The Terms of Reference for WGSN were
approved by IAU Executive Committee at the EC98 meeting in May 2016.
IAU Catalog of Star Names (IAU-CSN)
(last updated 19 November 2017; Washington Double Star designations
and component identifiers have been added for all stars, where
relevant, and vetted by Commission G1 Binary and Multiple Star
Chair: Eric Mamajek (USA)
Beatriz Garcia (Argentina) [President, Comm. C1 Astronomy Education & Development]
Duane Hamacher (Australia) [Chair, Inter-Comm. C1-C4 WG Intangible Heritage]
Thierry Montmerle (France) [Chair, Exec. Comm. WG Public Naming of Planets & Planetary Satellites]
Jay Pasachoff (USA) [Organizing Committee Comm. C3 History of Astronomy; Chair, Inter-Div. C-E WG Solar Eclipses]
Ian Ridpath (UK) [Member, Division C Comm. C2 Communicating Astronomy with the Public, Comm. C3 History of Astronomy]
Xiaochun Sun (China) [President, Comm. C3 History of Astronomy]
Robert van Gent (Netherlands) [Member, Div. C Education, Outreach and Heritage]
Yunli Shi (China) [Working Group Associate]
Inquiries or input to the IAU WGSN can be sent
to firstname.lastname@example.org. Before emailing the WGSN, please review
our Terms of Reference to familiarize
yourself with the group's activities and focus (names of stars already
in common use or cultural/historical names for stars and asterisms
from the world's cultures). As
policy, the WGSN does not sanction the selling or buying of star
names, nor recognize star names that have been bought or
WGSN plans for 2018: The WGSN's activities between now and the
IAU General Assembly in 2018 are centered on compiling
traditional/common and cultural star names, adopting unique IAU names
for bright and astrophysically important stars that already had
traditional/common names (standardizing names and spellings, see
IAU-CSN catalog), and discussing guidelines for the *future* naming of
stars (beyond 2018). The WGSN plans to write an article for the IAU
CAPS journal before the IAU General Assembly in 2018 discussing the
adopted star names and their etymologies (especially for names
unfamiliar to most astronomers, with etymologies in obscure
literature). WGSN will continue to compile cultural star names from
around the world, and may adopt new names as unique names for
Catalogue of Star Names.
How can the public help?: The WGSN is seeking compilations of
"old" cultural star names, especially from difficult-to-find
literature (please email email@example.com). The WGSN
is not accepting proposals for NEW names for stars at this time
("new" meaning something you, your friend or family member just came
up with). There may be future naming opportunities via the IAU for
proposing names for exoplanets and stars in the future (akin
to NameExoWorlds), but
we are unaware of anything definitely planned yet.
Inquiries or comments unrelated to the WGSN's Terms of Reference
(e.g. requests to name stars for dead pets, your favorite football
player, etc.) may go unanswered.
Q: Can the IAU/WGSN name a star for my [relative/dead pet/favorite
sport star/cartoon character/dead musician/dead person who did
very noble thing/etc.]?
A: No. You are obviously welcome to name whatever stars for
whoever or whatever you wish (indeed many of the brightest stars have
dozens of known names across many cultures). The sky belongs to
everyone. You can name Vega for your favorite K-pop singer if you
The WGSN's activities are summarized in
of Reference with the IAU. One of the IAU's activities over the
past century is in providing consistent nomenclature for celestial
objects (and setting rules for designating new objects) so as to avoid
confusion in communication. WGSN's activities currently involve
cataloguing historical/cultural star names, and is doing so on behalf
of the International Astronomical Union, the world's largest
professional society of astronomers whose mission "is to promote and
safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through
international cooperation". Some of the names from the astronomical
literature and cultural astronomy literature are adopted as unique
names and added to the
Catalogue of Star Names. Priority on which names are/were added
are those that have been used in international astronomical
literature in recent decades and centuries (to preserve continuity,
e.g. like those found in Bright Star Catalog, popular star atlases,
etc., like Vega, Sirius, etc.). Second priority on naming goes to
cultural names from astronomical traditions from around the world
(some going back thousands of years).
The WGSN is not
accepting proposals for "new" names at this time, but we are
accepting input on historical and cultural star names (and can use
your help! i.e. especially ancient celestial names from cultures
that do not yet appear to be represented among the ranks of the IAU
Catalogue of Star Names). Regions that are currently
under-represented among the celestial names represented in the
IAU-CSN are those from the Americas, Africa, Australia, Polynesia
(efforts are underway surveying the cultural astronomy literature
for groups in these regions). WGSN is surveying literally centuries
of astronomical literature.
Q: Why doesn't culture [X] have stars represented yet in the IAU
Catalogue of Star Names? This is unfair and you are biased against
culture [X] or people from continent [Y]!
A: Please keep some things in mind. (1) The number of
stars named per culture, and the number recorded in easily accessible
literature (books, scanned books, journal articles), varies widely by
culture - ranging from zero to hundreds (e.g. Arabic). (2) For
some cultures, only names of some of the very brightest stars
(e.g. brighter than 2nd magnitude) are known - but most of these
already had common names and entries in the IAU Catalogue of Star
Names. So sometimes there are few, if any opportunities, to include a
star name from some cultures because they named relatively few, if
any, fainter stars that didn't already have a common name in
international astronomical literature. (3) The WGSN's efforts to
survey the literature of celestial names from various cultures is
on-going, and the IAU Catalogue of Star Names will likely grow
further. (4) Rather than complain, you can actually help
the IAU/WGSN by sending references with the star names and
cross-identifications (e.g. Bayer designations).
