What can I find in this article?
- Agate etymology
- Alexandrite etymology
- Amazonite etymology
- Amber etymology
- Amblygonite etymology
- Amethyst etymology
- Ametrine etymology
- Ammolite etymology
- Andalusite etymology
- Andesine etymology
- Apatite etymology
- Aquamarine etymology
- Aventurine etymology
- Axinite etymology
- Azurite etymology
- Beryl etymology
- Bloodstone etymology
- Calcite etymology
- Carnelian etymology
- Cassiterite etymology
- Chalcedony etymology
- Charoite etymology
- Chrysoberyl etymology
- Chrysocolla etymology
- Chrysoprase etymology
- Citrine etymology
- Clinohumite etymology
- Coral etymology
- Danburite etymology
- Diamond etymology
- Diaspore etymology
- Diopside etymology
- Emerald etymology
- Enstatite etymology
- Epidote etymology
- Fluorite etymology
- Fluorite etymology
- Gaspéite etymology
- Goshenite etymology
- Grandidierite etymology
- Hackmanite etymology
- Hambergite etymology
- Hawk’s Eye etymology
- Hematite etymology
- Hemimorphite etymology
- Hemimorphite etymology
- Howlite etymology
- Idocrase etymology
- Iolite etymology
- Jade etymology
- Jasper etymology
- Kornerupine etymology
- Kunzite etymology
- Kyanite etymology
- Labradorite etymology
- Lapis lazuli etymology
- Larimar etymology
- Lepidolite etymology
- Malachite etymology
- Maw Sit-sit etymology
- Melanite etymology
- Moldavite etymology
- Moonstone etymology
- Morganite etymology
- Mother of Pearl etymology
- Nuummite etymology
- Obsidian etymology
- Onyx etymology
- Opal etymology
- Orthoclase etymology
- Peanut Wood etymology
- Pearl etymology
- Pectolite etymology
- Peridot etymology
- Pietersite etymology
- Prehnite etymology
- Psilomelane etymology
- Pyrite etymology
- Quartz etymology
- Rhodochrosite etymology
- Rhodonite etymology
- Ruby etymology
- Sapphire etymology
- Scapolite etymology
- Scolecite etymology
- Selenite etymology
- Seraphinite etymology
- Serpentine etymology
- Sillimanite etymology
- Smithsonite etymology
- Sodalite etymology
- Spectrolite etymology
- Sphalerite etymology
- Sphene etymology
- Spinel etymology
- Spodumene etymology
- Sugilite etymology
- Sunstone etymology
- Tanzanite etymology
- Tiger’s Eye etymology
- Topaz etymology
- Tourmaline etymology
- Turquoise etymology
- Variscite etymology
- Verdite etymology
- Zircon etymology
- Zoisite etymology
A Complete List of Gemstone Names
How did the Emerald get to be called an Emerald? Why is an amethyst an amethyst? Who came up with Kunzite as a name? Some are Latin, some are Greek, a few are Sanskrit and some have been lost in the mists of time. Others were name after the person who discovered them or the man who paid for the trip or even where they were found. Discover where the name of your favorite gemstone got its name.
Agate was given its name by the Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus, who first discovered the gemstone in the Achates River, sometime between the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. The Achates River is located in Sicily, Italy, though it is now called the Dirillo, and Theophrastus may have encountered this area during his time travelling with Aristotle.
Alexandrite was discovered in the 1830s by the Finnish mineralogist, Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld, in Russia's Ural Mountains and was named thus in honor of the future Tsar Alexander II of Russia, particularly for the way alexandrite displayed the two military colors of imperial Russia - red and green.
Amazonite, a green feldspar, is a combination of the name of the Brazilian river, Amazon, and the suffix –ite, used to form nouns denoting rocks or minerals. Beyond this explanation, the etymology of amazonite is fairly vague because it is doubtful that green feldspar occurs in the Amazon region, though other green stones had been sourced from it. Moreover, though archeologists confirm that amazonite was used ornamentally in Egypt and Mesopotamia, there is no medieval authority that refers to amazonite and it was not described as a distinct mineral until the 18th century.
Amber's etymology is traced back to the Arabic anbar, which refers to ambergris, the solid, waxy substance found in the sperm whale and used for centuries to make perfume. The Romans extended the sense of this word to refer to Baltic amber resin, or yellow resin (ambre jaune). As the word became prevalent in the Middle English, a distinction was made between grey amber (ambre gris) and yellow amber (ambre jaune). Ultimately, as the use of ambergris waned, the word ambre was solely used to refer to the yellow fossil resin, known today as amber.
The ancient Greeks called amber electron, a word that meant 'made by the sun'. In a myth, Phaëton, son of Helios (the Sun) is killed and his sisters, turned into poplar trees, cry amber tears of mourning.
Amblygonite was first discovered in Saxony by August Breithaupt, a German mineralogist, in 1817. Breithaupt formed this name from the Greek amblus, meaning 'blunt', and gonia, meaning 'angle', because of the obtuse angle between the cleavages of amblygonite. Incidentally, Breithaupt replaced Friedrich Mohs, inventor of the Mohs hardness scale, as professor of mineralogy at Freibergy Mining Academy.
