Should One of the Four New Chemical Elements Be Named “africanium”?


Artwork by Peter Reynosa

At the very end of last year, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced that four new chemical elements have been verified and accepted and will be added to the periodic table.

Now comes the hard and tricky part, giving them names. Deciding on the symbols is pretty easy, it’s giving them a permanent name where all the sharp-clawed cats and mean-toothed dogs come out.

The research teams that discover or create a new chemical element get to suggest a name for the chemical element, but it is IUPAC who makes the final decision about what the new element will be called.

I have read how there is a petition for one of the new elements to be named “lemmium,” after the late frontman of Motorhead, Lemmy Kilmister. And I am also aware of how there is another petition going around for one of the new elements to be named “octarine,” after the color of magic in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Yes, you heard me right, some people want the imaginary color that only cats and wizards can see to be the name of a chemical element. Fortunately both have no chance or only the world’s smallest chance of being taken seriously by IUPAC.

If I could choose anyone to get an element named after himself or herself, it would be the English physicist Henry Moseley (1887-1915), who discovered how a chemical element is defined by the number of the charged particles it has (protons). He discovered this experimentally, leading to the correction and much better understanding of the periodic table.

But if I had to base my decision purely on merit that related to the furtherance of chemistry, well then the Frenchman Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) or the Englishman John —> Read More