This seventh solar-system planet almost two trillion miles from our sun was discovered in 1781 by William Herschel, a German-born astronomer living in England. He named it “Georgius Sidum,” or “George’s Star” to honor British king George the Third. From the beginning there was trouble with its name. The French didn’t like George the Third and preferred to call the new planet “Herschel.” It was 1850 before astronomers worldwide agreed to name it “Uranus.” They had no idea they were creating another problem. It’s a small problem, but a vexing one for astrologers and horoscope fans.
In today’s highly sexualized society, full of sexual innuendo but with taboos against discussing it, pronouncing Uranus as “your-anus” causes embarrassment or snickering. The snicker factor keeps some from mentioning or discussing this planet, which is just as important as any other. In astrology it’s the planet of rebellion and revolution, of sudden changes, and of earthly phenomena such as earthquakes and electricity. It’s the planet of surprises, pleasant ones and not. It should be treated with respect. But how, when it’s unsettling to say its name?
Alternatives abound. I’ve heard astrologers pronounce this planet’s name as:
Or they rename it entirely:
- Caelus (now, how do you pronounce that? SEE-lus, KAY-lus, or KY-loose?)
Some astrologers simply plow through and say “your-anus” hoping everyone in the room is too mature to laugh. An online teacher’s manual discusses how to handle the name when teaching the solar system to classrooms full of kids. Basically you use it only once or twice at first to get them used to it.
The name “Uranus” honors the ancient Greek sky god, whose name was spelled “Ouranos,” pronounced “OO-rah-noss” according to Webster’s dictionary. Also pronounced “oo-RAN-os.” Mythology says Uranus mated with Gaea, the earth, and produced Cronus, or time. Cronus fathered Zeus, Athena, and most of the other, more familiar, Greek gods. The Romans honored this same set of gods, but Latinized their names. Because Latin was the language of Rome and of Western science, today we have Roman names for the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Uranus is the only planet with a Greek name.
Some astrologers think using the ancient Greek pronunciation brings us closer to the wisdom and symbolism embedded in that culture and their myths. Others choose this pronunciation because it’s “the original,” which must therefore be the best. It also feels really cool to speak ancient Greek, and incidentally lets them avoid saying “your-anus.”
According to NASA, the correct pronunciation is “YOU-rah-nus,” accented on the first syllable. If that sounds a lot like the word “urine,” it’s supposed to. As the sky god, Uranus was also the god of rain.
Among the alternative names, “Urania” is way off base, an unacceptable name because Urania is one of Zeus’s daughters, the Muse of astronomy.
“Herschel” wasn’t chosen because it’s the name of a man, not a god. The astronomers who selected “Uranus” wanted a name consistent with the other planets. They wisely chose easy-to-say Roman names for the planets discovered after Uranus: Neptune (in 1846), and Pluto (1930).
The last candidate, “Caelus,” is the Roman name for the Greek Ouranos. In both cultures he was honored as the grandfather of the gods. Giving Ouranos his Latin name, Caelus, brings him into line with the Roman names of all the other planets. But hardly anybody knows the name “Caelus,” and few astrologers use it.
Ultimately, both American and British dictionaries today say that both “your-A-nus” or “YOO-ra-nus” are correct.