Mineral nomenclature is all over the map. Scratch… it’s all over the map and bleeding out well outside the negative space.

Let’s start out with what “mineral nomenclature” is. It’s the names of minerals. Don’t roll even a single eye. If things don’t get sciencey when we’re talking about science stuff then the Hubbardians win. We’ve established many times over on Thoughtcrimes how I feel about Tom Cruise. I feel that I go to see movies with Tom Cruise in them, but I don’t go to see movies because Tom Cruise is in them. That, and he’s an idiot.

Right. Mineral nomenclature is the names of minerals. You’ve most likely heard of quartz, azurite, and cuprosklodowskite. These are mineral names. Not too tough a concept. Like an idiot actor named Tom Cruise, every mineral has a unique name. I don’t hate minerals, though.

What I want to chat with you about is how minerals get their unique names. Where does “quartz” come from… no one really knows… probably some Greek guy or an engineer at Timex. Or “azurite”… this one’s easier, it’s named for the azure blue color. Or “cuprosklodowskite”… this copper-uranium mineral is named for Madame Marie Sklodowski Curie (the uranium part) and copper (the “cupro” = copper part).

And how about “ite”? Where does that come from? Who knows. I’ve heard rumor that “ite” is from the Greek “lith” which is stone. Think “monolith” (“one stone”) and “lithify” (to turn to stone… and that’s the only time I’ll define this word so remember it for all the articles I write with the word “lithify”). How you get “ite” from “lith” is a mystery to me. It’s like how Tom Cruise is an employed actor and not an unemployed idiot Scientologist idiot bad actor idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot. Mystery.

So there are but four ways minerals are named: Some Greek thing, the color, the composition, and in honor of someone, and most of the time ending in “ite”. Not too tough. Do you feel better educated now? Do you feel that your public school education gave you the proper preparation to understand this article? Ha! I’m so messing with you. I had a fully public school education and I turned out bright enough to write this article. Two fingers up your arse to those private school squibs, right? Wasting their money on polo ponies and designer underwear, like anyone would want to see what’s inside those Hollister budgie smugglers. We Pubies have to stick together! Wait. Ah, crap. Don’t let that catch on. Avert your eyes!

Color, composition, honor, dead Greek dude; these are not the only way a mineral gains its name. Often, a mineral is named for its type locality. A type locality is the place where a mineral is first found and described. For example, the secondary copper mineral bisbeeite derives its name from the mining town of Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona. Katangaite was first found and described from Katanga, former-Zaire. More generally, the mercury telluride coloradoite was originally described from type material from Colorado.

I have a favorite mineral named for its type locality. It’s not that exciting of a mineral. Just a boring old amphibole, and not even formed in that spectacular a manner, a metamorphic mineral of simple composition. Being honest, it’s more the mineral’s type locality than the mineral itself that makes it a favorite of mine. You see, the mineral was first found and described near the town of Cummington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States of America. This mineral’s name?


I shit you not. Look here.

My specimen of cummingtonite I keep on display smack dab squarely centered between my specimen of beaverite and my specimen of dickite. Okay, now I’m messing about. However… I’ve got a story about how I made a very professional and tasteful going away display for the New Mexico State Mineralogist back in college. Tasteful. Yuck.