What I have understood is, generally the symbol of an element is kept as the first letter of the element's name itself (H, N, O...) unless there's already a symbol with that letter, in that case, we take first two letters to write the symbol (He, Ne, Ca...). And of course, this isn't a strict naming rule, we have a lot of symbols not following this rule, rather borrowing their symbol name from there source name (Ag, Au, Fe, etc).

My question is, why not follow the rule (or a convention) for an element just to keep that same name for the next element (B for boron)?

Wouldn't it be more reasonable, if beryllium was named B and boron Bo? Is there any historical reason behind this, or is it just because some random chemist liked to do it?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In the 19th century beryllium was known as glucinium Gl. Its name was changed into beryllium by some scientists at the end of the 19th century. The official name change into beryllium was one of the first decisions taken by the newly created IUPAC in 1919. $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Jul 23, 2022 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @RohitJoshi There is multiple name changes. Very inspirative podcast dramatisation about elements is episodictable.com $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jul 23, 2022 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Chronology is an important aspect in this case. Let's first understand how beryllium was discovered.

Emeralds and beryl were known to ancient civilizations, they were first recognized as the same mineral ($\mathrm{Be_3 Al_2(SiO_3)_6}$) by Abbé Haüy in 1798. Later that year, Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, a French chemist, discovered that an unknown element was present in emeralds and beryl. Attempts to isolate the new element finally succeeded in 1828 when two chemists, Friedrich Wölhler of Germany and A. Bussy of France, independently produced beryllium by reducing beryllium chloride ($\mathrm{BeCl_2}$) with potassium in a platinum crucible.

Since the salts of beryllium had a sweet taste, the element was named "glucinium" from the Greek "glykys" for "sweet" and was symbolized as "$\mathrm{Gl}$". Bussy preferred this name but Wölhler was unhappy and preferred the name "beryllium" from the Greek word 'beryllos', which means the mineral beryl. Martin Klaproth had already pointed out in 1801 that yttria also forms sweet salts. A name derived from 'beryllos' would be less likely to cause confusion than one derived from 'glykis.' Klaproth also noted that a genus of plants was already called "glucine". Finally, in 1949, IUPAC chose beryllium as the element’s name and this decision became official in 1957.

By the time the change was accepted, boron was already discovered in 1808, by French chemists Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jacques Thenard. The name came from the Arabic بورق (buraq) which was borrowed from the Persian word بوره (burah). The gave this word when they found borax which was tincal in crude state. They symbolized the element as "$\mathrm{B}$". Since "$\mathrm{B}$" was already taken, IUPAC had to symbolize beryllium as "$\mathrm{Be}$".


  1. https://tarek.kakhia.org/periodic_table/english/Boron_05.Tarek_Kakhia.pdf
  2. Beryllium History - It's Elemental
  3. Discovery of Beryllium by Dr. Doug Stewart (Link)
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. I was trying to finding the original IUPAC document that selected the symbol Be, but could not find it. Does anyone know the IUPAC reference document where the symbol Be was finalized? $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    Jul 28, 2022 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Boron comes from borax, that comes from Arabic "bawraq" not burqa, I am not even sure it means white. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Dec 18, 2023 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Mauricio oops seems to be autocorrected. It is actually بورق (buraq). I have edited the answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2023 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @NilayGhosh more like بوْرق bowraq because of a diacritic. Also are you sure it means white? Check en.wiktionary.org/wiki/borax $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mauricio hmm, need to fact check that. I have updated the answer by providing a more original source. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2023 at 15:58

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