Seven of the eight planets in our solar system are named after Greek or Roman gods. We all live on the only exception to this rule. So where does “Earth” come from? The word “earth” is derived from the Old English term “eorþe”. Eorþe has many meanings, such as “soil”, “dirt”, “ground”, “dry land” and “country”. However, the story did not start there.
Old English is the earliest known stage of the modern English language. It was used until about 1150 AD, and it evolved from a parent language called “proto-Germanic” by scholars. German spoken today is part of the same language family. Therefore, “earth” and “eorþe” are related to the modern German word “Erde”. This is not only the German name for our home planet, it can also be used to refer to dirt and soil as well. Our dear planet also has some relatives in other languages. For example, there are the ancient Saxon word “ertha”, the ancient Frisian word “erthe”, and the Dutch word “aarde”. All these likely come from a Proto-Germanic term that was never recorded as far as we know.
The truth is that the word “earth” is so old that scientists cannot pinpoint the exact time when people started to use that word to refer to the planet as a whole and not just the ground they walked on. If there was a single person who decided to name our world Earth, his or her identity was lost through time and never made it in our history books.
Where did the names of the other planets come from?
Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, was named after the king of Roman gods, and the reddish color of Mars prompted the Romans to name them after their god of war. As Mercury completes a complete journey around the sun in just 88 Earth days, it was named after the fast-moving messenger of the gods. Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system. It takes 29 earth years to complete the full revolution of the sun and is named after the god of agriculture. The Romans named the brightest planet Venus as their god of love and beauty.
The other two planets, Uranus and Neptune, were discovered after the telescope was invented in the early 1600s. The astronomer William Herschel was praised for discovering Uranus in 1781. He wanted to call it “Georgium Sidus” (George’s Star), after King George III, the British ruler at the time. Other astronomers are interested in dubbing the planet Herschel. However, it was German astronomer John Bode who recommended the name Uranus, which is a Latinized version of Ouranos, the Greek god of the sky. The name Uranus was not fully accepted until the mid-1800s.
Neptune is the planet farthest from the Sun and it makes a solar revolution once every 165 years. It was only discovered and seen with a telescope in 1846 by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle, who used the mathematical calculations of French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier and British astronomer John Couch Adams. There have been some discussions about naming the planet after Le Verrier, but in the end Neptune was named after the Roman god of the sea because of its bright blue color.
Pluto, which was classified as a planet in 1930 before being stripped of that celestial honor in 2006, was named after the Roman god of the underworld—thanks to the suggestion of an 11-year-old English schoolgirl named Venetia Burney