Who Named Planet Earth?

By: Mark Mancini  | 
Where did the name "Earth" come from? NASA

In roman mythology, Jupiter was a Roman gods, the mighty chief of the gods in ancient Rome's pre-Christian religion. It was also said that Rome's legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, were the children of the warlike god Mars, himself Jupiter's son.

Similarly, the names Mother Earth and Mother Nature have roots in Greek mythology. Gaia was the Greek goddess of Earth who the ancient greeks believed "gave birth" to nature as she was the origin of all life. The Roman equivalent of Gaia was Terra Mater.

Astronomy has always been popular with those who study the capital "C" Classics. Seven out of the eight planets in our solar system were named after Greek or Roman gods. You're living on the only planet that's an exception to that rule.


The English Origin of the Word "Earth"

The term "earth" has roots in the Old English word "eorþe." Eorþe had multiple meanings like "soil," "dirt," "ground," "dry land" and "country."

Yet the story didn't begin there. Old English is the earliest known phase of what became our modern English tongue. Used until about 1150 C.E., it evolved from a parent language that scholars call "Proto-Germanic."


Other Languages' Origin of "Earth"

The German that's spoken today is part of the same linguistic family. "Earth" and "eorþe" are therefore related to the modern German word "Erde." Not only is this the German language's name for our home planet, but it can also be used to refer to dirt and soil.

Our dear Earth has relatives in some other languages, too. For example, there's the Old Saxon "ertha," the Old Frisian "erthe" and the Dutch word "aarde." All these likely descend from a Proto-Germanic term that was never recorded. (As far as we know.)

Nevertheless, linguists have been able to go back and reconstruct this mystery word. Spelled "ertho" in scholarly texts, it's always preceded by an asterisk. This asterisk acknowledges the lack of written confirmation that the word was really used.


Naming the Earth: When and Who

Nobody knows when people started using words like "Earth" or "Erde" to refer to the planet as a whole and not just the ground they walked on.

Back in 1783, German astronomer Johann Elert Bode named the seventh planet from our sun "Uranus" (after a god in Greek mythology). And though Pluto is no longer considered a planet, we know that 11-year-old Venetia Burney named it in 1930.

But if you're wondering who named Earth — and it's unlikely a single person gave the planet its English name — his or her identity has been lost to the sands of time.

Still, it's clear that while Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all started out as the proper names of ancient Greek and Roman gods, "Earth" did not. That's why our planet is sometimes called "the earth" with a lowercase "e."

However, according to the University of Oxford Style Guide, the word "Earth" should be capitalized when one is "referring to the name of the planet but not when referring to the ground/soil etc."

What a capital idea!