Amethyst gets its name from the Greek word amethystos; formed by the parts a-, meaning 'not', and methys, meaning 'drunk' or 'intoxicated'. The Greeks named this gemstone in the age-old belief that wearing it would protect one from becoming drunk, or act as an antidote to intoxication, possibly due to amethyst's color resembling that of wine. Therefore, amethystos - 'the not-drunk gemstone'- became associated with saving the wearer from intoxication, a common problem for the ancient Greeks, who carved many of their chalices and wine goblets from amethyst.
One of the myths surrounding amethyst relates to the Greek god of winemaking, Dionysus (also known as Bacchus in Roman mythology), who had suffered an insult from a mortal. In his rage, he swore to slay the next mortal who crossed his path with a pack of savage tigers of his creation. Tragically that mortal was Amethystos, a beautiful young maiden on her way to pay tribute to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity. Artemis then took pity on Amethystos, her loyal devotee, and turned her into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the ripping claws of Dionysus' tigers. After beholding the statue for himself, and in regret for his actions, Dionysus wept tears of wine, staining the quartz, thus giving amethyst its characterstic purple color.
French poet Remy Belleau tells a relatively more modern, light-hearted version of the tale in which the young maiden, this time called Amethyste, catches the eye of Bacchus, who becomes enamored with the girl. She refuses his advances, wishing to remain chaste, and prays to Diana (the Roman equivalent of Artemis) for protection, which she does by turning Amethyste into a statue of pure white stone. When Bacchus sees the statue, he is so moved by it that he makes an offering of wine, which he pours on the statue, staining it purple and, thereby, giving amethyst its purple color.
The legends around the gemstone name amethyst continue today as Anglican bishops wear amethyst rings in reference to Act 2:15, in which the Pentecost apostles were described as 'not drunk'.
This gemstone name is a blend of the names amethyst and citrine, for the way it contains zones of purple and yellow or orange. Ametrine is also known as bolivianite due to the fact that the most economically significant source for this gemstone is the Anahi mine in Bolivia.
Ammolite is so named for its origin - the fossilized shells of ammonites, Upper Cretaceous disk-shaped cephalopods.
This mineral was given the name adalusite by Delamétherie, a French mineralogist, geologist and paleontologist who erroneously thought it came from Andalusia, an autonomous community in southern Spain. While it was soon discovered that the studied specimen came from the province of Guadalajara, near Madrid - not Andalusia - the name was not changed and persists to this day.
Andesine was given its name for its occurrence in the Andes Mountains, specifically in the andesite lava flows found in those mountains. Though this gemstone may have other sources (the Congo, Tibet, South India) that were discovered prior to the 1841 description from the Marmato mine in Columbia, andesine is the officially recognized name. It is also sometimes referred to by the name andesine-labradorite, though the two names should not be used synonymously because andesine-labradorite refers to a mineral whose chemical composition is between andesine and labradorite.
This mineral, named by German geologist, Abraham Gottlob Werner, in 1786, is often mistaken for other minerals and was therefore called apatite, from the Ancient Greek word apatao, meaning 'to deceive' or 'be misleading'.
This bluish-green variety of beryl derives its name from the Latin aqua marina, meaning 'seawater', for its resemblance to the crystal clear, bluish-green of shallow seawaters.
This mineral was given its name for its resemblance to the Italian glass aventurine, also called goldstone. In Italian, a ventura means 'by chance' and this is a reference to the accidental discovery of this type of glass. Most historians agree that this glass was first created in the area of Murano, near Venice, Italy, though there are varying stories about who first did it and when. A recurring theme in these mythologies is that avventurino was first created when someone accidentally dropped some copper filings into molten glass. The name was then attributed to the mineral that shares a similar appearance.
This group of minerals derives its name from the Ancient Greek axine, meaning 'axe', in allusion to axinite crystals' tendency to be broad, sharp-edged, and axe-headed in shape.
This deep-blue gemstone gets its name from the Ancient Persian word lajevard, which refers to the gemstone lapis lazuli, another deep-blue gemstone, as well as an area where it was mined. The pronunciation became lazaward in Arabic. Lapis lazuli is so called for the Latin lapis (stone) and lazulum (deep blue).
As lazuli made its way from Medieval Latin through Middle English (asure) and Middle French (azure), it lost the l, as if it were a French article, and finally became the word associated today with a clear blue sky: in Engish, azure; Italian, azzurro; French, azur; and Spanish, azul. Therefore, in 1824 French geologist, François Sulpice Beudant, changed the name from lazhward to azurite.
