Star Names and Their Meanings – Origins and Translations of Major Stars

Find the Meaning of Star Names – Sanja GjeneroWhat does Polaris mean? Find translations of the names of many of the major stars.
Some of the more established star names are listed here with their origins and meanings. The meanings behind some stars' names are open to debate because of mistranslations over time, while some stars' name origins have been lost.

The Origins and Meanings of Star Names

•Achernar – Also known as Alpha Eridani, a star in Eridanus the River, Achernar is Arabic for "end of the river".
•Albireo – Beta Cygni in Cygnus the Swan is the best known double star, however its name origins remain obscure.
•Aldebaran – The brightest star in Taurus, Alpha Tauri, is Arabic for "follower" because it trails behind the Pleiades in the sky.
•Algol – Also known as Beta Persei in Perseus, Algol is Arabic for "The Ghoul" because it is a mysterious star that changes its brightness.
•Altair – One of the Summer Triangle stars, Alpha Aquilae in Aquila the Eagle, is Arabic for "the flying one".
•Antares – This reddish star was considered a rival of Mars, which is how it got its name from the Greek "anti-Ares". Antares is the Alpha star in Scorpius.
•Arcturus – Greek for "Bear Guard", Arcturus is the Alpha star in Bootes the Herdsman. Similar to how Aldebaran got its name, Arcturus follows the constellation of Ursa Major (the Great Bear) across the sky.
•Betelgeuse – Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, has a name slightly disputed, but most consider Betelgeuse to be Arabic for "armpit of Orion".
•Canopus – This star shares its name with a port in Egypt and a Greek helmsman of Menelaus's. It is the Alpha star in Carina.
•Capella – Latin for "she-goat", Capella is the Alpha star in Auriga. Dimmer stars nearby were referred to as Capella's kids.
•Castor – The dimmer of the two main stars in Gemini, Castor is Greek for "beaver". Castor is also Alpha Geminorum.
•Deneb – Deneb, of Alpha Cygni, one of the stars of the Summer Triangle, is Arabic for "the tail of the hen". Cygnus is the constellation of the Swan.
•Fomalhaut – Arabic for "mouth of the fish", Fomalhaut is the Alpha star in Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish.
•Mira – The Omicron star in Cetus the whale changes its brightness and gets its name from the Latin word for "wonderful".
•Mizar – The Zeta star in Ursa Major, Mizar is Arabic for "the wrapping".
•Polaris – The Pole Star gets its name from the Latin "Stella Polaris". It is also Alpha Ursa Minoris.
Twins Castor and Pollux Have Unusual Names
•Pollux – The brighter of the two main stars in Gemini, Pollux is Latin from the Greek Polydeuces, which means "much wine". Pollux is also known as Beta Geminorum.
•Procyon – Greek for "Before the Dog", Procyon is also Alpha Canis Minoris and rises in the sky before Sirius the Dog Star.
•Proxima – This star is Latin for "nearest" because it is in the Alpha Centauri binary system that is closest to Earth.
•Regulus – The Alpha star in Leo the Lion is Latin for "prince".
•Rigel – The star Beta Orionis, or Rigel, is at the bottom of Orion the Hunter and means "the foot" in Arabic.
•Sirius – Greek for "scorching", Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. Also known as Alpha Canis Majoris.
•Spica – Latin for "ear of wheat", Spica, or Alpha Virginis, is in the location on Virgo where the maiden is said to be holding wheat.
•Thuban – Arabic for "the snake", Thuban, or Alpha Draconis, is part of the long and winding constellation of the dragon.
•Vega – Arabic for "the swooping" eagle, Vega is part of the Summer Triangle and the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. The constellation of Aquila the Eagle is nearby.
Sources: The Astronomical Companion and Jim Kaler's Stars 


Where have names of some stars like Aldebaran, Canopus and Sirius come from? Have a read below to discover some intriguing facts.

There are billions and billions of stars but only some 6,000 or so are visible to the naked eye. Of those only a handful of the brightest have proper names like Sirius or Betelgeuse. The rest are simply designated by the constellation they are located in preceded by letters of the Greek alphabet (Bayer Letters) such as Alpha Orionis (an alternate for Betelgeuse) or else by numbers after them (Flamsteed Numbers). Thus Betelgeuse is also 58 Orionis.

