Nihonium, Tennessine, Moscovium, and Oganesson are the names approved for the last chemical elements (so far) that were added to the Periodic Table. What is the origin of the names and how were they selected?

In early 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) confirmed the existence of four new chemical elements, with the atomic numbers 113, 115, 117, and 118. Like all elements heavier than plutonium, these new elements don’t exist in nature. They can be created, for only fractions of a second, in a lab, or to be more exact, in a particle accelerator by conducting planned collisions of atomic nuclei.

The credit for creating new elements stable enough to be confirmed was given to research labs in Japan, Russia, and the U.S. This credit also gave the researchers the right to choose the names of the elements they discovered. To be precise, they can suggest names, and the IUPAC approves them if there is no objection. The suggested names were approved in late 2016.

According to the rules for naming elements, the elements can be named according to the following principles:

  • After a mythological figure or celestial body. Uranium (92), neptunium (93), and plutonium (94), for example, are named after Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which, in turn, are named after figures from Roman mythology.

  • After a mineral or similar material. The element lithium (3) got its name from the Greek word lithos (stone), because it was discovered in a mineral; the element nickel (28) is named after cupronickel, a mineral that has nickel in it.

  • After a place or geographical region. Marie Curie named the element she discovered polonium (84) after her native Poland. Californium (98) is named after the state of California, hassium (108) is named after the German state Hesse, and lutetium (71) is named after Paris, which the Romans called Lutetia.

  • After an element’s property. The origin of the name chrome (24), for example, is from the Greek word khroma, which means color, because of its colorful byproducts. In comparison, the name of the metal cobalt (27) comes from the German word kobalt which means goblin, because of the toxic air in the cobalt mines that killed many miners. Krypton (36) gets its name from the Greek word kryptos, which means hidden,as it is a noble gas and does not react with other materials and therefore, was discovered fairly late.

  • After a scientist. Einsteinium (99) is named after Albert Einstein, bohrium (107) was named for Danish physicist Niels Bohr, c(96) is named after Marie and Pierre Curie, and fermium (100) is named for Enrico Fermi.

Had elements named after them while still alive. Glenn Seaborg (right) and Yuri Oganessian. Source: Wikipedia

These are the names

The names of three of the newest elements were divided between different countries. Element 113 was called Nihonium (Nh), from the word Nippon, the Japanese name for Japan; element 115 was named moscovium (Mc) for the capital of Russia, Moscow; and element 117 was named after the state of Tennessee, where some of the most renowned research institutes for particle physics reside, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which took part in discovering the new elements. It will be called Tennessine (Ts).

Element 118, however, was named oganesson (Og) after the Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian (born 1933). Oganessian is a veteran of the nuclear institute in the city of Dubna, which led the creation of this element – the heaviest to be confirmed to date. Oganessian is the second man in history to have a chemical element named after him in his lifetime. The second is Glenn T. Seaborg, a chemist from the University of Berkeley, a co-discoverer of ten heavy elements. Seaborgium (106) is named after him.

Physicists around the world continue their efforts to create new and heavier elements in particle accelerators. The hope is that one of these elements will not only be very big but also stable, that is, it won’t break down after several fractions of a second. There are researchers who claim that this is possible, while others say that the repulsion forces in the nucleus will not enable the existence of an element that is so heavy. Many continue to try anyway, and their success may lead to immortalization in the periodic table.