Q: Such-and-such star name in the IAU Catalogue of Star Names is
ugly and/or was contrived during the [19th or 20th] century. Why not
re-name it with a new/old (cultural) name?
A: Probably the exemplars of these complaints are Acrux and
These two bright stars are in the Southern Cross (constellation Crux)
- in the southern hemisphere. Their names appear to have been coined
by a 19th century northern hemisphere astronomer (Elijah Burritt,
circa 1835). In order to avoid unnecessary confusion, the WGSN has
put a premium on continuity with names that have appeared numerous
times in astronomical literature in recent decades. The spellings for
the adopted star names are also the spellings deemed most common in
the astronomical literature in recent decades and centuries (even if
the current name is seemingly an "incorrect" transliteration of a term
from another language; e.g. "Betelguese" is almost completely
unrecognizable from the Arabic phrase which would now be
transliterated as "Yad al-Jauza'"). Note that some names with unusual
origins (e.g. the famous cases of Rotanev and Sualocin), and otherwise
unknown origins (Names from the 1950's-era Becvar atlases;
e.g. Achird, Hatysa, etc.), have propagated sufficiently widely in the
astronomical literature that renaming them would only cause further
Q: What are the origins of the star names Ginan,
A: Ginan, Larawag, and Wurren are names of stars from the
Aboriginal Wardaman people in modern-day Northern Territory of
Australia. The names are mentioned in the book "Dark Sparklers:
Yidumduma's Aboriginal Astronomy - Northern Australia 2003" by Hugh
Cairns & Bill Yidumduma Harney, and indentifications to stars with
Bayer designations was done through interpretation of the night sky
maps in Appendix A of "Dark Sparklers".
Ginan (epsilon Cru) refers to a dilly bag - the "Bag of Songs"
in Wardaman creation mythology.
Larawag (epsilon Sco) means "clear sighting" in Wardaman astronomy.
Wurren (zeta Phe Aa) means "child" in Wardaman but in this context
refers to a "Little Fish", a star adjacent to Achernar (Gawalyan =
procupine or echidna) to whom little fish provides water.
Q: What is the origin of the star name Urnugunite?
A: The Boroong clan of Wergaia from what is now Victoria,
Australia called the star designated &sigma CMa
"Unurgunite", a mythological figure who battles the moon (Mityan) who
attempts to seduce one of his wives (the two stars east and west
- Epsilon CMa (Adhara) and Delta CMa (Wezen);
& Frew 2010).
Q: What are the Coptic star names that have been included in the IAU Catalogue of Star Names?
A: The two Coptic star names included in the IAU catalogue are
Khambalia (Bayer designation: Lambda Virginis; alias HR 5359) and
Polis (Bayer designation Mu Sgr A; alias HR 6812). "Khambalia" refers
to a Coptic lunar asterism ("the crooked-claw") consisting of Iota,
Kappa, and Lambda Virginis, where the "claw" refers to "the tiops of
the bent claws of Scorpion extending through... Libra" (Brown
1896). In recent times, the name has been usually ascribed just to
Lambda Virginis. "Polis" refers to "the foal", referring to the stars
in the bow of the Sagittarius (the Hippocentaur). In recent times, the
name was usually ascribed to Mu Sagittarii (following Allen 1899), and
the IAU catalogue lists the name for the brightest star Mu Sgr Aa.
Q: Do the "new" IAU names "re-name" the stars? Rename their Bayer names? Are their "old" Bayer names "obsolete"?
A: This is commonly mis-stated in media stories. The short
answer is No. For stars, one distinguishes "names" as either
"proper names" (e.g. Sirius) or "designations" (e.g. HR 2491). While
one talks about "star names", they usually mean "proper names" (like
"Sirius"), and refer separately to "stellar designations". Stellar
"designations" never go away (they just seem to multiply in the
literature as new star catalogues appear!). While the Bayer "names"
sound like elegant proper names, in reality they are just
transliterated designations. The Bayer identifiers are a special class
of astronomical designation that doesn't follow the modern IAU
guidelines (http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/Dic/iau-spec.htx), but are
"grandfathered" in given their ubiquity in the astronomical literature
over the past four centuries (Bayer's
"Sirius" will always have the Bayer designation transliterated as
"Alpha Canis Majoris", along with the Bright Star Catalogue
designation HR 2491, and many others
The situation is somewhat analogous to planetary satellites: Neptune's
moon "Proteus" is also known by its designations "Neptune VIII" and
its temporary discovery designation "S/1989 N1" - but 99.999% of the
time, you'll just hear it called by its IAU proper name "Proteus". The
same can be said of proper names for stars like "Sirius" or "Vega"
(one rarely hears them referred to by their alphanumeric designations
like HR 7001, HR 172167, GJ 721, etc.). The Bayer designations consist
of a lower-case Greek letter and the genitive form of a constellation
name (e.g. Alpha Canis Majoris). Even though the Greek letter in the
Bayer designation is a lower case "alpha", since the object is an
astronomical object, it is capitalized following Sec. 6.13 of the IAU
style guidelines (IAU Style Manual 1989;
one writes "Tau Ceti" instead of "tau Ceti". For example, "Ginan" is a
"new" IAU name for the star with Bayer designation "Epsilon Crucis"
(really it was originally an ancient Aboriginal Wardaman name for the
star), but the Bayer designation never goes away. "Ginan" still has
this designation along with many others from various star catalogs: