What's in a Name?


A name can mean everything. Parents can spend countless hours deciding what to call their unborn child, marketing departments will convene several times to decide how to brand a new product, and scientists who discover a new element must come up with one last discovery ... the name.

On Dec. 1, 2011, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) unveiled the proposed names for elements 114 and 116: flerovium (atomic symbol Fl) and livermorium (atomic symbol Lv). The public then had a five-month review period to voice their opinions on the names and symbols before they were published in the IUPAC journal, Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

Choosing a name is a long and arduous process because the chemistry union has strict standards that each research team must follow. Kenneth Chang at the New York Times says, "For example, if the chemistry union rejects a name, that name cannot be proposed for any subsequent element discoveries."

In the end, flerovium was named after Georgiy Flerov, the founder of the Russian laboratory, Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions, which synthesized the superheavy element.

The discovery team of atomic number 116 chose to name livermorium after the city of Livermore, Calif., home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where the element was created.

Classroom Discoveries

  • If your class discovered an element, what would you name it?
  • If these elements can only be synthesized in a lab, and are around for such a short time before turning into other elements, why are they valuable?