ASTRONYMY

Justin E. H. Smith in Cabinet:

ScreenHunter_2102 Jul. 18 06.14There is a main-belt asteroid of stony composition, roughly four kilometers in diameter, and with an albedo, or solar reflection coefficient, of around 17 percent. It bears the same name as the author of the present article, though with the middle initials eliminated, the first and last names concatenated, and a string of numbers added to the beginning: 13585 Justinsmith. To be more precise, it does not just have the same name as the author, but was in fact named after the author. Its relationship to the author is like that of Colombia to Columbus, or of the Vince Lombardi Travel Plaza to Vince Lombardi: a relationship of eponymy.

“I hope that some people see some connection between the two topics in the title,” is how, in 1970, Saul Kripke began the first of his lectures on “Naming and Necessity.”1 Plainly, though, it was not necessary that Justinsmith should come to bear my name. The asteroid was first observed in 1993, when I was twentyone years old and had yet to accomplish anything that would merit so much as an eponymous clod of dirt. According to the rules established by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, discoverers enjoy the exclusive right of naming for the first ten years, though they may still choose a name after that deadline, pending approval by the iau’s fifteenmember Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature, if no one else has gone through the complicated steps necessary to do so.2 In this case, the discoverer, Belgian astronomer Eric W. Elst, would not choose the name until the middle of 2015: it was, after all, only one of at least 3,600 asteroids he had discovered in his long and distinguished career.

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