Proper names of stars

In 2016, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) set up a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to compile a catalogue of officially sanctioned proper names for the brightest stars. This working group rectified a long-standing anomaly: although the IAU had adopted an official list of 88 constellations in 1922, it had never rationalized the multiplicity of popular star names encountered in books, magazines, and on star charts.

The IAU’s reluctance to get involved was understandable, since professional astronomers rarely used names for anything other than a handful of the brightest stars; instead, they identified stars by their designations in various catalogues. However, amateurs and the general public continued to use popular names for hundreds of naked-eye stars taken from various sources, which led to confusion. Some stars were known by more than one name. Some names had various alternative spellings. And certain names were reused for more than one star. The IAU Working Group has finally brought this profusion of conflicting names to an end.

The IAU star name catalogue contains over 300 entries. The table below lists some of the most commonly encountered IAU-approved names for stars, with their Bayer or Flamsteed identifications. Names marked with an asterisk (*) are navigation stars and are listed in The Nautical Almanac. The complete list can be found on the IAU’s Naming Stars web page.

Ian Ridpath (member, IAU Working Group on Star Names).

Popular name

Scientific name

Popular name

Scientific name

Acamar*

Theta Eridani

Kochab*

Beta Ursae Minoris

Achernar*

Alpha Eridani

Kornephoros

Beta Herculis

Acrab

Beta Scorpii

Lesath

Upsilon Scorpii

Acrux*

Alpha Crucis

Maia

20 Tauri

Acubens

Alpha Cancri

Marfik

Lambda Ophiuchi

Adhara*

Epsilon Canis Majoris

Markab*

Alpha Pegasi

Albireo*

Beta Cygni

Mebsuta

Epsilon Geminorum

Alcor

80 Ursae Majoris

Megrez

Delta Ursae Majoris

Alcyone*

Eta Tauri

Meissa

Lambda Orionis

Aldebaran*

Alpha Tauri

Menkalinan*

Beta Aurigae

Alderamin*

Alpha Cephei

Menkar*

Alpha Ceti

Alfirk

Beta Cephei

Menkent

Theta Centauri

Algedi

Alpha Capricorni

Merak*

Beta Ursae Majoris

Algenib*

Gamma Pegasi

Merope

23 Tauri

Algieba*

Gamma Leonis

Mesarthim

Gamma Arietis

Algol*

Beta Persei

Miaplacidus*

Beta Carinae

Algorab

Delta Corvi

Mimosa*

Beta Crucis

Alhena*

Gamma Geminorum

Mintaka

Delta Orionis

Alioth*

Epsilon Ursae Majoris

Mira

Omicron Ceti

Alkaid*

Eta Ursae Majoris

Mirach*

Beta Andromedae

Alkalurops

Mu Boötis

Mirfak*

Alpha Persei

Almach*

Gamma Andromedae

Mirzam*

Beta Canis Majoris

Alnair*

Alpha Gruis

Mizar*

Zeta Ursae Majoris

Alnasl

Gamma Sagittarii

Mothallah

Alpha Trianguli

Alnilam*

Epsilon Orionis

Muliphein

Gamma Canis Majoris

Alnitak*

Zeta Orionis

Muphrid

Eta Bootis

Alphard*

Alpha Hydrae

Muscida

Omicron Ursae Majoris

Alphecca*

Alpha Coronae Borealis

Naos

Zeta Puppis

Alpheratz*

Alpha Andromedae

Nashira

Gamma Capricorni

Alrescha

Alpha Piscium

Nekkar

Beta Boötis

Alshain

Beta Aquilae

Nihal

Beta Leporis

Altair*

Alpha Aquilae

Nunki*

Sigma Sagittarii

Aludra

Eta Canis Majoris

Nusakan

Beta Coronae Borealis

Alya

Theta Serpentis

Peacock*

Alpha Pavonis

Ankaa*

Alpha Phoenicis

Phact*

