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Periodic Table

Names Of The Elements

The naming and symbol of the elements in the periodic table is an interesting story itself. Many of the element symbols are derived from the elemental name such hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), chlorine (Cl), and calcium (Ca). Other element symbols seem to bear no relationship to their name such as sodium (Na), tin (Sn), and lead (Pb). These elemental symbols all derive from the Latin name of the element: natrium, stannum, and plumbum. Many of the elements have been named by their discoverer.

The element phosphorus was named by its discoverer for the property that it glows when exposed to air. Phosphorous in Greek means "I bear light." From the names of the elements such as francium (Fr), americium, europium (Eu), berkelium (Bk), and californium (Cf), it is clear that geographic locations were used to name them. Still other elements have been named to honor people. In this category falls element 101, mendelevium (Md), named to honor the discoverer of the periodic table. Others in this category include einsteinium (Es) and nobelium (No), named after Albert Einstein and Alfred Nobel.

At this time, to name an element a researcher or team of researchers must be certified by IUPAC as the discoverers of that element, at which time they are free to name the compound. The elements 104-109 were subject to a naming controversy. The originally proposed names of these elements by IUPAC were, in order, dubnium, joliotium, rutherfordium, bohrium, hahnium, and meiterium. The names which appear on the current periodic table are, in order, rutherfordium (Rf), dubnium (Db), seaborgium, bohrium (Bh), hassium (Hs), and meitnerium (Mt).

A particular controversy among these elements involved element 106 which researchers at Berkeley were credited with discovering by IUPAC. Following historical convention the Berkeley researchers were free to name the element. They chose to name it seaborgium, after Glenn T. Seaborg who contributed to the element's discovery. IUPAC ignored the recommendations of the discoverers and suggested the name rutherfordium for element 106. A vote of the IUPAC Council in August 1995 resolved the issue, and now element 104 is called rutherfordium and element 106 is called seaborgium.

As a final testament to the great respect with which the periodic table is held, it is instructive to hear Glenn T. Seaborg talk about the significance of having his name assigned to element 106: "A thousand years from now, seaborgium will still be in the periodic table, whereas the twentieth-century Nobel Prize-winners will seem a very small part of history... This honor will last as long as civilization."



Brock, William H. The Norton History of Chemistry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1992.

Hoffmann, Roald, and Torrence, Vivian. Chemistry Imagined Reflections on Science. Washington: Smithsonian Institutional Press, 1993.

Roberts, Royston M. Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1989.


Naeye, Robert. "An Island of Stability." Discover (August 1994): 15.

Michael G. Roepel


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—A negatively charged ion (i.e., Cl-).

Atomic mass

—The mass of an atom relative to carbon-12 (which has a mass of exactly 12 atomic mass units); also the mass, in grams, of an element that contains one mole of atoms.

Atomic number

—The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom.


—A positive ion (i.e., Na+).

Covalent bond

—A chemical bond formed when two atoms share a pair of electrons with each other.


—A negatively charged particle, ordinarily occurring as part of an atom. The atom 's electrons form a sort of cloud about the nucleus.

Electron configuration

—The arrangement of electrons in the occupied electron energy levels or sub-levels of an atom.


—A pure substance that can not be changed chemically into a simpler substance.


—A set of groups characterized by the same subshell.


—A vertical column of the periodic table that contains elements possessing the same electronic configuration.

Ionic bond

—The attractive forces between positive and negative ions that exist when electrons have been transferred from one atom to another.


—Two molecules in which the number of atoms and the types of atoms are identical, but their arrangement in space is different, resulting in different chemical and physical properties.


—A subatomic particle with no electric charge.


—Small core at the center of atoms that contain the protons and neutrons.

Octet (noble gas configuration)

—The stable electron configuration found with Group 18 elements, also referred to as the closed shell configuration.


—Horizontal rows of the periodic table.


—Subatomic particle of +1 charge.


—Energy level within an atom. The period of an element determines the shell number.


—Further energy levels found within a given shell. Elements in the same family share the same subshell.


—Term given to all the manmade elements of greater atomic number than 92.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - IndifferentismPeriodic Table - Construction Of The Table, Mendeleev's Predictions, Layout Of The Periodic Table, Electronic Structure