International Contribution to Astronomy
Sirius is well known because it is the brightest star in the night sky. Most people have probably heard of Betelgeuse because of that movie even if it’s often mispronounced as ‘Beetle-juice’ right? But what about other stars that bear exotic names like Gienah, Mira and Mimosa? Or even the strange-sounding Zubeneschamali? Where do these names come from?

It’s no great secret that western astronomy borrowed from other cultural traditions to add to their knowledge base. Thus we see many individual stars and constellations bearing ancient Babylonian, Greek, Arabic and Indian names.

 25 Brightest Stars Bearing Proper Names
Perhaps the greatest cross-cultural influence is to be seen in astronomy’s list of the 25 brightest stars in the night skies. Of the 25 only three don’t have proper names at all. The first of these is Alpha Centauri in the constellation of the Centaur which simply bears its Bayer designation as does Beta Crucis in the constellation of the Southern Cross (Crux Australis). Alpha Crucis on the other hand has a shortened version of its Bayer designation becoming simply Acrux.

Dog Day Afternoon
Top of the list is Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major in Latin meaning the ‘Great Dog’ hence its nickname the ‘Dog Star’. Because it rises the same time as the Sun during late summer in the Northern Hemisphere it lent itself to the saying ‘dog days’.

Sirius was equally important to the ancient Egyptians who associated it with their goddess Isis. Just as in Greece its heliacal rising was significant for it heralded the Nile’s annual flooding, the waters fertilizing the fields with silt. This event was of such importance to them that it marked the beginning of their year in the Egyptian Calendar.

Arabic Named Stars
Scorpio has two of its brightest stars listed among the 25. The Arabic name for Scorpio is Al Akrab while the huge red star Antares bears its Latin name ‘rival of Mars’ for its splendid coloring. Its other bright star Shaula is also Arabic from Al Shaulah ‘the sting’ where it lies.

Read This Next
The Great Winter Circle The Brightest Stars The Three Brightest Stars in the Night Sky Many other stars have Arabic names such as Altair the brightest star in Aquila the Eagle and the beautiful orange star Aldebaran in Taurus both stars making the coveted list. It’s easy to recognize Arabic names from the prefix ‘Al’, which is the equivalent of ‘the’ in English. Thus Aldebaran means ‘the follower’ because it is seen to follow the stars of the Pleiades across the night skies while Altair means ‘the flying eagle’.

The constellation of Orion the Hunter boasts three bright stars that make the top list – Rigel, Bellatrix and Betelgeuse. Orion’s Arabic equivalent is Al Jabbar ‘the giant’ from which we derive the English word algebra. All three stars are Arabic in origin albeit corrupted in pronunciation. Rigel for the giant’s left leg and Betelgeuse for his armpit. In a loose translation Bellatrix refers to a female warrior and is otherwise called the 'Amazon star'.

Other Arabic star names include Hadar (Beta Centauri) meaning ‘ground’ and Adhara (Epsilon Canis Majoris) referring to ‘the Virgin’.

Greek Named Stars
Capella the she-goat star in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer comes from Greek and is sixth brightest. Although classified as a bright white star it hangs low in the southern hemisphere skies where it dazzles multi-colored like a gem.

The brilliant white star Spica in Virgo signifies the ‘ear of wheat’ she holds in her left hand as the Goddess Ceres from which we obtain the word cereal. The legendary Greek twins, Castor and Pollux are identified as two of the brightest stars in Gemini. They were two of the Argonauts that accompanied Jason on his sailing adventures.

In similar maritime fashion Canopus was the chief pilot of Menelaus’ fleet on his return from the destruction of Troy. Sadly whilst still in Egyptian waters twelve miles to Alexandria’s north-east Canopus died. A monument was erected to his memory.

Many more stars with strange and exotic sounding names lie in wait to be discovered. Why not tuck into a star atlas for a good read?

References:

Allen, Richard Hinckley. Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning. New York: Dover Publications, 1963.

Levy, David. Skywatching. Surry Hills: Reader’s Digest, 1995.

Related articles:

Argo Constellation: Shipwrecked In The Milky Way

Celestial Queens, Kings, Heroes and Maidens of the Night Skies

Starry, Starry Night: My What Animals Are In The Sky Tonight

 

Read more at Suite101: How Stars Got Their Names | Suite101.com http://munya-andrews.suite101.com/astronomy-how-stars-got-their-names-a257030#ixzz1aLSxy4Dl

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