Stars & Garters
Believe it or not, some chemists do have a sense of humour, and this page is
a testament to that. Here we'll show you some real molecules that have unusual,
ridiculous or downright silly names. If you know of any other potential candidates
for this page, please let me know.
Yes, believe it or not, there is actually a molecule called Arsole... and it's
a ring! It is the arsenic equivalent of pyrrole, and although it is rarely found
in its pure form, it is occasionally seen as a sidegroup in the form of organic
arsolyls. For more information, see the paper with probably the best title of
any scientific paper I've ever come across: "Studies on the Chemistry of the
Arsoles", G. Markl and H. Hauptmann, J.Organomet.Chem., 248 (1983) 269. Contrary
to popular belief, however, the arsoles are not aromatic...
This molecule always brings a smile to the lips of undergrads when they first
hear its name, especially in the UK. For those not in the know, Adam Ant was
an English pop star in the early 1980's famous for silly songs and strange make-up.
This is actually a close relative of adamantane, and its proper name is ethano-bridged
noradamantane. However because it had the unusual ethano bridge, and was therefore
a variation from the standard types of structure found in the field of hydrocarbon
cage rearrangements, it came to be known as bastardane - the "unwanted child".
[A. Nickon and E.F. Silversmith, 'Organic Chemistry: The Name Game',
This is the famous soccerball-shaped molecule that won its discoverers the Nobel
prize for Chemistry in 1996. It is named after the architect Buckminster Fuller
who designed the geodesic dome exhibited at Expo '67 in Montreal, from which
Sir Harry Kroto got the idea how 60 Carbon atoms could be arranged in a perfectly
symmetrical fashion. Because the name of the molecule is a bit of a mouthful,
it is often referred to just as a Bucky Ball.
Despite having a ridiculous name, the molecule is quite ordinary. It gets its
name from being both a constituent of Aniba Megaphylla roots and a ketone.
[S.M. Kupchan et al, 'J.Org.Chem.', 43 (1987) 586].
No, these aren't the favourite compound of the Munchkins from The Wizard
of Oz, but are in fact a type of mesoionic compound. These are ring structures
in which the positive and negative charge are delocalised, and which cannot
be represented satisfactorily by any one polar structure. They got their
name when Huisgen called them after the city Munich (Munchen), after similar
compounds were called sydnones after Sydney.
Huisgen et al. Chem. Ber. 1970, 103, 2611. Thanks to Matthew J. Dowd,
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, for supplying this one.
I know this is technically an element, not a molecule, but it's got such
a ridiculous name I thought I'd include it. This is actually element number
111, and is so new it doesn't have a proper name yet. So until it's named
after a dead chemist (or physicist) it rejoices in the IUPAC temporary
systematic name of unununium. Let's just hope this element doesn't form
ring or cage structures, otherwise we might end up with unununium onions...
[See Pure and Appl. Chem. 51 (1979) 381 for the naming scheme].
This mineral must have the silliest name of them all. Its official name is magnesium
iron silicate hydroxide, and it has the formula (Mg,Fe)7Si18O22(OH)2. It got
its name from the locality where it was first found, Cummington, Massachusetts,
Putrescine originates in putrefying and rotting flesh, and is quite literally,
the smell of death. It contains two amine groups, one at either end of the molecule,
and is one of the breakdown products of some of the amino-acids found in animals,
including humans. Although the molecule is a poisonous solid, as flesh decays
the vapour pressure of the putrescine it contains becomes sufficiently large
to allow its disgusting odour to be detected. It is usuallyaccompanied by cadaverine
(named after the cadavers that give rise to it), a poisonous syrupy liquid with
an equally disgusting smell. Putrescine and cadaverine also contribute towards
the smells of some living processes. Since they are both poisonous, the body
normally excretes them in whatever way is quickest and most convenient. For
example, the smell of semen and urine are 'enriched' by the presence of these
molecules, as is the odour of bad breath.
Dickite, Al2Si2O5(OH)4, is a (kaolin) clay-like mineral which exhibits mica-like
layers with silicate sheets of 6-membered rings bonded to aluminium oxide/hydroxide
layers. Dickite is used in ceramics, as paint filler, rubber, plastics and glossy
paper. It got its name from the geologist that discovered it around the 1890s,
Dr. W. Thomas Dick, of Lanarkshire, Scotland.
This is a triterpenoid organic acid that is found in Pistacia resin, and
is therefore of interest to people studying archaelogical relics, shipwrecks
and the contents of ancient Egyptian jars. But why it's called moronic
acid is still unknown... Derivatives of this are called moronates.
Ref: P.L. Majumdar, R.N. Maity, S.K. Panda, D. Mal, M.S. Raju and
E. Wenkert, J.Org.Chem. (1979) 44, 2811.
Thanks to Dr Ben Stern of Bradford University for supplying this one.
The trivial name for some curium compounds is 'curious', so curium trichloride
becomes curious chloride. However the only curious property it has is
that it's sufficiently radioactive that a solution, if concentrated enough,
will boil spontaneously after a while. In a similar way, titanium compounds
can be 'titanic', so we get the wonderfully named titanic chloride, TiCl4.
It's also interesting to know that in the titanium industry, TiCl4 is
known as 'tickle'.
Thanks to Beveridge and Dr Justin E. Rigden for supplying these two.
This is an organic acid with two carboxylic acid groups, one at each end.
I don't know where the name came from, or much about it...anyone know?
Thanks to Dr Neil Edwards of Sussex University for supplying this
No, this has nothing to do with rabbits - it's an organic alcohol that's
one constituent of wine. It's also known as pentahydric alcohol.
Thanks to David Brady for supplying this one.
Although this sounds like what an undergraduate chemist might exclaim
when their synthesis goes wrong, it's actually an alcohol, whose other
names are L-fuc-ol or 1-deoxy-D-galactitol. It gets its wonderful trivial
name from the fact that it is derived from the sugar fucose, which comes
from a seaweed found in the North Atlantic called Bladderwrack whose latin
name is Fucus vesiculosis.
Thanks to David Brady for supplying this one.
No, this isn't the world's best aphrodisiac. Its correct name is orotic
acid, but it has been misspelt so often in the chemical literature that
it is also known as erotic acid! Another name for it is vitamin B13. Apparently,
if you add another carbon to it, it becomes homo-erotic acid...
Thanks to Gerard J. Kleywegt of Uppsala University for info on this
There are some molecules that I've heard of but don't have information about
or I don't know the structure. I'm not even sure if they are genuine molecules.
If you can help with any of these, please let me know. They are: Penguinone,
Windowpane, Homo-Erotic acid (is the above info about this molecule true?)...