The name for this family of gemstones that includes aquamarine and emerald, is traced back to Prakrit, a Middle Indo-Aryan language in use from about 600 BCE to 1000 CE. Prakrit speakers used verulia, or veluriya, to refer to this gemstone. The ancient Greeks called this stone beryllos, which means 'precious blue-green color-of-seawater stone'. While the timeline of Greek and Prakrit use of these terms is unclear, it is unlikely that the similarity between the two words is a coincidence . Furthermore, as there are many significant deposits of beryl in and around India, and none in Greece, it is highly probable that the Greeks borrowed this word from Prakrit upon first encountering the gemstone during Greek expansion into Asia.
From Ancient Greek, the name was adopted into Latin (beryllus), then into Old French (beryl) and Middle English (beril). It seems the Old French adaptation stuck (more than likely due to our use of Latin for scientific classification) and the 'beryl' spelling is what we use today.
This gemstone is so named for the red inclusions of hematite that resemble drops of blood. Yet bloodstone goes by another name, heliotrope, which has its own etymology. This name is derived from two Ancient Greek words: helios (sun) and trepo (turn). It is said that the Greeks named this gemstone thus due to an optical phenomenon: when bloodstone is placed in water in direct sunlight, the whole of the stone appears red.
Incidentally, this name was also given to a flower that 'turns to face the sun'.
The name for this carbonate mineral made its way into English via a German name, Calcit, which was derived from the Latin for lime, calx with the suffix –ite to denote that it is a mineral. Calcit was not coined until the 19th century; prior to this, the mineral was known as 'alabaster', a name that has etymological roots that go back to ancient Egypt.
As this mineral was most commonly used to create vessels for perfumes and ointments, the Egyptians called it a-labaste , in reference to Bast, the cat-headed goddess known as 'She of the ointment jar'. The Greeks began to use this mineral for the same purpose during their expansion through Egypt and adopted the name into their language, calling it alabastos.
From there, the name went to Latin (alabaster), then to the Old French (alabastre), and finally Middle English (alabaster), the spelling that we use today.
This translucent brownish red to orange variety of chalcedony got its name from its resemblance to the cornel cherry. However, this is not where the etymology stops; to fully understand the origin of this name, we must go to Latin.
The cornel cherry was known in Latin as cornum, a word that is derived from the root caro, or carnis, meaning 'flesh'. It's reasonable to assume that the cherry resembled animal or human flesh and was, therefore given this name.
In Medieval Latin, corneolous was used to refer to this gemstone; it is argued that this word became 'cornelian', as it was used in 14th century English, only to be corrupted to 'carnelian' during the 16th century.
This tin oxide mineral's etymological origin is tied to the Old World sources for tin. While the Greeks used the word kassiteros (tin) to refer to this mineral, it is fairly clear that the ancient name for the element came from Phoenician expeditions to the north, specifically into Ireland and Great Britain. It is well-accepted that these two locations were the primary sources of tin for ancient peoples. As a result, the Phoenicians called this area Cassiterid.
More recently, it has been posited that the name was taken from the region of Kassites, home to an ancient people of west and central Iran, an area also known for its deposits of tin oxide.
A cryptocrystalline form of silica, this gemstone received its name from Chalcedon, an ancient marine town, almost directly opposite Byzantium in Asia Minor. It is unclear why the Greeks named this town such, or why they then attributed the name to the gemstone chalcedony. As there do not seem to be many localities for the gemstone in this area, it is possible that the blue of chalcedony was somehow evocative of the color of the seawater around Chalcedon, prompting the Greeks to share the name with the gemstone.
A very rare silicate mineral, charoite received its name from the Chara River in Siberia, Russia, the only known source for this gemstone. The word is composed of Ча́ра (chara), a Proto-Slavic word meaning 'glass, bowl, cup or goblet', -o, and –ite, denoting that it is a mineral. It is possible that the swirling patterns of white on this violet stone were evocative of the rapids that occur along the Chara River.
Not to be confused with beryl, a completely different gemstone, this aluminate of beryllium is named from the Greek chrysos (gold) and viryllos (beryl). While the Greeks did not distinguish between beryl and chrysoberyl beyond color, modern chemistry has shown us that there is indeed a great deal of difference in these mineral compounds.
A name first used by Theophrastus in 315 BC, then revived by André-Jean-François-Marie Brochant de Villiers in 1808, 'chrysocolla' is composed of the Greek chrysos (gold) and kolla (glue). This name is in allusion to the resemblance of chrysocolla to the material used as a flux when soldering gold in ancient times.
This gemstone variety of chalcedony's name is an allusion to its apple-green color. The Greek chrysos (gold) and prasinos (green) words are combined to mean 'golden apple'.
The etymology of citrine is very clearly traced to its resemblance to citrus fruits, particularly the lemon, grapefruit and orange. Prior to 1556, when German metallurgist Georg Bauer first named the gemstone in a jewelry and gemstone publication, citrine was referred to as 'yellow quartz'. In all probability, Bauer derived the name from the Old French citrin (lemon-colored), which was derived from the Latin citrus (the citron tree).
Clinohumite and humite have molecular formulae that are very close; however, humite has an orthombric crystal system, while clinohumite has a monoclinic crystal system. Therefore, this uncommon member of the humite mineral group was given this name in reference to its crystal system and similarity to humite.
