Would you like a little chemistry trivia with that?

Plenty of elements are named after geographical locations. Erbium, Terbium, Ytterbium, and Yttrium were all named after Ytterby, Sweden where minerals containing these elements were found.

Americium was named after the Americas. Berkelium was named for University of California at Berkeley and Californium was named for the State of California and University of California at Berkeley.

Plenty of European countries are represented and the entire continent can claim Europium. Germany has Darmstadtium, Germanium, Hassium, and Rhenium. The capitol of Sweden is represented by Holmium. Scotland can claim Strontium. France has Francium, Lutetium, and Gallium. Russia has Dubnium and Ruthenium. Poland has Polonium.

Scandinavia can boast Scandium, Hafnium, and Thulium which was named for Thule, a mythical island near Scandinavia’s  northern climes. Greece has Magnesium. And going back a ways, copper probably comes from Cyprus.

But what country was named after an element?

This question was  posed in Chang’s General Chemistry along with a hint that the country was in South America.

I’ll post a big picture in order to give you a chance to figure it out on you own. The answer follows.

So, if your first thought was that it was named after a valuable natural resource you are right. The use of a derivative of the Latin argentum, however, has the potential to shroud the answer.

The answer is Argentina, named after silver (Ag, short for argentum).

So when the first Spanish conquerors arrived in Argentina they named it for the vast amounts of silver the area contained, right? No, not really.

The Spanish conquerors thought there was silver in the mountains in Argentina and named a river, Río de la Plata (Spanish: Silver River), and a mountain range, Sierra de la Plata (Spanish: Silver Mountains), accordingly. They probably should have checked to make sure the silver was there before naming two large geographical elements, but they didn’t. There was no silver in the mountains and the river did not lead to a silver trove.

The legend probably originated when the European survivors of a shipwreck were given abundant gifts of silver by the native peoples. The closest mountain range that resembles the myth of the “Silver Mountains” is more than a thousand miles away in modern Bolivia.

Although there was no silver, the name stuck. Its use in a historical poem by Martín del Barco Centenera established it as the country’s name in 1602.

So there it is. History, chemistry, and silly conquistadors in one shebang!

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About pickledtoo

I am currently a marine educator on my way to grad school in the next year or so. I want to be an industrial chemist and I want to make things that might make peoples lives better. I love to talk and write and think and dream about science!
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