How to Pronounce Uranus

A few sharp-eyed viewers noticed that in my last video about why Pluto is no longer a planet I said aloud all of the planet names except one: Uranus. This video is sort of a reply to that.

Uranus is unique among the planets for both a natural reason – its horizontal axis of rotation – and also a human reason: it is a Greek God among Romans.

Roman Name Greek Name God of
Mercury Hermes Trade & Travel
Venus Aphrodite Love
Mars Ares War
Jupiter Zeus King of the Gods
Saturn Kronos Time
Caelus Uranus The Sky
Neptune Poseidon The Sea


Why the German chemist Bode thought that the Greek name was better than the Roman, we may never know. But it’s interesting to note that Herschel explicitly thought that a Roman name for the planet was a bad idea. In his letter to Sir Joseph Banks in 1783 he says:

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, were given to the planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era, it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method, and call on Juno, Apollo, Pallas or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration in any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology; if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, “In the reign of King George the Third.” As a philosopher, then, the name of GEORGIUM SIDUS presents itself to me, as an appellation which will conveniently convey the information of the time and country where and when it was brought to view.

It was pretty tricky trying to find actual occurrences of The Georgium Sidus or the other names being used in print. Here it is in an 1820 Nautical almanac listed as Georgian. I felt pretty lucky to have stumbled upon the 1823 Encyclopædia Britannica and the article mentioned in the video.

Related to the previous video on Pluto that same edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica lists Ceres and Pallas as planets:

I also tried using Google’s ngram search to compare the frequencies of the different names over time, but since ‘Herschel’ is both a name for people and a name for the planet it’s difficult to come up with a fair comparison:

There are a few other little things that I wanted to fit in the video but didn’t make it:

  • The name Neptune was suggested as an alternative to The Gorgium Sidus as a nod to Great Britain’s’ dominance over the sea.
  • While all the planets have Greek names for their moons, Uranus’s moons have Shakespearean names.


I originally edited in clips of Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman and Neil deGrass Tyson actually saying the name ‘Uranus’ but took it out at the last minute because of nerves about copyright. I was probably in the right to use the clips, but I don’t like to rely on fair use which is why almost all the images in my videos are either my own or creative commons attribution.

Anyway, you can go listen to them pronouncing Uranus at the links above while learning things about the planet. Also, though not a scientist, Sir Patrick Stewart makes the name Uranus sound positively regal.


Images by: Jack Fusco, dennism2 & pikous

Music by: Broke For Free

Special Thanks

The Royal Institution. Go check out their YouTube channel.