First used by Theophrastus to describe precious red coral (once thought to be a mineral), the name korallion was adopted into Latin as corallium, then into the Old French as coral around 1300 CE, when it became used to refer in general to the marine invertebrates we know as coral.
This mineral was first discovered in 1839 by American mineralogist, Charles Upham Shephard, in Danbury, Connecticut, USA, hence the name, a combination of danbur- (its primary locality) and –ite, a suffix to denote that it is a mineral.
The name for the hardest natural material on Earth is derived from the Ancient Greek word adamas, which may be translated as 'invincible', 'unconquerable', or 'proper' in allusion to diamond's durability. This word traveled through Latin as adamas, then Late Latin as diamas, Old French as diamant, and Middle English as dyamaunt. The modern English spelling of 'diamond' is likely to have occurred sometime around 1350 CE.
This name, coined by René Just Haüy in 1808, is derived from the Greek diaspeírei (disperse) in allusion to this mineral's tendency to decrepitate (audibly crack, break up, and scatter) when exposed to high temperatures.
This pyroxene mineral is in the prismatic crystal class - its shape is a prism. As there are two ways to orient a prism, Rene Just Haüy (French priest and mineralogist known as the 'Father of Modern Crystalography') was inspired to create a name from the Greek dis (double) and opse (face); the –ide suffix is attached to denote that this is a mineral.
There are two gem-quality varieties of diopside: chrome diopside, a green gemstone, so named for the chromium that gives it is color; and black star diopside, which is given its name due to the display of asterism, or star effect.
To the ancient Egyptians, Arabs, and Hebrews, emerald was called bwyrq (Egyptian 'to sparkle'), barq (Arab 'flashing'), and baraket (Hebrew 'emerald, flashing gem). The path toward our modern use of the name emerald began when it was called marakata by the ancient Indians, a word that means 'the green growing of things'. This word made its way in some form into Persian, which was then translated by the Greeks to become smaragdos, 'green stone'. This term was then adopted into Vulgar Latin as smaralda, then into Old French as esmeraude, and finally Old English as emeraude.
A common mineral in meteorites, enstatite was given its name for its resistance to high temperatures and its ability to maintain its refractive index under extreme heat. Due to this property, the Greek enstates, meaning 'resistance', was combined with the suffix –ite to denote it as a mineral.
This mineral has a crystal characteristic of one longer side at the base of the prism. In allusion to this, Rene Just Haüy gave it the name 'epidote', from the Ancient Greek epidosis, a term that means 'addition' or 'increase'.
In 1797, Italian chemist and mineralogist, Carlo Antonio Galeani Napione, gave fluorite the name we presently use in reference to this colorful mineral. However, the discussion about fluorite goes back more than 250 years prior to Napione's label, when, in 1530, Georgius Agricola, a German scientist, reviewed fluorite's use as a flux in iron smelting, though he called it fluorspar, a neo-Latinization of the German Flusspat, from Fluß (stream, river) and Spat (a nonmetallic mineral akin to gypsum).
Fluorpar's etymology is traced back to Latin, in which fluere means 'to flow'; in fact, the word 'flux' comes from the Latin adjective fluxus (flowing).
In 1810, fluorite lent its name to the halogen, fluorine. In 1852, George Gabriel Stokes discovered the ability of specimens of fluorite to produce a blue glow when illuminated with light; he then coined the term 'fluorescence'.
In the context of archeology, gemology, classical studies, and Egyptology, the Latin terms murrina and myrrhina refer to fluorite.
Referred to as carbuncle (a general term for red gemstones) in ancient times, this group of salicate minerals was eventually given its name from the Middle English gernet (dark red), and the Old French grenate (pomegranate red). It is widely accepted that this word can be traced back to the Latin granatum, used to describe a seeded fruit; in this case, the pomum granatum, or pomegranate, a fruit with vivid red seed covers. It would have been reasonable for ancient naturalists to observe the resemblance of red, granular garnets and liken them to pomegranate seeds.
This very rare nickel carbonate mineral is found in only a handful of locations worldwide. It was first discovered on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada; therefore, the suffix –ite was attached to the name to denote a mineral and pay tribute to the place of gaspéite's discovery.
It is commonly held that 'gaspé' came from the Mi'kmaq (a First Nations tribe indigenous to the Canadian northeast) word Gespeg, which means 'land's end'. Other theories suggest that the name is a corruption of the Basque geizpe or kerizpe, meaning 'shelter'; or that the peninsula was named in honor of Portuguese explorer, Gaspar Corte-Real, who explored Newfoundland and Labrador in 1500.
This name, given to colorless beryl, is derived from the name of the Massachusetts town in which it was first discovered, at the turn of the 19th century on the Barrus farm. Goshenite - composed of the town's name and the –ite suffix, denoting a mineral - was first given to the pinkish beryl found on the property. In an attempt to curry favor with J.P. Morgan, the wealthy financier and banker, and solicit donations, the mineralogy society renamed pink beryl 'morganite' in 1907, and goshenite became the name for the colorless beryl.
