Why does the English plutonium translate to Plutonium, but uranium translate to Uran?

Is there any reason for this difference, or is it just the natural irregularity, that is found everywhere in language? These words are (relatively) new, so there wasn’t much time for these words to change. Furthermore, being scientific names, shouldn’t the names be more based on logic than on culture (i.e., natural language development)?

  • 5
    Relatively new. 150 years do make a difference, especially where fashion is involved.
    – chirlu
    Jul 20, 2015 at 2:57

1 Answer 1


It's a wrong assumption that both words appeared first in English. Therefore, an inconsistency in the translation cannot be explained by assuming the same direction of the translations; they didn't even appeared in the same period. To support this statement:

  • Uranium was discovered by the H. Klaproth, who was German-speaking Chemist. The first term was therefore Uran, a German word (because we speak of the year 1789). To explain what happened thereafter to the translation into English is not the aim of this site.

  • Plutonium, on the other hand, was discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg, J. W. Kennedy, E. M. McMillan, and Arthur Wahl and Michael Cefola. With all likelihood they used an English word to baptise this element, in 1942.

Now, why did people called it in German also Plutonium? Uran was formed by contracting the name of the planet Uranus and if one tries to mimic this for Pluto, shortening the name of the planet doesn't sound good. Neither does to assign the same name Pluto for the element; so keeping the English word is the best option.

  • 4
    They easily could've named it Pluton, though. The fact that they didn't is beyond the scope of this site to explain, I think.
    – Ingmar
    Jul 20, 2015 at 14:26
  • 2
    @Ingmar: Pluton is something (someone) else already, which may have been confusing. Jul 20, 2015 at 14:38
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: That isn't really an argument. There are many things, named after ancient figures
    – Mystery
    Jul 22, 2015 at 21:49
  • 1
    I think that the reason is the 150 years between the two. Had plutonium been discovered in 1842 by a group of American (or more likely then: English) chemists, it would very likely have been translated as Pluton like how the radioactive noble gas is called Radon.
    – Jan
    Jul 23, 2015 at 14:33

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