The Terms of Reference for WGSN were
approved by IAU Executive Committee at the EC98 meeting in May 2016, renewed
after the 2018 IAU General Assembly, and it is now recognized as an IAU "Functional
Working Group""whose scope and purpose are institutional and naturally extend beyond the IAU three-year cycle."
Chair: Eric Mamajek (USA)
B S Shylaja (India) [Member, Comms. C2, C3, C4]
Juan Antonio Belmonte Avilés (Spain) [Vice Pres. Comm. C4 World Heritage & Astronomy]
Sze-leung Cheung (Japan) [IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach]
Beatriz García (Argentina) [Co-Chair, Comm. C1 WG Network for Astronomy School Education]
Steven Gullberg (USA) [Chair, Inter-Commission C1-C3-C4 WG Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture]
Duane Hamacher (Australia) [Inter-Commission C1-C3-C4 WG Ethnoastronomy and Intangible Astronomical Heritage]
Susanne Hoffmann (Germany) [Member of Comm. C3 History of Astronomy, Inter-Comm. C1-C3-C4 WG Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture]
Alejandro Lopez (Argentina) [Chair, Comm. C4 WG Astronomical Heritage in Danger]
Javier Mejuto Gonzalez (Honduras) [Co-chair, Inter-Comm. C1-C3-C4 WG Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture]
Thierry Montmerle (France) [Past General Secretary of IAU Exec. Comm. 2012-2015]
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]
Clive Ruggles (UK) [Advisor, Comm. C4 World Heritage & Astronomy]
Robert van Gent (Netherlands) [Member, Div. C Education, Outreach and Heritage]
Hitoshi Yamaoka (Japan) [Member, Comm. C2 Communicating Astronomy with the Public] WGSN Associates
Danielle Adams (USA)
Yunli Shi (China)
Doris Vickers (Austria)
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
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
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
Catalog 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
Catalog 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
Catalog 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 Catalog 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 Catalog 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 Catalog 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 exemplar of this complaint
The name of this bright star in the 'southern cross' was 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 over recent decades that renaming them would only cause further
Q: What are the origins of the star names Ginan, Gudja,
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.
Gudja (kappa Ser) refs to "Water Goanna" in Wardaman astronomy.
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 Guniibuu?
Guniibuu represents the mythological robin red-breast bird among the
Kamilaroi and Euahlayi Aboriginal peoples in modern-day New South
Q: What is the origin of the star name Imai?
Imai is the name for the star designated Delta Crucis by the Mursi
people of modern-day Ethiopia. The star Imai has some significance as
when it "ceases to appear in the evening sky at dusk (around the end
of August), it is said that the Omo [river] rises high enough to
flatten the imai grass that grows along its banks, and then subsides."
The Mursi use a series of southern stars to mark their
calendar to track seasonal flooding of the Omo river. See
Astronomy: An Encyclopedia of Cosmologies and Myth" by Clive
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 is the origin of the star name Paikauhale?
A: Paikauhale is the Hawai'ian name for the bright star
designated Tau Scorpii, just south of Antares in the heart of the
constellation Scorpius (Kawena, Johnson, & Ruggles, 2015, "Na Inoa
Hoku: Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names", p.201; Puku'i & Elbert, 1986,
"Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian", p.31). In
the Hawai'ian dictionary by Puku'i & Elbert (1986), the word
"paikauhale" means "to go gadding about from house to house". In
another Hawai'ian dictionary (H.W. Kent, 1993, "Treasury of Hawaiian
Words in One Hundred and One Categories", p.367), "paikauhale" is
listed with definition "Vagabond owning no home; house-to-house
wanderer." In some astronomical references, the star designated Tau
Scorpii had the name "Alniyat" or "Al Niyat", which was duplicative
(and now considered obsolete) with the star designated Sigma Scorpii
(now with IAU name "Alniyat").
Q: What are the Coptic star names that have been included in the IAU Catalog 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 Catalog
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:
Q: Does the name attributed to the unresolved multiple star system or to an individual (e.g. brightest) member? The ancient sky observers clearly did not resolve star XYZ, how can only one component be assigned that name?
A: WGSN is looking to the past to recognize cultural and historical star names, but it is looking to the present and future to guide the usage of those names. 21st century astronomy includes multiple star systems, sometimes with exoplanets or other substellar companions. These systems are transforming from mere points of light in the sky to increasingly well-characterized stellar and exoplanetary systems, some becoming very familiar to astronomers around the world. Early in the deliberations of the WGSN, it was decided to pursue a one-name-one-object philosophy to guide the naming (although one can recognize cultural aliases for that object). For other classes of astronomical objects with IAU names like planets, moons, and asteroids, etc., the name is ascribed to a single object so that it has a (preferably) unique moniker. "Sun" describes the central bright object in our solar system, but it makes no sense for it to refer to the myriad smaller objects that orbit it also. Improved observations will break up points of light into single objects or objects with smaller bodies in orbit. Where we know there to be multiple objects, it makes sense for them to have separate names. For designations for e.g. multiple star systems, this is easily done by adding additional objects "B", "C", or exoplanets "b", "c", etc., or if a companion is split into additional components one may see a "Ba", "Bb", etc. There has been some external resistence to this one-name-one-object, but this represents a transition in our naming of celestial objects from what the ancients could see with their naked eye to what we can see with modern telescopes, spectrographs, and interferometers. As soon as it was clear that the IAU was transitioning to adopting proper names for exoplanets and host stars in the mid-2010s, this necessitated some clarity. Ultimately one can imagine end cases like the Alpha Centauri multiple system where the 3 stellar components (all now with IAU proper names: Rigil Kentaurus, Toliman, Proxima Centauri) eventually have their orbiting exoplanets with IAU-recognized names.
Q: Are there official pronunciations for the star names?
A: Please provide the information to WGSN via this online form. Please read the opening description first - note that WGSN already has access to numerous references on e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Polynesian, Wardaman star names. So we are particularly interested in more obscure references/sources.