First discovered on Madagascar in 1902 by French mineralogist, Alfred Lacroix, this bluish green to greenish blue gemstone was so named by Lacroix for the French explorer and naturalist Alfred Grandidier, who made extensive surveys of the island from 1865 to 1868; the suffix –ite indicates a mineral.
A violet variety of sodalite, hackmanite was first discovered in Greenland in 1896 by L. C. Boergstroem, and was later named after Victor Axel Hackman (1866-1941), a Finnish geologist and professor at the University of Helsinki.
This rare, often colorless gem was named by Norwegian geologist and mineralogist, Waldemar Christofer Brøgger, in 1890 for Axel Hamberg, professor of geography at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. Hamberg was responsible for drawing attention to the first specimens of hambergite.
A pseudomorph of quartz, hawk's eye displays a chatoyancy (cat's eye effect) with blues that closely resemble those found in the eye of a hawk. Hawk's Eye is actually a trade name for this color variety of Tiger's Eye, and is also known by the trade name Falcon's Eye.
When ground into a powder, this iron oxide displays a red-brown reminiscent of blood. It was, therefore, originally named haematitis lithos (blood-red stone) by Greek naturalist, Theophrastus, around 300 -325 BCE. Nearly three centuries later in 79 CE, Pliny the Elder (Roman naturalist and philosopher) translated this name into Latin as haematites (bloodlike). Incidentally, this is possibly the first mineral name to carry the –ite suffix. The modern spelling (omitting the first a) evolved as authors sought to simplify all words derived from the Greek root haema (blood).
Since its discovery, many names, including calamine, have been applied to this zinc ore. It was ultimately given its present name in 1853 by German mineralogist, Adolph Kengott, in allusion to the hemimorphic morphology of its crystals. The name itself is derived from the Greek hemi (half) and morph (shape).
In 1879, while in search of platinum for Edison's light bulbs, exploration geologist, William E. Hidden, came across a green variety of spodumene, which he then sent to chemist and mineralogist, J. Lawrence Smith for identification. Upon correctly identifying this variety, Smith named it in honor of Hidden in 1881. The town of Hiddenite, North Carolina (the community where the mineral variety was first discovered) was so named in 1913.
In 1868, Canadian chemist, geologist, and mineralogist, Henry How, discovered this borate mineral near Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada; he described it as silicoborocalcite. James Dwight Dana, American geologist, mineralogist, volcanologist, and zoologist gave it the name howlite shortly after its discovery, in honor of How.
Also known as vesuvianite, for the locality (Mount Vesuvius, Campania, Italy) in which it was first discovered by German gemologist, Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1795, the name idocrase is formed from the Ancient Greek eidos (form) and krausis (mixture) in allusion to the tendency of this mineral's crystals to exhibit a mixture of other mineral forms. In most cases, the name 'idocrase' is used when referring to the gemstone form, while 'vesuvianite' is used more in reference to its rough crystal form.
A gem-grade variety of cordierite, iolite derives its name from the Ancient Greek ion (violet) for its tendency to display violet pleochroism when lit from different angles. It was also known as 'Viking's Compass' for its use to view the direction of the sun on an overcast day.
This is actually the gemstone name for two minerals - jadeite and nephrite- though it has become a general term to refer to a large body of green ornamental stones, including serpentine, green quartz, and vesuvianite. The etymology is traced back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers arrived in Central America and saw indigenous people holding a green stone to their sides in the belief that it would cure ailments of the spleen or kidneys. The explorers called this gem piedra de ijada, roughly translated as 'stone of the pain in the side'.
The name for this variety of chalcedony can be traced back to a Semitic source - the Hebrew yashpeh, then to the Greek iaspis, the Latin iaspedem, and finally to the Old French jaspre. Throughout this etymological journey, the name has meant 'spotted or speckled stone' in allusion to jasper's multicolored, striped or spotted, flamed appearance caused by the foreign materials that make up to 20% of its content.
This rare translucent to transparent gemstone was named in honour of Andreas Nikolaus Kornerup (1857-1881), a Danish naturalist, artist and explorer, who made multiple research trips to Greenland where the mineral was found to occur.
A transparent, lilac spodumene, kunzite was named by American chemist, H. Charles Baskerville, in 1903 in honor of mineralogist, gemologist, and vice-president of Tiffany & Co. of New York, George Frederick Kunz, who discovered this mineral in Pala, California in the same year.
Although this gemstone does occur as colorless, white, gray, green, orange or yellow, it is commonly found and known as a deep-blue gem and this is precisely why, in 1789, Abraham Gottlob Werner gave it a name that is derived from kyaneos, Ancient Greek for 'blue'. Incidentally, throughout much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the French spelling 'cyanite' was commonly used by mineralogists; the reader may recognize the word 'cyan', used in printer cartridges to refer to the blue component of the toner.
A feldspar mineral, labradorite was given its name due to the location of its initial discovery in 1770 upon Paul's Island, just off the coast of Labrador, near the Moravian settlement of Nain, Canada.
