I was bemused recently by the fuss over the naming of a planetoid in the Kuiper Belt. The name chosen for that celestial body, ‘Arrokoth’ means ‘sky’ in the Algonquian language (that is to say the ancient speech of the Powhatan/Algonquian tribes of America, not the acerbic tongue of Dorothy Parker and her Algonquin Round Table). It is a good name, as I said at the time, and my bemusement was just over the treatment of the old holding name, “Ultima Thule”.
Now the Isle of Man has gone one better: a star and a planet have been named in the Manx language.
In case we forget the Manx language, it is a part of daily life on the Isle of Man. It is dead as a mother tongue, but it is so recognised as a part of the island’s vital heritage that the language is learnt in school, and bilingual signs have sprung up all over the island, and some ne foundations use Manx first – the island’s coastal path is the “Raad ny Follian“, not “Way of the Gull” (which is what the name means). Manx is a Gaelic language, influenced by the Old Norse of the islands’ old rulers, but its spelling is taken from English, giving it more of an earthy look. With such a unique language in such a unique island, the loss of its own tongue is a wrench and it is worth preserving, even if it is no longer spoken at home.
As the BBC report, a star formerly known as WASP-13 is to be named ‘Gloas’, which is Manx for ‘to shine’, and its planet WASP-13b is ‘Cruinlagh’, which is Manx for ‘to orbit’. (Quite why Max has a distinct world for ‘orbit’ when even English has had to borrow from Latin is not clear, but that is as it is.)
The Beeb also report that Gloas “was first observed in 1997, is 1.5 times bigger than the Sun and is visible with the naked eye from the British Isles”. If it is visible to the naked eye, how was it observed only in 1997 then? When I first wrote this post I wondered aloud if the science reporter were on holiday, but I have since been corrected by student astronomer who points out that the number of visible stars in the night sky is innumerable, and many are ‘hidden’ in clusters or nebulae, and so only a fraction which have been individually observed and named. It is pleasing to add another to the list.
Innumerable as the celestial bodies may be, a star in the firmament is now a testimony to one of the dying native languages of the British Isles.
The names were chosen in a public competition. Thank goodness we got those we did and not “Starry McStarface”.
- The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavanagh
- Alchemy: Writers on Truth, Lies and Fiction by Joanna Kavanagh, Benjamin Markovits, Gabriel Josipivici, Partou Zia, Anakana Schofield
- Ultima Thule by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- A Princess of Thule by Anthony Black
- Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Harry Grinspoon
- Chasing the Moon: The Story of the Space Race – from Arthur C. Clarke to the Apollo Landings by Robert Stone
- A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
- First on the Moon: The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Experience by Rod Pyle