This seems an unlikely origin of the abbreviation $H$ for Hamiltonian. Is there evidence for this nomenclature?


1 Answer 1


This seems to be the original source of the claim: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-06248-8_25

A relevant quote:

nowhere does Lagrange say explicitly that he uses the letter H to honor Huygens, but there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that was his intention

The main argument seems to rely on two observations:

  • Lagrange uses the equation $T + V = H$ in his book Mécanique Analytique written before Hamilton worked on mechanics.
  • In the book Lagrange attributes the principle of conservation of live forces to Huygens.
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    $\begingroup$ wow, it concludes that "As this letter H was attributed before Hamilton did any work in mechanics (even though he was precocious), it is historically incorrect to call this function the Hamiltonian. It should be called the Huygensian!" Let's promote this change, credit where credit is due! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloBeenakker Credit for what? Lagrange did not develop Hamiltonian dynamics, where the Hamiltonian plays a central role, let alone Huygens, and it was association with Hamilton that likely motivated people to keep using H. That it happened to be used before likely played little to no role. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ a quote by my friend Michael that I cannot resist sharing: "But if Lagrange introduced $H=T+V$, shouldn't we then rather call it the Lagrangian?" $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 12:12

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