This ancient gemstone was first mined on what is today the Arabic Peninsula, in an area known as Lajevard to the Persians, who consequently called this blue mineral by the same name. Lajevard was carried into Arabic as lazaward and, as the gemstone became more prolific in Roman trade, it became known in Latin as lapis (stone) lazuli (a genitive form of the Medieval Latin lazulum). Eventually, as lazulum progressed through Latin, Old French, and finally into Middle English, it became sufficiently corrupted into the word that is used to describe a particular blue - azure. Throughout history, there was never a doubt that lapis lazuli was 'the blue stone'.
Evocative of the light blue Caribbean waters around the Dominican Republic where this gem was discovered in 1974, Larimar is a trade name for pectolite, created by Miguel Méndez, a local Dominican, and Norman Rilling, a visiting US Peace Corps volunteer. The pair decided to create a name for this blue mineral by combining the first three letters of Méndez's daughter's name, Larissa, and the Spanish word for sea, mar. Although Méndez and Rilling's 'discovery' marks the first commercial exploitation of pectolite, it should be noted that Dominicans had cherished this blue gemstone for many generations already.
In 1792, German chemist, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, gave this violet to pink variety of mica its name from the Ancient Greek lepidos (scale) in allusion to the scaly appearance of many specimens of lepidolite.
The bright green of this copper mineral is so evocative of the mallow plant leaf that it was given its name from the Greek malache (mallow). In ancient times, the stone was actually called molochites lithos, Ancient Greek for 'mallow-green stone'. As the name passed from the Greek to the Old French, it became melochite. Finally, the Middle English form, malachite, is the name we continue to use today.
Also known as jade-albite, this green rock was so named for the Burmese village in the Himalyan foothills, near the site of its first discovery in 1963 by Swiss gemologist, Edward Gübelin.
This black variety of andradite (sometimes called 'titanian andradite') was named from the Ancient Greek melas (black), by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1799.
This variety of tektite was first discovered in 1787 in a river located in the Kingdom of Bohemia (the Czech Republic today); however, at the time of the discovery, this territory belonged to the German Confederation. Therefore, this gemstone mineral was known by two names: moldawit, from the German name for the river, Moldau; and vlatvin, from the river's Czech name, Vltava. The former is the name that became generally accepted.
This gemstone variety of orthoclase feldspar owes its name to the almost magical, bluish white shimmer (adularescence) it exhibits, which closely resembles that of the moon.
Also known as pink beryl, morganite was originally called goshenite, after Goshen, Massachusettes were it was discovered at the turn of the 20th century on Barrus Farm. In a bid to attract donations and patronage from J.P. Morgan, wealthy and powerful banker and financier, the mineralogical society changed the name to morganite, and goshenite was used to describe the colorless beryl.
Mother of Pearl is the nacreous inner shell coating of pearl-producing mollusks. As this iridescent material is the substance that 'gives birth' to the pearl, it is therefore considered the 'mother' of pearl and described in this way when used as a gemstone.
Geologist Peter W. Uitterdijk Appel first discovered this metamorphic rock in 1982 near Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. It was, therefore, named 'nuummite' to mean 'from Nuuk'.
When obsidian was first described by Pliny the Elder in 77 CE, he recognized that it was similar to the volcanic glass found by Obsidius, Roman explorer, on his tour of Ethiopia, and, therefore, named it after him.
This variously-colored, banded agate takes its name from the Greek o nýchi (the nail) for the way in which the flesh-colored agate resembles the tone and striations of a fingernail.
Opal's etymology is a fairly contested one; there are basically two camps: one that traces the name back to Sanskrit, and the other that attributes it to a Greek word. Upala is a Sanskrit word that means 'precious stone' or 'gemstone'. It is commonly believed that the Romans were the first to significantly trade in opal, believing it to be the most powerful of gemstones, for it contained every color of all other known gemstones. In any event, they definitely called it opalus, and this word was such a fundamental part of their mythology, that it's root, ops, was given as the name for the wife of Saturn, god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. The portion of Saturnalia - annual festival in honor of Saturn - dedicated to Ops was called Opalia. Incidentally, the Latin word ops means 'riches, goods, abundance, gifts, munificence, plenty' and is related to the Sanskrit word ápnas, meaning 'goods' or 'property'.
Those who support the Greek etymology as the origin for the gemstone name opal, base their argument upon the Greek word opallios, which is derived from two roots: one refers to seeing, as in the English words 'opaque' and 'optical'; and the second meaning 'other', as in the English words 'alias' or 'alter'. Historians who uphold this etymology claim that opalus came from opallios and was understood to mean 'to see a change in color', referring to opal's iridescence. Those who are contrary to this theory maintain that the Greek word opallios was derived from the Roman opalus for, prior to the Roman invasion of Greek lands, the Greeks used the word paederos to refer to precious stones, particularly opal and amethyst.
Originally named 'orthoklas' from the Ancient Greek meaning 'straight fracture' in allusion to the mineral's cleavage planes, which are at right angles to each other, giving orthoclase perfect cleavage, or a 'straight fracture'.
