Systematic element name

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A systematic element name is the temporary name assigned to a newly synthesized or not yet synthesized chemical element. A systematic symbol is also derived from this name; in chemistry, a transuranic element receives a permanent name and symbol only after its synthesis has been confirmed. In some cases, such as Transfermium Wars, such controversies have been protracted and highly political; in order to discuss such elements without ambiguity, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) uses a set of rules to assign a temporary systematic name and symbol to each such element. This approach to naming originated in the successful development of regular rules for the naming of organic compounds.

IUPAC rules[edit]

Digit Root Etymology Symbol Pronunciation
0 nil Latin nihil (nothing) n /nɪl/
1 un Latin unus (one) u /n/
2 b(i) Latin bis (twice) b /b/
3 tr(i) Latin tres (three)
Greek tria (three)
t /tr/
4 quad Latin quattuor (four) q /kwɒd/
5 pent Greek pente (five) p /pɛnt/
6 hex Greek hex (six) h /hɛks/
7 sept Latin septem (seven) s /sɛpt/
8 oct Latin octo (eight)
Greek okto (eight)
o /ɒkt/
9 en(n) Greek ennea (nine) e /ɛn/
Suffix -ium Latin -um (neuter singular) none /-iəm/

The temporary names are derived systematically from the element's atomic number, and are only applicable for 101 ≤ Z ≤ 999.[1] Each digit is translated to a 'numerical root', according to the table, the roots are concatenated, and the name is completed with the ending suffix -ium. Some of the roots are Latin and others are Greek to avoid two digits starting with the same letter (for example, the Greek-derived pent is used instead of the Latin derived quint to avoid confusion with quad for 4). There are two elision rules designed to prevent odd-looking names.

  • If bi or tri is followed by the ending ium (i.e. the last digit is 2 or 3), the result is '-bium' or -'trium', not '-biium' or '-triium'.
  • If enn is followed by nil (i.e. the sequence -90- occurs), the result is '-ennil-', not '-ennnil-'.

The suffix -ium overrides traditional chemical suffix rules; thus elements 117 and 118 were ununseptium and ununoctium, not ununseptine and ununocton.[2] This does not apply to the final trivial names these elements receive once confirmed; thus element 117 and 118 are now tennessine and oganesson. For these trivial names, all elements receive the suffix -ium, except those in group 17 which receive -ine (like the halogens) and those in group 18 which receive -on (like the noble gases).

The systematic symbol is formed by taking the first letter of each root, converting the first to a capital, this results in three-letter symbols instead of the one- or two-letter symbols used for named elements.

As of 2016, all 118 discovered elements have received individual permanent names and symbols,[3] so currently, systematic names and symbols are only used for the undiscovered elements beyond element 118, oganesson.


  1. ^ Meija, Juris (2014). "Symbols of the Elements (part III)". Chemistry International. DeGruyter. 36 (4): 25–26. doi:10.1515/ci.2014.36.4.25. 
  2. ^ Koppenol, W. (2016). "How to name new chemical elements" (PDF). Pure and Applied Chemistry. DeGruyter. doi:10.1515/pac-2015-0802. 
  3. ^ "IUPAC Announces the Names of the Elements 113, 115, 117, and 118". IUPAC. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 

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