Star Names

Have you ever heard the name of a star or constellation and wondered what it meant? Of course you have!

I've compiled a table of commonly known star names and their definitions in the Western tradition, grouped by constellation. The Latin constellation names are given along with their 3-letter abbreviation, genetive form, and translation. Following each constellation entry are any named stars found therein (in order from brightest to faintest), listing the Bayer (Greek letter) or other common designation, the star name, and English translation. You can search the document for a specific name, designation, or constellation using your Web browser tools, or just read along leisurely. A plain-text version is available for those who can't parse HTML tables.

Disclaimer: This table was created merely for recreational use, and should not be considered authoritative. It contains data taken from a number of sources, with no attempt made to evaluate their veracity; I'm not a linguist! Furthermore, the table is not complete. At some point it would be nice to add information from the second set of references listed below. Unfortunately, the time I can devote to this anymore is essentially zero, so the odds of anything happening are remote.
Additional information on constellations and the stars listed in each can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate links in the table, which connect to other resources on the web.
Note: the star links in the table point to data which may not be accessible to all users! For access details, please consult the SIMBAD website.

A partial list of useful related sites is given at the bottom of this page.

Enjoy!


Where do these names come from?

Human fascination with the night sky long predates the dawn of history. Many stars and constellations bear labels from old mythologies -- for example, the prominent figure of Orion is loaded down with the lore of the ancient Greeks, Sumerians, and many others.

While constellations usually form pictures of people or animals in various myths, star names are more of a mixed bag. The majority are related to their constellation, e.g., the star Deneb means ``tail'' and labels that part of Cygnus the Swan. Others describe the star itself, such as Sirius, which translates literally as ``scorching,'' apt enough for the brightest star in the sky. Then there are a handful that seem utterly out of place: Lepus the Hare includes a star named Nihal, which means ``camels quenching their thirst'' -- a holdover from a previous and unrelated constellation?

Quite a few star names are Arabic, in which al means ``the'' and often appears in front, e.g., Algol, ``The Ghoul.'' Its inclusion has become somewhat arbitrary over time; several of these names are given elsewhere with or without the Al- prefix. Most other names in the Western tradition have Greek or Latin origins. The table also includes a few non-Western names (e.g., Chinese).

But regardless of origin, almost all star names are old -- hundreds or even thousands of years old. They are a part of our collective cultural heritage. Modern astronomers study many stars too faint to see without a telescope, and these are so numerous they are known only by catalog numbers and coordinates. As a result, official star names are essentially limited to the old names. Be wary of any service that offers to ``sell'' stars for you to name.


References

Information was gathered from the following sources. I heartily recommend reading them all for much more astronomical and mythological lore than I can provide here. The following people have generously provided additions and corrections to the table, most via email:
*Professor Kunitzsch, a scholar and author in the field of star names, was kind enough to write via paper mail from Germany with a large number of corrections.
The following are references I have not yet had time to incorporate into the star names list:


Useful Links

Some other sites with star name information:


Please send comments to Steven Gibson