Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature
International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN)
Planetary Names: Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I pay a fee and officially name a crater or other type of surface feature on Mars and other planets, the asteroids, moons and other solar system objects?
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature provides a unique system of official names for planetary surface features, natural satellites, dwarf planets, and planetary rings for the benefit of the international science community, educators, and the general public. A single system of official names is critical for effective scientific communication. The IAU first became involved with planet and satellite nomenclature in 1919 to standardize the multiple, confusing systems of nomenclature for the Moon that were then in use. Since that time, the IAU has provided the single, reliable, official catalog of surface feature names, thus enabling successful international communication. Names purchased through a commercial enterprise have (1) no formal or official status, (2) will not be added to the official database or maps, and (3) carry the potential to create confusion within the broader science community and the public. The IAU disassociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling names. Please visit the Mars portion of the IAU Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for the official list of named features on Mars.
What is a moon?
A solid object in orbit around a planet, dwarf planet, minor planet, or transneptunian object is called a "satellite." A natural satellite is sometimes referred to as a "moon" in popular usage. However, Earth's own satellite is called the "Moon" in both scientific and popular usage.
Why doesn't the Moon have a name?
The Moon does, of course, have a name - the Moon. It is known by many names in various languages - Luna (Latin, Spanish, Italian, and Russian), Mond (German), Lune (French), etc. Our moon was the first known moon. When we discovered that other planets had moons, they were given different names in order to distinguish them from our moon.
Why isn't Pluto included on the title page of the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature?
Pluto is not shown on the title page of the gazetteer because it has no named surface features. The title page of the gazetteer only contains bodies on which features have been named. Pluto is included on the page that discusses planet and satellite names.
Can I pay a fee and name a star?
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) names celestial bodies and the surface features on those bodies. There are a few exceptions, but stars are generally given numbers, not names. The IAU web site contains a page that discusses the idea of "buying" star names.
Can I buy property on the Moon?
The following statement concerning "purchasing lunar real estate" is found on the IAU web page (Buying Star Names). "As an international scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of "selling" fictitious star names or "real estate" on other planets or moons in the Solar System."
How did Earth get its name?
Unlike the other planets in our Solar System, the name 'Earth' does not come from Greek or Roman mythology. The word 'earth' comes instead from German and English origins, like the German 'Erde.' The Nine Planets web site contains a nice page about planetary linguistics that shows the names for the planets in our Solar System in different languages.
Who names asteroids, and is there a list of all of the asteroid names?
The process of naming asteroids, or minor planets, is nicely described on the web page http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/info/HowNamed.html. An alphabetical list of minor planet names can be found at http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/MPNames.html.
Why do you name planetary features?
Planetary features are named to enable and enhance effective communication. When new images of the surface of a body are received, scientists study the features found in these images and publish papers and maps. It can be cumbersome to repeatedly refer to features by their latitudes and longitudes, so they are given names. The names contained in the gazetteer come from cultures all over the world, and are intended for use by the world-wide scientific community to promote continuity in the scientific literature.
How are features named?
The approval process for planetary surface feature names is described on the gazetteer page How Names are Approved.
Can I name a planetary feature after a loved one?
Planetary surface features are named "only when they have special scientific interest, and when the naming of such features is useful to the scientific and cartographic communities at large." The IAU rules about naming planetary surface features can be found on the gazetteer page IAU Rules and conventions.
How can I request that a planetary feature be named?
If you are a member of the science community and have a specific scientific need to name a planetary surface feature, you can request that the feature be named by filling out the Name Request Form.
Will you add a link to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature to a translation of part or all of the gazetteer?
The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature does not endorse any translations. Therefore, such links are not added to the gazetteer.
How are dwarf planets named?
Dwarf planets are named jointly by two IAU groups - the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature and the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. Please see the IAU page Naming Astronomical Objects for details about the naming of dwarf planets.