IAU Name Origins
IAU Name Origins
Names on the Moon, like those on a road map, have been placed there primarily for purposes of "navigation," and like those on a road map they have been added to over the years, and sometimes changed. It is natural to be curious who first put the current names there, what they signified to the name giver, and, if there were earlier names for the same thing, what they were.
For names introduced in the original IAU nomenclature of Blagg and Müller, the original "authority" using each name (the "inventor" of the name, including the specific letters used for satellite features) is cited (generally meaning the first person to use that name for that feature, although in a few cases the name was originally used for a different feature). No attempt was made to determine what the name signified to the name giver. That work was taken up, unofficially, by the BAA, resulting in their Who's Who in the Moon (1938).
The modern day on-line IAU Planetary Gazetteer contains what it calls "Origin" and "Reference" fields, originally intended to provide a scholarly justification for the IAU-adopted spellings of names used on planetary bodies. In preparing the lunar section of the Gazetteer a complication arose because most the names were ones whose usage long pre-dated the IAU. As a result, the earliest editions of the Gazetteer gave no "Reference" for the spellings, but in the "Origin" field attempted to explain the significance of the name -- usually by listing a historic personage the name was assumed to honor. The source of this "Origin" information is not indicated, but probably relied heavily on the BAA's conclusions in Who's Who in the Moon. In later editions, including the current on-line database, the "Reference" field is sometimes used to indicate a source of the historical information, and sometimes to indicate (not always correctly) an IAU Transactions in which the name appeared.
To the extent that the IAU Nomenclature is intended to honor specific people (this is not its primary role), the Gazetteer should be taken as the authoritative reference for what the current names signify.
- The "Nomenclature" sections of the individual feature pages in the Wiki give "Named for..." information based initially on the citations in the on-line IAU Planetary Gazetteer as of 2006. However, in forming the links, the information listed there has sometimes been modified (probably unwisely, by, for example, modifying the spelling or the initials used in the name). Also, the information published in the Gazetteer can change without notice. Therefore, it is wise to check that the information matches the current citation by doing a name search in the on-line Gazetteer.
- The practice of publishing clear biographical references along with new proposed names began with Menzel, 1971. Prior to that a certain element of guesswork is involved in determining who first used a name, and what it signified to them.
- Even after 1971, many new names were published in IAU Transactions XVB (1973) without any indication of the person or persons being honored by them. Biographical information for these was provided in early print editions of the (then unofficial) IAU Planetary Gazetteer, but it is not known what that was based on.
- The oldest names in current use on the Moon come from Hevelius and Riccioli.
- Hevelius' names had geographic origins which are explained in the gazetteer of names that he provided.
- Riccioli drew his lunar names from a long chronology of persons connected to astronomy printed in an earlier section of his book. The persons honored in his lunar list can usually be guessed from the longer chronology.
- The features to which the names were attached are often ambiguous in both these works.
- Many of Hevelius and Riccioli's names assumed more definite associations with specific features in the map of Tobias Mayer, as published in 1775.
- New names were added by Schröter (1791, 1802), Neison (1876) and Schmidt (1878), among others. The persons being honored are sometimes mentioned in their texts, but not always in a systematic way. Beer and Mädler (1834), a major source of modern lunar names, although careful to correlate their names with earlier lists, do not appear to explain the significance of the new names they added. The same is probably true to the new names added by Hell and seems to be true of most added by the British Association (Birt and Lee), although occassional biographical references can be found.
Possible Errors in the Gazetteer
- Astronomical historian Robert Garfinkle has discovered a number of possible mis-attributions in the original IAU Planetary Gazetteer:
- The name Kinau honored a different person than the one originally listed.
- Riccioli may have intended to honor two persons with the name Riccius, rather than the single one originally listed.
- Note, however, that it seems to have been very rare for early name-givers to have had multiple honorees in mind for a single feature. Where confusion might arise, Riccioli was generally careful to make clear which person he had in mind (for example, "Dionysius Exiguus" for one crater and "S. Dionysius Aerop." for another). He also made his intention to honor more than one person explicitly clear in the case of the name Lilius, even though the Gazetteer, again, recognizes only one.
- The name Rosse may have been intended to honor primarily the son of the more famous person still listed as the honoree in the "Origin" field of the Gazetteer.
- Astronomical historian Wolfgang Dick has noted that the BAA's identification of Gärtner as honoring an obscure German mineralogist is probably incorrect.
- Additional problems with the identification of Riccioli's honorees may exist. For example, there seem to be two Fabricius's (and probably other names) in his Chronology, but the Gazetteer notes only one.
- As mentioned, later name-givers were often even less explicit about who they were honoring. For example, it would seem Schröter's Bernoulli could have been one (or more) of many Bernoulli's, yet the BAA selected two and the IAU assumes they were right. Similarly, the IAU accepts the BAA's conclusion that Beer and Mädler's Franklin was the American patriot, when the British polar explorer seems equally, if not more, likely.
- Sometimes clear intentions were overlooked by the BAA. For example, Schmidt explicitly stated that his name Opelt was intended to honor the two men, father and son, who helped him prepare Lohrmann's charts for publication, yet (at least as of Summer 2010) the Gazetteer (following the BAA) lists only the father. Again naming a single feature for more than one person with same last names seems to have been the exception to the rule; although Schmidt also did this with his proposed name Barth. Until the IAU began this practice in 1970-1971, the name of the son (or other relative) would normally have been given to another feature with a distinguishing first initial.