Unlikely alliance of astrophysics and etymology inspires new children’s book

The planets’ names carry secrets, says author and PhD candidate Isobel Romero-Shaw.

A love of astrophysics - and etymology, has inspired a new beautifully illustrated children’s book which unpacks the origins and meaning of ‘space words’.

Planetymology: Why Uranus is not called George and other facts about space and words was written by Isobel Romero-Shaw’s, and is her first book, with plans for more.

Isobel, a third-year PhD candidate at the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy has spent a lot of her spare time reading about etymology and the development of art in human civilisation.

“I stumbled across the fact that the word ‘galaxy’ actually stems from an Ancient Greek word meaning ‘milk’,” said Isobel.

“The Ancient Greeks called the Milky Way ‘Galaktos Kyklos’, meaning ‘milky circle’. So the word ‘galaxy’ stems from the word that we still use to describe our own -- ‘milky’.

“The planets’ names carry secrets!” she said.

For example, How is Neptune linked to hippopotamuses? Which planet’s name means Sky-Father? Why did Pluto fail the planet test?  And why is Uranus not called George?

The book tells stories about the Gods and Goddesses that the planets are named after, and how their names evolved from the language of ancient humans.

“It uncovers hidden links from their names to familiar, commonly-used words for example, why Venus’s name developed from the same root word as ‘venom’, ‘wine’, and ‘wish’,” said Isobel.

“At the same time, it explores the weird and whacky weather on other planets, their crazy day-and-night cycles compared to ours on Earth. We also meet Pluto’s new dwarf planet friends.”

Beautifully illustrated with fun characters and full of fascinating tidbits, the book is perfect for curious kids and young adults alike.

During COVID-19 restrictions Isobel volunteered to take part in some public online talks organised by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

She gave a talk about the etymologies of space words, and much of the content for the book came out of that. Isobel chose to turn the work into a children’s book partly because of the illustrations, which she made herself!

“I wanted anyone who picked up the book to be able to understand it, as the concepts involved - etymology, ancient history, and astrophysics - can be pretty complex,” said Isobel.

“I wanted to touch on all of the cool bits without it becoming overwhelming.

“So it’s designed like a children’s book, but I it’s interesting and accessible for readers of any age.”

Planetymology: Why Uranus is not called George and other facts about space and words was self-published through Amazon KDP in September. For further astro-etymology insights see also Isobel’s Instagram page at: www.instagram.com/_star_words_/


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