A petrified driftwood, usually brown to black in color, peanut wood is recognized by its ovoid white or cream colored markings that resemble the size and shape of a peanut, hence its name.
There are three plausible explanations for how this word ended up in Middle English as perle: 1) it came from the Latin perna, referring to the shape of a bivalve mollusk resembling a leg of lamb; 2) it is derived from the Latin perla, meaning ‘little bag’; or 3) it was taken from the Latin root for ‘pear’ (the fruit), perhaps in a comment on the similar shapes of pears and pearls.
The name for this white to gray mineral comes from the Ancient Greek pektos (compacted) and lithos (stone). Incidentally, the pale to sky blue gemstone variety of this mineral is known by the trade name Larimar.
It is most commonly held that the name for this yellowish green gemstone comes from the Arabic faridat (gem); the term passed through Latin and Old French to become the Modern French word (péridot) that we use today.
The Oxford English Dictionary, however, suggests that the name is an alteration of the Anglo-Norman pedoretés, a kind of opal.
Pietersite is a trade name for a rare dark blue-gray or reddish breccia aggregate (rock made up of fragments embedded in a matrix), comprised mostly of hawk's eye and tiger's eye. Pietersite from Namibia was first described in 1962 by Sid Pieters, who named it in honor of his father. The term 'pietersite' is now used as a general term to describe brecciated tiger's eye.
Prehnite is named after Colonel Hendrik Von Prehn, Dutch commander of military forces in South Africa, who first brought specimens of this mineral from South Africa to Europe in the middle of the 18th century.
The name for this barium manganese hydroxide was first used in 1758 and is derived from the Ancient Greek psilos (fine or smooth) and melas (black) in allusion to its smooth, black appearance.
Pyrite, also known as 'fool's gold', due to its pale brass-yellow, lustrous hue, got its name from the Greek pyrites lithos - meaning 'the stone of fire' - because of the way it glitters like a flame. The Romans then borrowed and applied this name - pyrites - to a large number of stones that would create sparks when struck with metal. By the 16th century, this term (now used as pyrite) was generally applied to the group of sulfide minerals, which we call 'the Pyrite mineral group' today and includes 25 minerals - pyrite, or iron sulfide, being one of them.
The most varied of all minerals, the word quartz comes directly from the German Quarz (rock crystal). This term's etymology is traced back through Middle High German (quarz or twarc) to a West Slavic language, possibly a dialect of Polish or Czech; the word for 'hard' in these languages is twardy and tvrdý, respectively.
The deep red and hot pink of this mineral's crystals are evocative of a rose's color; therefore, it was described using the Ancient Greek rhodókhrōs, meaning 'rose colored', from rhódon (rose), khrṓs (color), and the suffix –ite denoting a mineral.
Owing to its attractive pink and red hues, rhodonite was given its name from the Ancient Greek rhodon (rose).
This species of corundum is well known for its rich red color; it owes its name to the Latin rubeus, meaning 'red'. In Medieval Latin, the gem was described as rubinus lapis ('red stone'), then as rubi in Old French, and by the 14th century, the Middle English spelling became 'ruby'. It was not until the late 16th century that 'ruby' was used in English as a color name and adjective.
The name sapphire comes via Latin (sapphirus) and Old French (saphir), and is mainly attributed to an Ancient Greek word, sáppheiros, meaning 'blue stone', though it may have originally been used to describe lapis lazuli. There is also some speculation that the term can be traced back to a Sanskrit word, śanipriya, meaning 'dark-colored stone'.
This rare gemstone that is named after the Ancient Greek word skapos, meaning 'rod' or 'stick', and lithos (stone), due to the long columnar formation of its crystals.
First described in 1813 using the Ancient Greek skolecks (worm) and the suffix –ite to denote a mineral, scolecite reacts in a 'worm-like' manner when exposed to a blowpipe flame.
The name selenite comes from selini, the Ancient Greek for 'moon', since the vitreous to pearly luster of selenite exudes a glow that is reminiscent of the moon.
This trade name for clinochlore acquired its name due to its feather-like, chatoyant, fibrous inclusions evocative of the seraphim, 'a winged, celestial being' in the Ancient Greek.
A group of over 20 minerals, serpentine exhibits greenish hues and a texture similar to the skin of a snake; it is, therefore, named from the Latin serpens, meaning 'snake' or 'serpent'.
Sillimanite was named in honor of Benjamin Silliman, noted chemist and first professor of mineralogy at Yale University, in 1824.
In 1747, Johan Gottschalk Wallerius, Swedish chemist and mineralogist, began calling zinc carbonate 'calamine', a simplified form of lapis caliminarus, used by Agricola as far back as 1546, to describe the same mineral. In 1803, British chemist, mineralogist, and benefactor of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., James Smithson, discovered that calamines consisted of a carbonate and a silicate. In 1832, François Sulpice Beudant, French mineralogist and geologist, named the mineral group 'smithsonite' in honor of James Smithson's work.