Alpha Columbae

Antares*

Alpha Scorpii

Phecda*

Gamma Ursae Majoris

Arcturus*

Alpha Boötis

Pherkad

Gamma Ursae Minoris

Arkab Posterior

Beta-2 Sagittarii

Pleione

28 Tauri

Arkab Prior

Beta-1 Sagittarii

Polaris*

Alpha Ursae Minoris

Arneb

Alpha Leporis

Pollux*

Beta Geminorum

Ascella

Zeta Sagittarii

Porrima

Gamma Virginis

Asellus Australis

Delta Cancri

Procyon*

Alpha Canis Minoris

Asellus Borealis

Gamma Cancri

Propus

Eta Geminorum

Aspidiske

Iota Carinae

Rasalgethi

Alpha Herculis

Asterope

21 Tauri

Rasalhague*

Alpha Ophiuchi

Atlas

27 Tauri

Rastaban

Beta Draconis

Atria*

Alpha Trianguli Australis

Regulus*

Alpha Leonis

Avior*

Epsilon Carinae

Rigel*

Beta Orionis

Baten Kaitos

Zeta Ceti

Rigil Kentaurus*

Alpha Centauri

Bellatrix*

Gamma Orionis

Ruchbah*

Delta Cassiopeiae

Betelgeuse*

Alpha Orionis

Rukbat

Alpha Sagittarii

Canopus*

Alpha Carinae

Sabik*

Eta Ophiuchi

Capella*

Alpha Aurigae

Sadachbia

Gamma Aquarii

Caph*

Beta Cassiopeiae

Sadalbari

Mu Pegasi

Castor*

Alpha Geminorum

Sadalmelik

Alpha Aquarii

Cebalrai

Beta Ophiuchi

Sadalsuud

Beta Aquarii

Celaeno

16 Tauri

Sadr

Gamma Cygni

Chara

Beta Canum Venaticorum

Saiph

Kappa Orionis

Cor Caroli*

Alpha Canum Venaticorum

Sargas

Theta Scorpii

Cursa

Beta Eridani

Scheat*

Beta Pegasi

Dabih

Beta Capricorni

Schedar*

Alpha Cassiopeiae

Deneb*

Alpha Cygni

Seginus

Gamma Boötis

Denebola*

Beta Leonis

Shaula*

Lambda Scorpii

Diphda*

Beta Ceti

Sheliak

Beta Lyrae

Dschubba*

Delta Scorpii

Sheratan*

Beta Arietis

Dubhe*

Alpha Ursae Majoris

Sirius*

Alpha Canis Majoris

Edasich

Iota Draconis

Spica*

Alpha Virginis

Electra

17 Tauri

Suhail*

Lambda Velorum

Elnath*

Beta Tauri

Sulafat

Gamma Lyrae

Eltanin*

Gamma Draconis

Tarazed

Gamma Aquilae

Enif*

Epsilon Pegasi

Taygeta

19 Tauri

Errai

Gamma Cephei

Thuban

Alpha Draconis

Fomalhaut*

Alpha Piscis Austrini

Unukalhai

Alpha Serpentis

Furud

Zeta Canis Majoris

Vega*

Alpha Lyrae

Gacrux*

Gamma Crucis

Vindemiatrix

Epsilon Virginis

Gienah*

Gamma Corvi

Wasat

Delta Geminorum

Gomeisa

Beta Canis Minoris

Wazn

Beta Columbae

Grumium

Xi Draconis

Wezen*

Delta Canis Majoris

Hadar*

Beta Centauri

Yed Posterior

Epsilon Ophiuchi

Hamal*

Alpha Arietis

Yed Prior

Delta Ophiuchi

Homam

Zeta Pegasi

Yildun

Delta Ursae Minoris

Izar

Epsilon Boötis

Zaurak

Gamma Eridani

Kaus Australis*

Epsilon Sagittarii

Zavijava

Beta Virginis

Kaus Borealis

Lambda Sagittarii

Zosma

Delta Leonis

Kaus Media

Delta Sagittarii

Zubenelgenubi*

Alpha Librae

Kitalpha

Alpha Equulei

Zubeneschamali

Beta Librae

Want to name a star?

If you are thinking of buying a star name from a commercial company, read the International Astronomical Union’s statement on this practice.

Fake star names

Unfortunately, vandals have introduced a number of fake star names into Wikipedia. These have since been removed by vigilant editors, but not before some of them were picked up and repeated by the unwary. An example is the name ‘Urodelus’, applied to Epsilon Ursae Minoris. This can now be found in a number of sources but all lead back to the same bogus Wikipedia entry. See here for a list of known or suspected fake star names on Wikipedia. If you see any of these names repeated elsewhere, you know where they came from!