What’s in a Name: The Origin of Gemstone Names
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” -William Shakespeare
The same could be said for a gemstone—an emerald would still shimmer with its luscious green sparkle should it be called by any other name! When you begin to examine the origin of gemstones’ names, each one unfurls with its own interesting history and brings to light the intersection of culture, language, and science. For example, diamond derives its name from the Latin word adamas, which comes from the Greek word meaning invincible or untamed. A fitting and poetic name for the strongest naturally occurring substance found on Earth.
Many gemstones follow the same naming logic as the diamond—the name derives from an ancient Greek or Latin word that describes an intrinsic characteristic of the gemstone. Malachite, the dark green stone with banded layers, received its name from the Greek word for mallow, a green herb. Or the pink stone rhodolite derives its name from the Greek work rhodon meaning rose—think of the bright, fuchsia flowering plant rhododendron, it has the same root word.
Another common mode of naming is based on where the gem was first discovered. Tanzanite, for example, was found in the East African bushland of Tanzania and thus this indigo mineral was given a matching name. Or andalusite, the beautiful, color-changing gem is named after the site of its original production in Andalusia, Spain. In a similar vein, gems also often carry the name of the person who discovered the precious stone. Hiddenite was named after W.E. Hidden who was the first to find the stone in 1879 in North Carolina.
Another interesting case, is when the gem is named not after the scientist or explorer who discovered the gem in the wild, but an individual of honor and importance. Alexandrite, a gem that oscillates between purple, green, and blue depending on the light, was first discovered in the Ural Mountains in April 1834, on the day that the Russian Tsar Alexander II came of age.
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