27 No. 4
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following piece includes both an expression of concern over
the name of the element W (atomic number 74) and a formal
response formulated on behalf of the editors of the 2005 edition
of the IUPAC Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry.*
Pilar Goya and Pascual Román
Both of the names wolfram and tungsten have traditionally
been used for the element with atomic number 74. The authors
would like to express their concern about leaving only one
the last revision of the Red Book the name wolfram has been
removed from the table and so have the terms wolframate, wolframy,
and so on. For the element with atomic number 74, with symbol
W, the only name left is tungsten, together with the corresponding
forms tungstate, tungsty, etc. In fact, the only reference
to the original name of the element is a footnote indicating
“the element symbol W derives from the name wolfram.”
rule of leaving only one name and a footnote for those elements
that had a second name in brackets cannot be applied in this
case because the name is directly linked to the discovery
of the element. It does not refer to a Latin root, as in antimony,
copper, gold, iron, lead, mercury, potassium, silver, sodium,
Therefore, as IUPAC members and on behalf of most Spanish
chemists, we would like to bring this issue up for discussion
and request the name wolfram be maintained based on the following
we turn to historical facts, it is well documented and generally
accepted, that the true discoverers of element 74 were J.J.
Delhuyar and F. Delhuyar who were the first to isolate the
pure metal from wolframite (Fe,Mn)WO4 in Spain in 1783 (see below).
is also a fact that C.W. Scheele and T.O. Bergman were the
first to obtain the trioxide (WO3) from scheelite (CaWO4) two years before, but they did not isolate the pure element.
The word wolfram derives from the German wolf’s
rahm, literally meaning wolf´s foam or spuma
lupi, which is how wolframite was traditionally known
by the saxon miners. The pure element was isolated from
wolframite. Tungsten is derived from the Swedish tung
(heavy) and sten (stone) meaning heavy stone in
reference to the mineral scheelite from which the trioxide
the symbol of the element is W it is logical and self-explanatory
that it derives from wolfram and not from tungsten. It usually
has been acceptable to use the name proposed by those who
isolated the element itself and not compounds containing
the element in their formula, as is the case of the trioxide.
On page 88 of the original scientific paper published in
1783 by the Delhuyar brothers1
they claim the name volfram as follows:
— “We will call this new metal volfram, taking
the name from the matter of which it has been extracted….
This name is more suitable than tungust or tungsten which
could be used as a tribute to tungstene or heavy stone from
which its lime was extracted, because volfram is a mineral
which was known long before the heavy stone, at least among
the mineralogists, and also because the name volfram is
accepted in almost all European languages, including Swedish.”
(Note that at that time, the letter “w” did
not exist in the Spanish alphabet, but appeared for the
first time in 1914 and is now included).
the basis of all the above, we cannot understand why the name
wolfram has been definitely removed from the table, and we
claim that the name proposed by its discoverers, which had
been accepted since the beginning by the scientific community,
should be kept following the Delhuyar brothers’ wishes.
This is not the first time this issue has been raised. Many
Spanish chemists have defended the name wolfram for years.2,3
In reference textbooks it can be read: “The name ‘wolfram’,
from which the symbol of the element is derived, is still
widely used in the German literature and is recommended by
IUPAC, but the allowed alternative ‘tungsten’
is used in the English-speaking world.”4
In short, many voices have been raised in favor of wolfram.
According to R. Hoffmann and O. Sacks, “future generations
of chemists will be bewildered at the symbol.” On the
basis of all this, we propose that in the table of the elements
the name wolfram appear together with tungsten.
*Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry—IUPAC Recommendations 2005, edited by Neil G. Connelly and Ture Damhus (senior editors), Richard Hartshorn, and Alan Hutton; in press by the Royal Society of Chemistry, 2005 [ISBN 0-85404-438-8]. This publication has been subject to an extended review, including a public review that occured in 2004. In IUPAC circles, this book (including former editions) is commonly referred to as the Red Book.
1. J.J. De Luyart and F. De Luyart, Extractos
de las Juntas Generales celebradas por la Real Sociedad Bascongada
de los Amigos del País, pp. 46–88, Vitoria,
2. E. Moles, Anales, 1928, 26, 234–252.
3. P. Román, Anales RSEQ,
2000, 96(3), 35–45.
4. N.N. Greenwood and E. Earnshaw, Chemistry
of the Elements, (2nd edition), p. 1002 ed, Butterworth-Heinemann,
Pilar Goya is a research professor at the Instituto de Química Médica, CSIC, Madrid, Spain, and the Spanish representative in the IUPAC-UAC Committee. Pascual Román is a professor at the Universidad del País Vasco, Bilbao, Spain.
from Ture Damhus
On behalf of the editors of the 2005 Red Book, I would
like to reply to the inquiry of Professors Goya and Román.
One must first realize that IUPAC nomenclature recommendations are issued in, and intended for use in, the official language(s) of the union. When the 1957 rules (i.e., the first edition of the Red Book) appeared, those languages were English and French. Today, the one official language is, and has been for many years, English. (This was reconfirmed by unanimous vote at the 2001 Council in Brisbane.)
requirement has been understood as a working condition for
the group preparing the 2005 recommendations. The purpose
of Table 1 therein, entitled “Names, Symbols and Atomic
Numbers of the Elements,” is thus to give element names
for use in the English language. This is stated explicitly
in Chapter 3 of the revised text.
