# Did Berzelius unify the names of chemical elements using the Latin language?

I asked this question because the Chinese Wikipedia community is trying to decide whether it should use Latin names or IUPAC names for the first introductory sentence for its articles on chemical elements.

One of the central argument by those support Latin names is the statement that Swedish chemist Berzelius unified the names of chemical elements using the Latin language common to European countries.

They cite the source in Chinese language here: http://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-ZHHJ198805015.htm

"Swedish chemist Berzelius first proposed to use Latin, a language common to European countries, to unify the naming of chemical elements, thereby changing the chaotic status of naming them." (My translation)

What I have found from the literature is that Berzelius's proposal helped unifying the symbols of chemical elements, but the names remain diverse in language sources (not all are Latin) and some remain disputed (not all unified). Thus, I gather that Berzelius's proposal helps, but it is far from the statement that he unified all the names of chemical elements using Latin. If so, it begs the question why IUPAC names for Gold, Silver, etc. are not Latin.

Thus, your help is needed to answer the question as stated in the title.

• Are you saying the Latin name for gold should be 'aurum', and silver 'argentum' etc? – bon May 18 '15 at 16:35
• Yes. That is exactly what the Latin-note supporters believe in Chinese Wikipedia. – Han-Teng Liao May 18 '15 at 17:52
• Somewhat related chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/28387/… – user15489 May 19 '15 at 4:55

What I have found from the literature is that Berzelius's proposal helped unifying the symbols of chemical elements, but the names remain diverse in language sources (not all are Latin) and some remain disputed (not all unified). Thus, I gather that Berzelius's proposal helps, but it is far from the statement that he unified all the names of chemical elements using Latin.

This is essentially true. Berzelius was the first to suggest using symbols abbreviated from the names of the elements and this system, with some modifications, is still used today. Most of Berzelius' symbols were abbreviated from Latin names but a large number of the elements discovered since then have had symbols drawn from their common names and some of Berzelius' original symbols have been dropped in favour of more modern versions. Dalton had earlier used a system of drawn symbols to represent the elements but this was not widely taken up as the symbols were difficult to draw and memorise. (source)

Looking though this wikipedia article on the etymology of chemical elements, the most common language of origin appears to be Greek (argon, chlorine etc.), with Latin coming in second (mercury, rhenium etc.), including quite a large number of names which come originally from another language (often Greek) via Latin.

Additionally there are a large number of elements which are named after places (Swedish - ytterbium, yttrium, etc. ; English - americium, californium, etc. to name just a few) or people (mendelevium, einsteinium, fermium etc.) and have been given the Latinate endings -ium or occasionally -um (see this question for more discussion). Also note that according to IUPAC recommendations:

For linguistic consistency, the names of all new elements should end in “-ium”

The common, and IUPAC recognised, names of gold and gilver both have old Germanic origins and are recognised as official names because of their widespread usage. I have never seen the Latin names for gold, silver or lead (aurum, argentum and plumbum) used in a serious chemical context, although of course the elements' symbols (Au, Ag and Pb) are derived from them.

As such I would not recommend using the Latin names as the main recognized name in a Wikipedia page, although a side note about them might be justified.

EDIT: Thanks to @KlausWarzecha for pointing this out. There is one exception where the latin names (aurum, etc.) come into play: in anionic complexes, the latin version of the name is officially used. $\ce{[Cu(CN)4]^{3-}}$ is tetracyanocuprate(I), $\ce{[Ag(Cl)2]^-}$ is dichloroargentate(I), $\ce{[Au(Cl)4]^- }$ is tetrachloroaurate(III). However, this does not change the viewpoint that the Latin names should not be used when commonly discussing the element.

• Thanks. It is very useful (though I cannot vote it up due to my newbieness here). Thank you for a very comprehensive and detailed answer. – Han-Teng Liao May 18 '15 at 17:54
• There is one exception where the latin names (aurum, etc.) come into play: in anionic complexes, the latin name of the name is officially used. $\ce{[Cu(CN)4]^{3-}}$ is tetracyanocuprate(I), $\ce{[Ag(Cl)2]-}$ is dichloroargentate(I), $\ce{[Au(Cl)4]^{-}}$ is tetrachloroaurate(III). – Klaus-Dieter Warzecha May 18 '15 at 17:59