opposites.


Our home planet, also known as Terra and Gaia. The word earth in reference to the soil and ground is lower case but should remain capitalised as Earth when referring to the planet, at least in English. Terra, the Latin name for the planet, gives us derivatives such as terrestrial, which most of us should be, and extraterrestrial for those not from earth, as in our short mate with the glowing finger, E.T.

The name Gaia refers to the Greek goddess of the Earth and is often used when referring to the planet as a spiritual living being. If you're thinking about leaving the office, growing your hair and making flower necklaces, get ready to start hearing your new friends call the planet Gaia.

The Moon

A moon is technically a natural satellite, something that orbits a planet but wasn't put up there by us. The Moon is the closest object to Earth and thus, follows the same rules on capitalisation as Earth. In lower case, moon should refer to a natural satellite, while upper case Moon should refer to our moon, or Luna, as she is also called.

The word moon came from moone, which has its roots in the Old English word mōna. Its Latin name, Luna, gives us, much like the Sun and the Earth, the adjective lunar. The less common Ancient Greek word selenic, another adjective, may also be used. Selenic comes from the Ancient Greek name for the Moon, Selene, or Σελήνη when using the Greek alphabet.

Tomorrow we'll pick up where we left off as it's time for a rest stop. We've covered almost 250,000,000 km and we need to use the bathroom. Next stop, Mars!

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