IUPAC is often criticized for not doing enough to simplify
nomenclature. It is particularly important to avoid the proliferation
of names in something as fundamental to nomenclature as the
naming of elements. Therefore, Table 1 in the revised Red
Book gives only one name for each element.
When comparing this table with the corresponding table in
the 1990 recommendations, we see that the old table contained
a number of additional element names cited in parentheses,
including wolfram. Unfortunately, the part of the main text
referring to the parenthetical names made it rather unclear
what the reason was for citing each of these names. The text
stated clearly that they are not used in English—a fact
making them, logically speaking, irrelevant for IUPAC nomenclature—but
proceeded to say that they were mentioned either because they
provided the basis of the atomic symbol, had entered into
chemical nomenclature, or were IUPAC-approved alternatives.
However, a name not used in English cannot “have entered
into nomenclature,” if this is understood as IUPAC-approved
nomenclature, and cannot be an IUPAC-approved alternative.
This is, therefore, a self-contradiction, which the new recommendations
should seek to avoid. (In fact, the unfortunate text just
cited was copied into the revised Red Book, albeit there referring
to the footnotes rather than parenthetical names in the table
itself. However, it is still contradictory and must be reworded,
and we are grateful to Goya and Román for having caused
us to reconsider this wording.)
The introduction to the 1957 rules expressed the hope that
changes could be kept to a minimum when translating the recommended
nomenclature into other languages, but at the same time acknowledged
that certain names would be unacceptable in some languages.
This certainly applies to a number of element names, including
tungsten. For example, “wolfram” is also used
in Denmark; however, I do not consider this a problem when
adapting IUPAC nomenclature to Danish. And even if the revised
Red Book repeats the trivial truth that “it is desirable
that the names used in other languages differ as little as
possible,” I think it is safe to predict that IUPAC
will not interfere with national nomenclatures for the time
It must be stressed, and has been stressed repeatedly in the
last three versions of the Red Book, including the present
revision, that the choice of an IUPAC name for an element
is not intended to have any implications regarding the priority
for discovery of the element. According to current
rules for naming new elements,1
the acknowledged discoverers are given the first opportunity
to suggest a name for consideration by IUPAC, but
the final decision about the name still lies with IUPAC (ultimately
with the Council). So, in our time the Delhuyar brothers might
have proposed wolfram, and we might have ended up having that
as the IUPAC name. But we cannot use that rule for a long-known
element like tungsten, against prevailing usage in English.
It is correct that if the name wolfram is not used in nomenclature,
students will have to learn some history of chemistry to know
why the element symbol is W. Tungsten shares this, of course,
with a number of other elements, such as potassium, mercury,
and silver. There are other reasons in those other cases,
but it will remain the privilege of teachers and textbooks,
not IUPAC nomenclature recommendations, to tell future students
the details of how that came about in each case.
The remaining issue to discuss is the derived names. In fact,
for anions with tungsten as the central atom, the 1970 Red
Book prescribed the use of wolframate, not tungstate. The
1990 Red Book listed wolframate as “an allowed alternative
to tungstate” (in the oxoanions Table 9.2 there), but
in Table VIII gave tungstide with no alternative. There was
a similar situation with antimony/antimonide/antimonate/stibate.
For the revised Red Book, we want to select just one “ate”
name for each element. Obviously, the easiest situation is
to have all derived names formed from the element name, if
possible. At the same time, there is a general desire to take
common usage into account if this is compatible with the systematics
of the nomenclature one is developing. This has been repeatedly
mentioned in the Red Books. In the case of tungsten we believe
that tungstate is the prevailing term used at this time in
English. (It is, for example, used by the textbook mentioned
by Profs. Goya and Román and other well-known books
on inorganic chemistry.) We have therefore agreed on tungsten/
The last issue is the prefix to be used in the additive chains
and rings names already presented in Red Book II.2
There, that prefix was “wolframy.” This nomenclature
has not yet been widely adopted, particularly not for transition-metal
compounds (where the coordination-type additive names are
well-established and usually easily applied), so we decided
that the advantage of maintaining the systematic approach
and changing the prefix to “tungsty” would outweigh
the disadvantage of having to retract from an earlier IUPAC
To summarize, Profs. Goya and Román have highlighted
an example of having to make non-trivial choices when devising
nomenclature recommendations. We believe that if one wishes
to control proliferation of alternatives, be as systematic
as possible, and at the same time do not ignore prevailing
usage in English —the language in which we have agreed
to provide our recommendations— we have made the right
choices regarding tungsten/wolfram and names derived from
these. At the same time, the Spanish, the Danes, and many
other nationalities, may happily continue to use wolfram in
their locally adapted IUPAC nomenclatures.
1. Naming of New Elements, W.H. Koppenol,
74, 787–791 (2002).
of Inorganic Chemistry II, IUPAC Recommendations 2000.
J.A. McCleverty and N.G. Connelly, Royal Society of Chemistry,
Ture Damhus (Denmark) is a titular member on both the IUPAC Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation Division and the Interdivisional Committee on Terminology, Nomenclature and Symbols.
last modified 21 July 2005.
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