Academy Seeking Hebrew Names for Uranus and Neptune


uranus-and-neptune-plantes1For more than 1,000 years, when Hebrew speakers looked at the sky, they saw five planets – Hama (Mercury), Noga (Venus), Maadim (Mars), Tsedek (Jupiter) and Shabtai (Saturn). The five planets closest to earth all have ancient Hebrew names, some of them dating back to the time of theĀ GemaraOn the other hand, the two planets that are further away – Uranus and Neptune – were not known in ancient times, and are therefore referred to by these names in Hebrew, too. Now the Hebrew Language Academy is inviting the public to help choose Hebrew names for the solar system’s farthest flung planets.

Astronomy lovers already have dubbed this unprecedented process “a Hebrew star is born.”

In the first stage of voting, the public was invited to propose names for the two planets. The jury, consisting of astronomers and representatives of the language academy, received more than 650 proposals. From these, the judges chose four names, two for each planet, and the general public is now invited to vote, at

The project, with the participation of the Hebrew University’s scientific program for youth, “Noar Shoher Mada,” marks the end of the International Year of Astronomy, declared by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Voting started on Tuesday and will continue through November 30.

“These are names that are supposed to accompany Hebrew culture from now on, for generations,” says Ronit Gadish, the academy’s scientific secretary. “The idea of opening it to the public is quite unprecedented. But on the other hand, we decided to do it in a supervised way. If it were completely up to the public, the result would have been wild. This is guided democracy – the public with a professional committee.”

Gadish says there was a suggestion to call Uranus and Neptune “Urim Vetumim.” There were also proposals to give them Hebrew names that sound like their current names, like Oryan or Oriya, and Naftoah, Naftali or Naftul. Also suggested were Nehorai, Barkai and Hillel but these were eventually dropped because they do not reflect any of the planets’ characteristics.

“These have to be names that are not in heavy daily use but are comprehensible and pleasant sounding,” she says. “They also have to fit these planets and not merely be pretty names. That is how we ended up with our four choices.”

In the end, the jury chose the two names, “Oron” and “Shachak,” for Uranus. The first was chosen because it sounds similar to Uranus, and means “little light” – a reference to the planet’s pale light when viewed from Earth.

The name “Shachak” was proposed because it comes from “shechakim,” a synonym for “shomayim” (sky).

Neptune’s candidates are “Rachav” and “Tarshish.”

{Yair Israel/Haaretz}


  1. Oy, nebbach, now that Pluto has been “demoted”, there’s no contest for it.

    (I expect names like Gehinnom, She’ol, etc., would have been proposed.)