Every now and then, scientists smash atoms together and discover a new element. The new elements then go through an accreditation process before they become part of the periodic table that is grimly familiar to everyone who hated having to memorize the elements in their high school chemistry class.
The problems really arise, however, when the time comes to name the new elements. The sad fact is, scientists suck at coming up with good names. The latest two proposed names, for example, are Flerovium and Livermorium. Basically, scientists just take the name of a person or place, add “ium” at the end, and that’s it.
That uninspired convention was used for most of the recent additions to the periodic table. The boring names for newer elements — Ytterbium? Lutetium? Mendelevium? — stand in sharp contrast to the pithy, lyrical names of the older elements, like gold, silver, tin, and mercury. No one is going to write a song called “Heart of Ytterbium” or pen a holiday standard called “Mendelevium Bells.” It must be maddening for high school kids to try to pronounce, much less remember, all of these “iums.”
The new names are not only hopelessly unmemorable, they don’t tell you anything about the element itself. The name “lead” connotes the heaviness of that ponderous metal. In that regard, “Livermorium” is a missed opportunity. That substance is formed by smashing calcium ions into the element curium and quickly decays into Flerovium. How about a name that reflects the element’s short life — like Ephemerite?
I hereby offer to help the scientific community in developing better names — and thereby advance the cause of beleaguered high school chemistry students everywhere.