This rich, royal blue mineral was given its name for its high sodium content; the –lite suffix derived from the Greek lithos, meaning 'stone'.
An uncommon variety of labradorite, Spectrolite was initially a trade name for any of this material that was mined in Finland. Due to its vivid iridescence and full spectrum of colors, Finnish geologist, Aarne Laitakari, used the prefix spectro-, from the Latin spectrum (appearance, image, or apparition), and the Latin suffix –lite, from lithos (stone), to coin this brand name in 1940.
The name 'sphalerite' comes from the Ancient Greek word sphaleros, which means 'deceptive' or 'treacherous', in allusion to the frequency with which varieties of this mineral were mistaken for galena (an ore of lead), though contained no lead. Ernst Friedrich Glocker, a German mineralogist, geologist, and paleontologist, is credited for assigning this name in 1847.
A synonym for titanite, sphene is derived from the Greek sphenos, meaning 'wedge', an allusion to this mineral's wedge-shaped crystals. The name was coined by René Just Haüy in 1801.
There are two camps regarding the etymology of this mineral group name. There are those who contend that Jean Demeste, a Belgian physician, named spinel from the Latin spinella, meaning 'little thorn or spine' in reference to its sharp, pointed octahedral crystals. Others assert that spina is a form of the Ancient Greek spinthḗr, meaning 'spark', in reference to the gemstone's bright color.
This gemstone-quality pyroxene mineral draws its name from the Ancient Greek word spodumenos, which means 'burnt to ashes', alluding to the natural color of opaque, industrial-grade spodumene crystals, which are often found in unattractive, dull ash-gray colors.
Sugilite was named by Nobuhide Murakami, Toshio Kato, Yusunori Miura, and Fumitoshi Hirowatari in 1976 in honor of Ken-ichi Sugi, petrologist at the Imperial University Kyushu, who first found the occurrence of the mineral with his colleague, M. Kutsuna, on Iwagi Island, Japan, in 1944.
A variety of feldspar, sunstone's name is derived from its typically orange to reddish in color and spangled, glittery appearance that is reminiscent of the sun.
Tanzanite is scientifically known as blue-violet variety of zoisite; as this name has virtually no consumer appeal, the marketing department of Tiffany & Co. recognized tanzanite's commercial value and replaced the name in 1968. The name, therefore, has a very recent etymology and is derived from its exclusive source - a small area in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania.
This variety of quartz exhibits a remarkable gold and brown chatoyancy (cat's eye effect), evocative of a tiger's eye.
The name topaz has been derived from Topazios, an Ancient Greek name given to a small island, known today as Zabargad, in the Red Sea. Although topaz was never found on that island, at one time it produced an abundance of peridot, which was often confused with topaz prior to the advancement of contemporary mineralogy. It is possible to trace this word's etymology further back to a Sanskrit root, tapas, which means 'heat' or 'fire', alluding to this gemstone's brilliance.
The etymological root for the name tourmaline is turmali, a Sinhalese (Sri Lankan language) word for 'mixed gems', and was first used as a generic term to refer to all the colored crystal gems found on the island of Sri Lankan, then known as Ceylon.
Tourmaline, as a specific mineral name, was used by Sven Rinmann (Swedish chemist and mineralogist) in 1766. Dr. John Hill (English apothecary and naturalist) called it 'tourmaline garnet' in 1771, and Richard Kirwan (Irish chemist and mineralogist) shortened the name to 'tourmaline' in 1794.
Referred to by the ancient Greeks as callais (green gemstone) and by the Aztecs as chalchihuitl ('precious green gemstone', or 'heart of the earth'), turquoise was given its modern name by the French, who called it pierre turquois (Turkish stone) - as this gemstone was first commercially sourced in Persian mines on the south slopes of the Al-Mirsah-Kuh Mountains, and made its way back to Europe via Turkey.
Variscite is named after Variscia, the Saxon name of the Vogtland district of Germany, where it was first discovered in massive fine-grained aggregate form in 1837.
Verdite is the trade name for a green ornamental stone that is specifically an impure variety of fuchsite. This name has a Latin origin from viridis (green), the same root of words such as the English verdant (green with color or vegetation) or the Spanish verde (green).
Originally called lyncurion by Theophrastus (Greek naturalist and philosopher) around 300 BCE, zircon was renamed by German geologist, Abraham Gottlob Werner. The etymology of zircon is traced back to the Persian word zargun (golden-hued) that was later corrupted into jargon, a French word used to vaguely refer to high-quality, diamond-like gemstones. Zirkon, the German adaptation of this word, was eventually modified to become the English word zircon.
This mineral was originally discovered in the Saualpe Mountains of Austria in 1805 by the mineral dealer Simon Prešern, who forwarded samples of the mineral to the Slovenian mineralogist, Sigmund Zois, who named it 'saualpite', to commemorate the location of its discovery. The name was subsequently changed to 'zoisite', in honor of Baron Zois.
- First Published: November-14-2019
- Last Updated: May-28-2020
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