Does anyone recall a printed or an online compilation where the names of all the chemical elements are listed along with the original sentence, from a research paper, containing the name of the element? The unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is great resource for name origins but it obviously does not mention the very first non-English paper.

Take for example krypton, the etymology in the OED is "Etymology: < Greek κρυπτόν, neuter of κρυπτός hidden, concealed. Discovered by Ramsay in 1898." Such information is available everywhere. What was the original paper by discoverer when he wrote about it this new element? Many discoverers often gave some interesting logic behind their choice.

Another example is of Die Zerlegung des Didyms in seine Elemente by Carl Welsbach, in Monatshefte für Chemie 1885, 6 (1), 477–491.

Da sonach die exacte Zerlegung des Didyms in mehrere Elemente realisirt ist, so schlage ich vor, die Bezeichnung Didym nunmehr ganz zu streichen und beantrage, für das erste Element, entsprechendder Grïnfärbung seinerSalze und seiner Abstammung die Benennung: Praseodym mit dem Zeichen Pr und für das zweite, als das „neue Didym", die Benennung: Neodym mit dem Zeichen Nd.

Since the exact decomposition of didymium into several elements has been realized, I propose that the designation didymium now be deleted altogether and that the first element, corresponding to the green coloration of its salts and its origin, be designated: Praseodymium with the symbol Pr and for the second, as the "new didym", the name: Neodymium with the symbol Nd.

This website https://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/36/krypton#history, has a small history section for each element but I am looking for quotes (German French, English, etc.) like the above from the original papers that contain the proposed names of the elements. I tried searching but could not find a single compilation.

  1. Does anyone recall a resource like that?

  2. Where can one find the first official of modern elements (Z > 92), which state the name of the elements? Does IUPAC make that information public?


1 Answer 1


The mere list of chemical element name etymologies probably will not satisfy you.

  • Reviewing the old elements up to #104, I recall «Discovery of the elements» by Mary Elvira Weeks/Henry W. Leicester published by the Journal of Chemical Education [sic!]. Pick up your library card on archive.org for a 1 h screening borrow here (7th edition, 1967). While each element is presented in its own portrait, the chapters are grouped by topic, e.g. the elements known to the ancient world (Au, Ag, Cu, Fe, Pb, Sn, Hg, S), the halogens (except At), the noble gases, natural radioactive elements (Ra, Po, U, Rn, Pa, Ac, Th), discoveries by X-ray spectrum analysis (Hf, Re), or modern alchemy (Fr, Tc, Pm, ...). The one hour offered to you there won't suffice for the 900+ pages compiled. Includes cross references to primary literature, too.

  • If you don't have this much time, look out for The Merck Index. Though the subtitle reads An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs and Biologicals, and contains many more organic than inorganic chemicals, you equally find a brief characterization of the elements including some of properties and (if not known for too long) some references about its discovery. For example $\ce{_{99}Es}$:

    enter image description here

    credit: The Merck Index, 13th edition, Merck & Co Whitehouse Station NJ, 2001, p. 3562, e.g. on archive.org. Available for a borrow for up to 14 days, link to the page after using your library card.

    Because of the handy (sub)structure search, some groups/institutions favour the electronic access of this resource on https://www.rsc.org/Merck-Index/reference (currently 15th edition, 2013).

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks Buttonwood. I was not aware of Merck Index listing the origins, I will certainly check. I had a copy of Elvira's book. Pretty nice. I had actually used for my Journal of Chemical Education article on re-discovering iodine. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    Oct 13, 2021 at 0:35

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