Chemistry Inspirations


Benzene is quite literally the dude of organic chemistry: a reaction would seem rather dull without a benzene ring thrown in for good measure. That’s my way of introducing a quirky, chemistry way of getting to the nickname Ben without having to use Benjamin (and the two are linked).

But what is a benzene ring I hear you cry. Well, they look like this:

My super dooper drawing of benzene

The one on the right is how benzene is usually notated for the sake of simplicity. It also happens to be known as the Kekulé structure, since it was suggested by August Kekulé all the way back in 1865 after he had a little nap by the fireside and dreamt of snakes which inspired the ring shape of the molecule (it had previously been somewhat of a conundrum as to how to arrange six carbons and six hydrogens without breaking any key chemistry rules, e.g. carbon usually forms four bonds at a time).

As you can see, Kekulé came up with a structure which consists of a ring of carbon atoms with alternating single and double bonds.

Whilst a benzene ring itself is not particularly reactive due in part to it’s ring nature, it forms a part of many chemical compounds, e.g. TNT (the explosive):


Trinitrotoluene (TNT), from

Exciting, huh? But where does the name Benzene actually come from?

It derives from gum benzoin, an aromatic resin from southeast Asia and known to European pharmacists and perfumers since around the 15th century. The benzoin part itself is a corruption of the Arabic expression, lubān jāwī, or frankincense of Java. You see, those crazy Catalan traders who bought this gum benzoin (curiously sometimes also known as gum benjamin) dropped the lu part and changed the a to an e giving you the word benjawi. The Italians decided this wasn’t enough, so further altered the word to benjuì, and in Latin it ultimately came to be known as benzoë, making it look like a rather perplexing Benjamin and Zoë smoosh name.

That’s not the end of the story though, because benzene wasn’t originally called benzene – it was called bicarburet of hydrogen. This name was dreamt up by Michael Faraday (he of Faraday constant fame) when he first isolated and identified benzene in 1825. In 1833 a chap by Eilhard Mitscherlich came along and distilled benzoic acid (which comes from gum benzoin) and lime together to get benzene and he decided to name the compound benzin, and this eventually morphed in to the word benzene we know today.

Categories: Chemistry Inspirations, Name Profile | Tags: | 5 Comments

The Periodic Table: 3 Super Cool Elemental Names


Whilst names are an addictive hobby for me, alas, chemistry is my true love in life. I’ve occasionally combined both passions before on this blog, and now has come the time to have another delve.

This time, we’re looking at the names of three elements which all have a striking potential to double up as names for little ‘uns too. At least, that’s what this crazy scientist believes.

1. Astatine

Remember the epic that was little Luna Thurman-Busson’s full name? It included the names Altalune and Arkadina, and for some reason Astatine makes me think of both of those names. The reason it sounds an awful lot like a name is that is is derived, like many names, from Greek origins and means unstable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Astatine is a radioactive element, and notably none of it’s isotopes last very long due to it being highly unstable.

2. Neon

A little boy by the name of Neon has recently hit the headlines here in the UK, and I spent the first day or so believing his name was Leon until I eventually saw his name written out in a newspaper article and finally had to accept that he was indeed called Neon. The name comes from Greek and means new one.

Neon is what is known as a noble gas, sitting pretty and smug in the final group of the periodic table with a full outer shell of electrons. Unlike Astatine, Neon is likely to be known outside the close-knit chemistry world, since it’s also used to refer to certain fluorescent colours, too.

3. Cadmium

There’s a children’s book by Hilary McKay which revolves around a family where all four children are named after colours: Cadmium Gold ‘Caddy‘, Indigo (a dude); Saffron ‘Saffy’ and Permanent Rose ‘Rose‘. With Addy an increasingly popular nickname, the option of Caddy must appeal to some.

The element was named after and Ancient Greek fellow by the name of Cadmus who has been credited with being the inventor of the alphabet.

Categories: Chemistry Inspirations | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Closet Chemistry: Amines and Esters

I’ve been thinking about organic chemistry quite a bit recently, and the combining of it with the topic of names struck me when we mentioned Amine last week. It’s a name of relative popularity in France, but it’s also the name of a functional group containing a nitrogen with a lone pair of electrons. For those interested, they can look like this:

Primary Amine, from

You may have no idea why they’re important but it’s from amines that we get amino acids, which collectively make up proteins. That makes them vital for life. So, one could call Amino a slight variation of the name Amine – especially given that the French slightly altered the Arabic name Amin to get to Amine. Amin comes from the Arabic word for truthful and the female form of the name is Amina(h). Aminah was the name of the prophet Muhammad’s mother, who died when he was young. The Arabic word and name Amina means feel safe. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amina was the #1 female name in 2010; the most popular male name that year was Amar.

Names that sound like they’re related to the above ones include the Iranian name Minoo, sometimes seen as Minu, which derives from Persian and means heaven or paradise. Like the English name Heaven, or alas the infamous Nevaeh, Minoo is a feminine name. A name of Arabic origins which means heaven, or indeed sky, is the female name Alya. Going back to the French, in 2009, the name Alya ranked at #259 in France.

The reason Arabic names feature in French name popularity is Algeria and Tunisia. Both are former colonies of France, from which many immigrants have moved to France, and brought their naming tendencies with them. For both, Arabic is the official language and both earned their independence from France in the middle of the 20th century.

Other popular names of Arabic origins in France include Mohamed, Rayan, Mehdi, Nassim, Farah, Naim, Sana, Marwa and Salma, to name just a few.

And for those wondering whether we’re using Amine in England&Wales, we are – to a certain extent. In 2010, 11 boys were given the name Amine with a further 37 named Amin, putting the latter name at #792. Amina ranks even higher for girls, at #182, with 285 girls given the name and Aminah ranking at #254 with 128 of them born.

Another group of organic compounds are called Esters, said pretty much the same as you would the name Esther. She fit’s nicely with our already established post-theme of names inspired by our friends from the East as Esther means star in Persian. An Ester looks like this:

Ester, from
Of course, it’s not concrete that Esther derives from Persian and hence means star. The name Esther comes from the Bible, being given to Hadassah upon the moment she entered the royal harem of King Ahaseurus. Esther could also have derived from the name Ishtar, the name of the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love, war and fertility; the Phoenicians called her Ashtoreth. What is worth noting is that the Dutch word for star is ster, which has given birth to the Dutch name Sterre (ster-ra).
Esther has given birth to a plentitude of variations: from Hester to Estee; Eszti (Hungarian) to Esteri (Finnish). What’s worth noting is that the spelling Ester is a legitimate international variant of the name Esther, used by Scandinavians, Spaniards, Czechs, Finns and the Portuguese.
When it comes to Esther vs. Hester in the popularity charts for England&Wales in 2010, Esther wins outright. She’s at #156 with 334 girls given the name compared to Hester, who is much further down at #1815 with only 15 born.
The -er ending for male names is starting to be touted as an upcoming trend, but there are some undoubtedly pretty girls names which end the same way, like Esther and Hester:
  • Amber
  • Aster
  • Clover
  • Demeter
  • Ember
  • Ginger
  • Grier
  • Harper
  • Heather
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Miniver
  • Piper
  • Skyler
  • Summer

Notice how most derive directly from English words? What’s more both Jasmine and Jasper are names popular in England&Wales, and of Persian origins, as Esther could be; Jasper means treasurer in Persian. Colour names Azure and Scarlet also have links with Persian words, and that’s where we shall end this post.

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