Recently, I have encountered two different accounts explaining the origins of the name "barbituric acid". Both accounts do mention that the name of this compound was given by the famous organic chemist Adolf von Baeyer. Li mentions that von Baeyer named the compound after his girlfriend at the time, with the name Barbara$^{1}$. Quin & Tyrell, on the other hand, informs that von Baeyer named the compound after the patron saint of artilleryman, St. Barbara$^{2}$. This is a seemingly trivial question but I'm genuinely just curious.


  1. Li, J. J. Name Reactions, 3rd ed.; Springer: Heidelberg 2006; p. 15.

  2. Quin L. D.; Tyrell, J. A.; Fundamentals of Heterocyclic Chemistry: Importance in Nature and in the Synthesis of Pharmaceuticals. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, New Jersey 2010; p. 119.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Unrelated to barbiturates but of similar interest, the ketone barbaralone was named for the late Professor Barbara M. Ferrier for work she accomplished while she was a postdoctoral student with Professor William v. E. Doering at Yale during the 1960’s. As to the eponymy of the related bullvalene, see ref. 15 in footnote 2. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_M._Ferrier $\endgroup$
    – user55119
    Dec 30, 2020 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


Interesting question but the sad answer is we will never know the true story. Here is the original text (thanks to Google Books) dated 1863, right from the horse's mouth Adolf von Baeyer.

Dieser Gedanke hat mich bei der folgenden Arbeit geeitet (spelling?), und ich habe mich zunächst bemüht, die Kenntnis des Materials zu vervollständigen. Man wird sehen, wie sich dasselbe in einfachster Weise um die Substanz $\ce{N2CO3H4}$, die ich Barbitursäure nennen will, gruppieren lässt und wie also die Frage nach der Konstitution der Harnsäure und ihrer Derivate auf die Untersuchung dieser Substanz zurückgeführt ist.

[DeepL Translation] This thought led (?) me to the following work, and I first tried to complete the knowledge of the material. One will see how the same can be grouped in the simplest way around the substance $\ce{N2CO3H4}$, which I want to call barbituric acid, and how the question of the constitution of uric acid and its derivatives can be traced back to the investigation of this substance.

He never explained his choice- no footnotes anywhere. However the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (not open access) attributes it to a woman's name Barbara.

< French barbiturique (Ann. de Chimie et de Physique, 1865), < German barbitur in barbitursäure (Baeyer 1863, in Ann. d. Chemie u. Pharm.), < Barbara, a woman's name.

Cited from Adolf von Baeyer.

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    $\begingroup$ German Wikipedia has some referenced explanations for the Barb(ara) part. $\endgroup$
    – mykhal
    Jul 2, 2020 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ The Journal of Chemical Education also has a whole article dedicated to it. The end story is that we will never know. I showed the original quote and this is as factual as it can be. The rest is mostly speculation. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    Jul 2, 2020 at 18:08

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