Chemicals 101: those with weird names

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Chemistry is one of those topics that are hard at school, but somewhat fun in the real world. Though the topic may bring bad memories back, we're sure that this article will take a laugh -or two- out of your chest.

From this Wikipedia article:

Chemical nomenclature, replete as it is with compounds with complex names, is a repository for some very peculiar and sometimes startling names. A browse through the Physical Constants of Organic Compounds in the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (a fundamental resource) will reveal not just the whimsical work of chemists, but the sometimes peculiar compound names that occur as the consequence of simple juxtaposition. Some names derive legitimately from their chemical makeup, from the geographic region where they may be found, the plant or animal species from which they are isolated or the name of the discoverer.

Some are given intentionally unusual trivial names based on their structure, a notable property or at the whim of those who first isolate them. However, many trivial names predate formal naming conventions. Trivial names can also be ambiguous or carry different meanings in different industries, geographic regions and languages.

Godly noted that "Trivial names having the status of INN or ISO are carefully tailor-made for their field of use and are internationally accepted". In his preface to Chemical Nomenclature, Thurlow wrote that "Chemical names do not have to be deadly serious". A website in existence since 1997 and maintained at the University of Bristol lists a selection of "molecules with silly or unusual names" strictly for entertainment. These so-called silly or funny trivial names (of course depending on culture) can also serve an educational purpose. In an article in the Journal of Chemical Education, Dennis Ryan argues that students of organic nomenclature (considered a "dry and boring" subject) may actually take an interest in it when tasked with the job of converting funny-sounding chemical trivial names to their proper systematic names.

Now here's a small list of samples taken from the article:

Compounds name based on shape:

  • Barrelene, derived from the resemblance to a barrel.
  • Basketane, a polycyclic alkane with a structure similar to a basket.
  • Cubane, a hydrocarbon whose eight carbon atoms occupy the vertices of a cube.
  • Housane, a polycyclic alkane that superficially looks like a house.
  • Olympicene, a fused 5-benzene rings that's reminiscent to the Olympic Flag.
  • Sulflower, a stable heterocyclic octacirculene based on thiophene, named as a portmanteau of sulfur and sunflower.







Compounds named after fictional characters:

  • Ranasmurfin, a blue protein from the foam nests of a tropical frog, named after the Smurfs.
  • Pikachurin, a retinal protein named after Pokémon character / species Pikachu,
  • Sonic hedgehog, a protein named after Sonic the Hedgehog.

Compounds that sound like vulgarisms:

  • Arsole, an analogue of pyrrole in which an arsenic atom replaces the nitrogen atom. The aromaticity of arsoles has been debated for many years. The compound in which a benzene ring is fused to arsole —typically on the carbon atoms 3 and 4— is known as benzarsole.
  • Bastardane, a close relative to adamantane and its proper name is ethano-bridged noradamantane. Because its unusual ethano-bridge was a deviation from the standard hydrocarbon caged rearrangements, it came to be known as bastardane—the unwanted child.
  • Cummingtonite, a magnesium-iron silicate hydroxide, first identified in Cummington, Massachusetts.
  • Fucitol, an alcohol derived from Fucus vesiculosus, a North Atlantic seaweed.
  • fucK, the name of the gene that encodes L-fuculokinase, an enzyme that catalyzes a chemical reaction between L-fuculose, ADP, and L-fuculose-1-phosphate.
  • Ru(Tris)BiPy-on-a-stick, shorthand form of (trans-1,4-bis[(4-pyridyl)ethenyl]benzene)(2,2'-bipyridine)ruthenium(II).



Related to sex and bodily functions:

  • Fornacite, a rare lead, copper chromate arsenate hydroxide mineral (Pb2CuCrO4AsO4OH), named after its discoverer, Lucien Lewis Forneau.
  • SEX, An abbreviation of sodium ethyl xanthate, a flotation agent used in the mining industry.
  • Spermine/Spermidine, also known as "polyamine", growth factors involved in cellular metabolism.
  • BARF, (tetrakis[3,5-bis(trifluoromethyl)phenyl]borate), a fluoroaryl borate B(Ar(CF3)2)4−, used as a non-coordinating anion.
  • dUMP, Deoxyuridine monophosphate, an intermediate in nucleotide metabolism.
  • Nonanal, an aldehyde derived from nonane.
  • Vomitoxin, a mycotoxin occurring in grains.






The list in the original Wikipedia article is bigger. There are also names based on religion, others that sound like an english world, and others named after geographic regions. If you want to dig deeper into it, hit on the link below.

Source: Wikipedia.

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