I know the history of the discovery of the rare earth elements, that they were discovered near the village Ytterby in Sweden in the 19th century. Four elements are directly named after that village: erbium (Er), terbium (Tb), yttrium (Y) and ytterbium (Yb).

Why are they named like this? It makes sense to name one element after the locality, but why name the rest as misspellings of that village? It's not like we have ermanium, germium and ermium in addition to germanium (although we do have holmium).

This site mentions this:

In 1842, Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander separated the "yttria" component found in the mineral gadolinite into three segments that he called yttria, erbia and terbia.

Is the any record as to why Mosander chose these names? Because...

As might be expected considering the similarities between their names and properties, scientists soon confused erbia and terbia.


2 Answers 2


The links provided below are to the website "Elementymology & Elements Multidict". It is a fascinating site with information on the discovery, naming and various other facts for each element. As the author (Peter van der Krogt) says, "I am not a chemist, but a (map) historian much interested in the origin of names". Enjoy!

A nice piece on the complex etymology for Erbium, Terbium and Yttrium can be found here. In brief the article says, "All three names were derived from the Ytterby quarry where the gadolinite was originally found in 1787. It is also said that since the original earth was divided into three new earths, Mosander split the name of Ytterby in three parts: ytt, terb, and erb."

As to ytterbium's etymology see here. Again the history is complex with the name changing as recently as 1925. Another chemist isolated this element and again, wanted to pay homage to the geographic point of discovery, the Ytterby quarry.


Found a source here with some of the history and explanation,

Named after Ytterby, a village in Sweden near Vauxholm. Yttria – earth containing yttrium – was discovered by Gadolin in 1794. Ytterby is the site of a quarry which yielded many unusual minerals containing rare earths and other elements. This small town, near Stockholm, bears the honor of giving names to erbium, terbium, and ytterbium as well as yttrium.

In 1843 Mosander showed that yttria could be resolved into the oxides (or earths) of three elements. The name yttria was reserved for the most basic one; the others were named erbia and terbia.

Another source describes that the two names were derived from the village name, but i don't quite see the relation.

Given that he separated the two new earths from yttria, Mosander derived the names of terbia and erbia from the name of the village Ytterby


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