Elementymology & Elements Multidict
Natrium – Natrium – Sodium – Sodio – ナトリウム – Натрий – 鈉
Natrium Frisian (West)
Natur, ²Natrín Icelandic
Sodiu, ²Natriu Romanian - Moldovan
SlavicНатрий [Natrij] Bulgarian
Натрый [natryj] Belarusian
Натриум [Natrium] Macedonian
Натрий [Natrij] Russian
Натријум [Natrijum] Serbian
Натрій [natrij] Ukrainian
CelticSodiom, Natriom Breton
Sóidiam Gaelic (Irish)
Sòidiam Gaelic (Scottish)
Sodjum Gaelic (Manx)
Other Indo-EuropeanΝατριο [natrio] Greek
Նատրիում [natrium] Armenian
Натрий [natrij] Ossetian
Натрий [Natri'] Tajik
Indo-Iranian/Indo-Aryanসোডিয়াম [soḍiẏāma] Bengali
سدیم [sdym] Persian
સોડિયમનો [soḍiyamano] Gujarati
सोडियम [soḍiyama] Hindi
Натрий [Natrij] Komi
Натрий [Natrij] Mari
Натри [natri] Moksha
Натри [Natri] Chuvash
Натрий [natrij] Kazakh
Натрий [Natrij] Kyrgyz
Натри [natri] Mongolian
ناترىي [natriy] Uyghur
Other (Europe)Sodioa Basque
ნატრიუმი [natriumi] Georgian
Afro-Asiaticصوديوم [Sūdiyūm] Arabic
נתרן [natran] Hebrew
Sino-TibetanNa̍p (鈉) Hakka
ナトリウム [natoriumu] Japanese
나트륨, 2 소듐 [nateuryum, sodyum] Korean
โซเดียม [sōdiam] Thai
鈉 [na4 / naap9] Chinese
Other Asiaticസോഡിയം [sōḍiyam] Malayalam
சோடியம் [cōţiyam] Tamil
CreoleNatrimi Sranan Tongo
New namesSodion Atomic Elements
History & Etymology
Soda (Sodium carbonate, Na2CO3) from the Egyptian salt lakes, and Potash (Potassium carbonate, K2CO3), obtained from the ashes of plant material, were known since Antiquity and used for washing. There was made no difference between both substances, which were named by the Israelites neter, by the Greek νιτρον (nitron) and by the Romans nitrum (cf. Nitrogen). Derived from these is the word natron, the name used by the European alchemists for potash and soda. In Arab, the same substances were named alkali (see Potassium / Kalium.) The name soda is a derivation from "sodanum", a Neolatin name for a headache remedy. This word is derived from Arabic Sudâ (soda). The modern spelling of the element in Arabic uses the emphatic S (shown uppercase in transliteration) from the original Arabic word.
The difference between both substances was recognized by Andreas Sigismund Marggraf (1709-1782) in 1758, among other he described the different colorations potash and soda produce in flame. In his "Démonstration de la possibilité de tirer les sels alcalis fixes du tartre, par le moyen des acides, sans employer l'action d'un feu véhément" (note) he named them alcali minerale (mineral alkali or soda) and alcali vegetabile (vegetable alkali or potash). These names were not generally accepted, and chemists used soda and potash for both substances. Not satisfied with these names, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, suggested in his paper for the Royal Academy of Berlin of 26 January 1797, the name kali for potash and natron for soda (note):
(translation: The word potash, in the new chemical nomenclature upgraded to a generic name, can not claim general acceptance in Germany, since it has only a bad etymological value and merely finds its origin in the fact that in former years for burning out the condensed lye of wood ashes an iron pot (lower saxon Pott) was used in stead of the modern calcination oven.
Sodium or Natrium?Metallic Sodium, together with Potassium, was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) in 1807 using electrolysis of caustic soda (NaOH). In the Bakerian lecture at the Royal Society of London on 19 November 1807 he made this discovery public (note): "On this idea, in naming the bases of potash and soda, it will be proper to adopt the termination which, by common consent, has been applied to other newly discovered metals, and which, though originally Latin, is now naturalized in our language.
Potassium and Sodium are the names by which I have ventured to call the two new substances: and whatever changes of theory, with regard to the composition of bodies may hereafter take place, these terms can scarcely express an error; for they may be considered as implying simply the metals produced from potash and soda. I have consulted with many of the most eminent scientific persons in this country, upon the methods of derivation, and the one I have adopted as been the one most generally approved. It is perhaps more significant than elegant. But it was not possible to found names upon specific properties not common to both; and though a name for the basis of soda might have been borrowed from the Greek, yet an analogous one could not have been applied to that of potash, for the ancients do not seem to have distinguished between the two alkalies."
The rather elaborate explanation of this choice for the two names suggests that Davy new that chemists in Germanic Europe had other ideas of naming the alkali metals.
Gay-Lussac and Thénard, who too investigated the alkalis, named the metals initially métal de potasse and métal de soude, and later also Potassium and Sodium.
The results of Davy's research were made public in German by Ludwig Wilhelm Gilbert in his Annalen der Physik of 1809 (vol. 31). Many articles were translated by Gilbert himself, he calls his work a "free translation" since he added his own comments. I have not seen Gilbert's translation of Davy's article yet, since vol. 31 (vol. 1 of the new series) is not available in the Bibliotheca Gallica (it would be interesting to see how Gilbert translated the naming paragraph quoted above). However, a note in a translation of a later article by Davy (note) makes clear what Gilbert's idea of a translation was:
Translation: The reader will remember from these Annalen that Davy named these bodies Potassium, which I replaced by Kalium, just as Davy's name for the Natron-Metal, Sodium, is represented by Natronium, in agreement with the German nomenclature. These names I will use throughout this article.
Gilbert obviously followed the 1797 proposal by Klaproth.
In 1813 Berzelius published in a British journal, Thomas Thomson's Annals of Philosophy, his system of atomic symbols as one- or two-letter abbreviations of Latin names for the elements. In this first paper he followed the British discoverer Davy nomenclature and abbreviated Potassium and Sodium as Po and So. But within a year Berzelius decided in favor of Kalium and Natrium (he seems to be the first to use this shortened form of Natronium).
Despite this, as the list of names in different languages to the left shows, the English and French speaking countries followed Davy and Gay-Lussac/Thénard with Sodium and Potassium, and the Germanic countries adopted Gilbert/Klaproth's names Natrium and Kalium.
The following explanation comes from Egyptian loan-words in English:
At room temperature sodium is soft and can be cut with a knife. Exposed to humid air, the silver white surface quickly oxydizes.
SODIUM, basic metal of Seaweeds,
Named Natrium, is of silver-white hue,
Very soft nature, and for Oxygen
Has intense affinity. Placed in Water
With organic matter, as Starch, it will ignite.
Sodium compounds colour flame a strong yellow.
Exposed to great cold Sodium is brittle;
It melts at boiling water heat, and is volatile
In colourless vapour below read heat.