Where did the name 'Earth' come from?
I was discussing the relative smallness of human history compared to the evolution and size of the universe when a student asked me this question: "Who named the Earth 'Earth'? When? Why? Does this answer apply to the origins of the French word Terre?"
Unfortunately, I think it's pretty impossible to say exactly who first named the planet 'Earth'. Actually, I really doubt one person really named it intentionally; rather it developed over time as part of the English language. Earth is Old English and German in origin, related to the Old Saxon 'ertha', the Dutch 'aerde', and the German 'erda'. Terra is a French and Latin word, and so isn't part of the 'Earth' etymology. I'm not really an expert on words and word origins, but it seems likely that people used Earth to mean 'land' and then it was the natural thing to refer to all the land and the planet. I tried to look up more specific details about the specific usage of the word over time, but even the Oxford English Dictionary (online) admits:
"Men's notions of the shape and position of the earth have so greatly changed since Old Teutonic times, while the language of the older notions has long outlived them, that it is very difficult to arrange the senses and applications of the word in any historical order."
So, as with the names of the other planets that have been known throughout human history (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), it's difficult to say who first thought of the planet as Earth. The names were part of culture even before we really understood the significance of what planets are and where they are in space. For more information on astronomical names, please see the previously asked questions listed below.
Note (KLM) The name of the Sun has a similar origin to that of the Earth.
Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:
- Podcast? Subscribe? Tell me about the Ask an Astronomer Podcast
- Subscribe to our Podcast | Listen to our current Episode
- Cool! But I can't now. Send me a quick reminder now for later.
- Where does the name "Moon" come from?
- Where does the name "Milky Way" come from?
- Who named the planets and who decides what to name them?
- What are the names of the earth, moon, sun, and solar system?
- Who came up with the name "black hole"?
- Are names given to black holes?
How to ask a question:
If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.Table 'curious.Referrers' doesn't existTable 'curious.Referrers' doesn't exist
This page has been accessed 181705 times since January 25, 2003.
Last modified: January 17, 2004 4:47:12 PM
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.
Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)