Real Talk with Rob

What's in a name?

April 3, 2020 - ADDED BY Isabelle Corvin
0 comment

They say; “A rose by any other name would not be as sweet.” (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

A romantic notion, and possibly true.

But what about the names of the flowers of the mineral world?

Would a ruby be as stunning if it were called something else? Would we find sapphire as alluring by another name? Would mysterious opal lose its’ intrigue under a different name?

Many minerals are named after those who discovered them, or sometimes after the locations where they are found, and even sometimes because of their chemical composition.

A name is as important as the gem themselves, so let’s look at a few favorite gemstones with whimsical tales to go with their perfect names.



The definitive red gemstone, ruby’s name comes from that very fact. The modern name “ruby” is derived from the Latin word “ruber”, which means red.

Prior to the Latin language, cultures had different names for this stunning gemstone. Possibly the oldest being “ratnanayaka”, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘king or leader (of) precious stones’. This is where ruby’s nickname of “The King of Gems” was born.

Rubies were also grouped under the ‘carbuncle’ group of gemstones by Romans and Greeks. This group actually referred to any red stone, including garnets, rubies and spinels. The Roman word was “carbunculus”.

There is no denying that ‘ruby’ is a much sweeter name then ‘carbuncle’ and much easier on the tongue then ‘ratnanayaka’.




Blue hued sapphire appears to be destined to have that name. Latin, Greek and Hebrew names for this gem are all very similar. The modern name could come from any one of them.

In Latin, it was called; “sapphirus”, in Greek it was known as “sappheiros” and finally in Hebrew they called it “sappir”.

With so many similarities, its’ possible there was an older culture that gave the name and these were the resulting changes, but no one is certain. Some suggest that it could be the Sanskrit name “sanipriya”, which literally means; ‘dear to the planet Saturn’.

This would make sense, as many writings attribute sapphire to the planet Saturn.

Whatever the origin of the name sapphire, it was obviously the perfect name for this amazing blue stone.


Emerald’s current name hails far from its original identity.

The oldest recorded reference to what is believed to be emerald, listed the green beauty under the name of “smaragdoz”. This is a Persian word that would later be shifted to “smaragdus” in Latin.

From there, it was then changed again to versions closer to our modern name, such as “esmeraude” and “emeraude”.

The current spelling and pronunciation were first seen in sixteenth century manuscripts.

Regardless of original name, the word ‘emerald’ is as constant as the shimmering stone itself, and not likely to change anytime soon.



Truly a gem unlike any others, opal’s modern name is easily recognizable in its older forms as well, and accurate describes it.

Greeks referred to it as “opalios”, which is believed to come from Sanskrit; “upala”. It means ‘precious stone’.

With its somewhat magical appearance, it’s no surprise it was granted a name that cemented that fact. There is no denying that opals are precious, no matter what they are called.

There is also evidence to suggest that “yarkastein”, a stone in Norse myth, might have been based upon real life opals, due to descriptions.





Not all gemstones get their name from the ancients. Some are more recently named, like our next entry.

George Frederick Kunz was an American mineralogist (1856-1932) and a noted gem enthusiast. He had an extensive collection of gemstones, and donated some from his private collections to museums.  Self-taught, he wrote a number of papers on minerals and gemstones.

In 1902, he became notable for discovering a new type of the mineral spodumene. This gem-variety was a lightly toned pink-purple version and was named in his honor; Kunzite.



Another, similarly named gemstone is Morgnaite. This lovely blush-colored member of the Beryl family is named after the banker, J.P Morgan.

It was discovered in 1910 in Madagascar, and the mineralogist G.F Kunz (see above) purposed the name “Morganite” in honor of J.P.

They were friends, and J.P Morgan was a gem collector himself as well as a donor to multiple museums and the arts.


The name stuck, and the gemstones popularity continues to rise due to its’ charming pastel colors.



No naming list would be complete without mentioning the rare and phenomenal Alexandrite.

A special member of the chrysoberyl mineral family, this variety was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1830. It stunned everyone by displaying a special trait; color-change.

In different light sources, a fine Alexandrite will change colors between red (warm light) to green (cool light). While some gems show a more vivid change, every Alexandrite has to display the color change to be called by this name.

Russians took to the gem right away, not only because of its’ beauty, but because it showed the two colors of the Russian flag; green and red.

It was named in honor of the Czar, Alexander the II (1818-1881), and of course named their country’s national gemstone.

Today, Alexandrites can also be found in Brazil and Sri Lanka, but nothing will ever change the one in a billion chance of the color mimicry of its’ home country’s flag.


Gemstones all tell fascinating stories, and every day their lore expands, as does our love of these flowers of the mineral world.

Submit a Comments

  • * required fields