IAU Logo IAU Working Group
on Star Names (WGSN)

WGSN is a Working Group of the IAU Division C: Education, Outreach and Heritage

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 11 June 2018)

Bulletin of the IAU Working Group on Star Names, No. 1 (July 2016)
Bulletin of the IAU Working Group on Star Names, No. 2 (October 2016)
IAU Press Release: IAU Formally Approves 227 Star Names (November 24, 2016)
IAU Press Release: IAU Approves 86 New Star Names From Around the World (December 11, 2017)
IAU Catalogue of Star names (on IAU "Naming Stars" site)
WGSN Triennial Report (2015-2018)

WGSN Membership:
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 iauwgsn@gmail.com. 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 per IAU policy, the WGSN does not sanction the selling or buying of star names, nor recognize star names that have been bought or sold.

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 the IAU 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 iauwgsn@gmail.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 like.
The WGSN's activities are summarized in its Terms 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 IAU 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 Gacrux. 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 confusion.

Q: What are the origins of the star names Ginan, Larawag, Wurren?

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); Stanbridge, 1861, Hamacher & 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 1603 Uranometria). "Sirius" will always have the Bayer designation transliterated as "Alpha Canis Majoris", along with the Bright Star Catalogue designation HR 2491, and many others (see SIMBAD. 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; https://www.iau.org/static/publications/stylemanual1989.pdf), i.e. 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: simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-id?Ident=Ginan).