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What elements are named after colors?


There are several chemical elements that are named after colors, either directly referencing the color in their name or after colored minerals that contain the element. The origins of these color-based names vary – some elements are naturally found in minerals of a certain color, while others were named fancifully after their discoverers noted a distinctive color in their samples. Let’s take a look at the interesting stories behind the elements named for different colors!

Black Elements – Why are They Named After The Color Black?

Some elements have “black” in their name or are named after black minerals that contain them. Here are the elements with black color origins:

Element Name Origin
Bismuth From German “Wismuth” meaning white mass, though bismuth is often found in blackish ores
Cobalt After German “kobold” meaning goblin, since cobalt ores were associated with harmful spirits. Cobalt compounds are deeply black or blue.
Erbium After the black mineral Ytterbite (later named Erbium)
Gadolinium After gadolinite, a black mineral containing this element
Hafnium After Latin “Hafnia” meaning Copenhagen, Denmark, where it was discovered. Hafnium is found in black zircon minerals.
Iridium After Iris, the Greek goddess of rainbows. Iridium salts are dark colored.
Tantalum After Tantalus, a figure from Greek mythology punished in Hades. Tantalum minerals are black in color.

Most black element names reflect the dark colored minerals in which the elements were first identified. For example, ytterbite was renamed erbium after the element it contained, which was named after the village Ytterby where ytterbite was found.

Cobalt compounds often have a very deep black or blue color, leading to the element’s name from the German kobold meaning goblin or evil spirit. Bismuth, iridium, and tantalum are also found naturally in blackish ores and minerals.

Silver Elements

The element silver of course gets its name directly from the precious metal historically mined since ancient times. The Latin argentum and Greek argyrous both mean silver and are the linguistic root for its elemental symbol Ag.

In addition to silver itself, here are some other elements named after their association with the color silver:

Element Name Origin
Arsenic From the Greek arsenikon, meaning “yellow arsenic” or “masculine” in reference to strong metals like silver
Molybdenum From Greek molybdos meaning lead, since molybdenum was confused with lead due to its silver-colored ores
Platinum From Spanish platina meaning little silver, as platinum was first seen among silver deposits
Tungsten From Swedish tung sten meaning heavy stone, referring to the exceptionally dense silver-gray tungsten ores

The silver color of naturally occurring native silver made it one of the first metals utilized by ancient civilizations. The other elements listed above were also noted for their silver-hued ores which resembled familiar silver minerals, leading to their metallic or “little silver” names.

Gold Elements

Like silver, the element gold is named for the well-known precious metal historically mined since prehistory. Its symbol Au comes from aurum, the Latin word for gold.

Other elements named after associations with gold include:

Element Name Origin
Cesium From Latin caesius meaning sky blue, the color of caesium salts
Gallium From Latin Gallia meaning France, where it was discovered. Gallium has a silvery white metallic color similar to gold alloys.
Palladium Named after the asteroid Pallas, which was named after Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom who was associated with gold metal arts like sculpture

While the element gold was logically named after the precious yellow metal, other elements like gallium and palladium were named after gold due to loose color associations. The brilliant sky blue caesium salts reminded early chemists of the bright golden yellow hue of pure gold.

Red & Pink Elements

The color red shows up in the names of several elements associated with red minerals. Here are some of the elements named after red colors:

Element Name Origin
Beryllium From Greek beryllos meaning beryl, referring to red beryl gems containing beryllium
Cadmium From Greek kadmeia meaning calamine, a red mineral cadmium was found in
Cobalt From German kobold meaning goblin, due to the reddish color of cobalt ores
Copper From Latin cuprum meaning copper from the island of Cyprus, an ancient source of red copper ores
Radium From Latin radius meaning ray, referring to the red color of its radiation glow
Rubidium From Latin rubidus meaning deepest red, after the red colored rubidium salts
Ruthenium After Ruthenia, the Latin word for the geographical area Russia. Named after the reddish ruthenium ores found there.

The color-based names for many of these elements originate from the red, pink, or reddish mineral ores they were first isolated from. Beryllium from red beryl, rubidium from the deep red salts it formed, and copper after the red-hued copper deposits of Cyprus. Radium’s name refers to the red glow of its intense radiation rather than a mineral color.

Orange & Yellow Elements

These elements’ names make reference to orange or yellow colored sources:

Element Name Origin
Californium Named after the University of California, Berkeley where it was first synthesized. The California state color is golden poppy yellow.
Cerium Named after the asteroid Ceres, which was named after the Roman grain goddess Ceres associated with yellow/golden corn
Curium After Pierre and Marie Curie, pioneers in early radioactivity research. The Curies’ orange and yellow glassware inspired this element’s name
Einsteinium After Albert Einstein, publisher of the theory of relativity. Einsteinium was named in honor after Einstein’s death.
Lutetium From Lutetia, the Latin name for Paris where lutetium was discovered. The yellow lutetium mineral lutecia inspired its name.
Molybdenum From Greek molybdos meaning lead, as early molybdenum ores were confused with lead due to similar yellowish color
Nickel Named after the red Old Nick, a folk name for the devil. Nickel’s ores resembled copper but yielded no copper, hence the trickery association
Osmium From Greek osme meaning smell, due to osmium tetroxide’s potent odor. Osmium has a yellowish hue.
Praseodymium From Greek prasios didymos meaning green twin, originally named after green praseodymium salts
Promethium After Prometheus, who stole fire from the Greek gods. Promethium displays a yellow/orange glow when excited.
Scandium From Latin Scandia meaning Scandinavia where it was first isolated
Titanium Named after the Titans of Greek mythology. Titanium compounds often have a golden yellow color.

Many of these elements were named fancifully after place names, mythological figures, or scientists without a direct color reference. But the distinctive golden yellow or orange hues of the elements or their naturally occurring mineral forms inspired the proposals for names like cerium, lutecium, and promethium.

Blue & Green Elements

Here are some elements named after blue and green colored sources:

Element Name Origin
Cesium From Latin caesius meaning sky blue, after the blue lines cesium gave in a spectroscope
Cobalt From German kobold meaning goblin, after the blue color of cobalt mining ores
Indium From Latin indicum meaning indigo or a blue dye, after the indigo spectral line indium produced
Iodine From Greek ioeides meaning violet, the color of iodine vapor
Praseodymium From Greek prasios didymos meaning green twin, originally named after green praseodymium salts
Thallium From Greek thallos meaning green shoot or twig

The vivid spectral lines induced by elements like indium, cesium, and iodine inspired their “blue” and “violet” names from classical languages. Praseodymium and thallium were first isolated from green-hued mineral salts as well. Cobalt compounds can range from deep blue to black in color too.

White Elements

While maybe not technically a color, several metals and elements take their names from white or whitish minerals:

Element Name Origin
Bismuth From German Wismuth meaning white mass, after the color of bismuth ores
Platinum From Spanish platina meaning little silver, after platinum’s white silver-like appearance
Tin From Latin stannum meaning silver, after white tin’s similarity to silver metal
Tungsten From Swedish tung sten meaning heavy stone, in reference to the exceptionally dense white/gray tungsten ore
Zinc From German Zink meaning of tin, due to its similar appearance to white tin metal

The bright white sheen of polished silver inspired the names of several elements after silver or white-hued mineral sources. Tin, platinum, zinc, tungsten and others were noted for their silver-like or white metallic appearance.


While an element’s chemical properties are far more important scientifically than its color, the distinctive hues of early mineral and metal samples did provide inspiration for many elemental names. The imagery of colorful Greek myths and silvery metals from antiquity shaped proposals from the element discoverers, even if the name did not always accurately reflect the element’s appearance.

The stories behind these color-referencing names give a glimpse into the history of chemistry’s origins and the scientists who identified each element for the first time. Now organized into the orderly periodic table, the diverse elements of the world have been brought together and unified from their separate individual origins. Their eclectic stories and monikers reflect the winding pathway the field of chemistry took in gradually assembling our modern understanding of the elemental building blocks of nature.