Naming Pluto’s moons


Astronomers just found two new moons orbiting Pluto. I’m sure they’re very dismal little rocks, but that’s not the point. The point is: those dismal little rocks need names! And you can vote on those names!

Astronomy has very strict rules about naming things, however. New names have to follow specific patterns and rules, and they have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union. What fun is that?

Sometimes it’s a good thing. William Herschel discovered the seventh planet in 1781 and wanted to call it Georgium Sidus, “George’s Star,” after King George III of England. Terrible! That got voted down, and we ended up with the much more entertaining “Uranus,” which makes me giggle no matter how I pronounce it. (Actually, the seventh planet also got called “Herschel” for a while, which is also pretty terrible.)

On the other hand, the discoverers of a large trans-Neptunian object called it “Planet X” first, and then “Xena,” which I think would have been fabulous. “Xena” got voted down, however, and now it’s Eris. Yes, you heard me: dull, dull Eris.

The ex-planet Pluto was named by its discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, who rationalized it very carefully: it’s very far away from the sun, so naming it after the god of death seemed appropriate, and it begins with the letters PL, which is also the monogram of famous astronomer Percival Lowell, who predicted Pluto’s existence.

Given all this, the rules for naming Pluto’s moons are simple: their names have to be connected with Hades or the Underworld in Greek mythology. The first three moons are Nyx (the personification of Night), Charon (the gentleman who paddles the boat that crosses the River Styx), and Hydra (a very unpleasant monster who got chopped up and barbecued by Herakles). Among the proposed names: Acheron, Eurydice, Erebus, Cerberus, Obol.  “Cerberus” would be cute; Cerberus was the dog who guarded the gates of Hell, and I love doggies. “Obol” was the name of the coin put into the mouth of a corpse, so that the dead soul could pay the ferry-toll to the abovementioned Charon.

The rest of the suggested names are very appropriate and mythological and very dull.

But go vote anyway.

Let’s reset everything, and change the rules, and add a little fun to the nomenclature in the outer solar system.

Pluto can stay Pluto.

Let’s name the moons Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.

Wouldn’t this brighten up outer space just a teeny bit?


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

2 Responses to Naming Pluto’s moons

  1. starproms says:

    No, not Disney – terrible. You are joking, aren’t you!

    • I think we could do with some Disney in outer space. Besides, I seem to remember that Disney named the dog Pluto after the planet (the planet was only discovered in 1930, so there was kind of a vogue for it), so why not?

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