The Names on the Moon by Cinzia Bongino

"The Names on the Moon" is a stroll on the lunar surface through its feature names.

We always see the Moon portrayed as a muted grey sphere orbiting planet Earth, marked by dark spots visible to the naked eye. We can zoom into its surface through photographic and satellite images, exploring famous landing sites like the Sea of Tranquility. But how many other places on the Moon do we know?

The project investigates the nomenclature system of the Moon and question the process applied to identify the unknown. Why are craters, mountain ranges, and valleys named like places existing on Earth? Or are lunar features identified with the names of scientists, researchers, and philosophers? The following research ( tries to give some answers by presenting a toponymy map of the Moon.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) is the organisation in charge of naming celestial bodies. Founded in 1919 in Brussels, since 1935 has been officially assigning names to The Moon surface features, with new entries or revisions listed every year. After downloading the dataset from the IAU website, I analysed the data grouping the lunar feature names by dividing them into four main categories: “Proper nouns”, “People”, “Places”, and “Astronaut-named” features. Each lunar features is identified with a conceptual and physical description (e.g. “Montes Carpatus”, “Crater Artemis”), plus additional information such as feature type, origin of the name, profession and lifespan (if related to a person), and source.​ These were all relevant categories to develop multiple data representations of the Moon.

When analysing the data related to People names (82%), we notice how the large majority of persons were Astronomers (33.6%), Physicists (14%), or Mathematicians (12.4%). These notable persons were often active in more than one field of work: for instance, Astronomer and Mathematicians (3.1%) or Astronomer, Mathematician, Philosophers (0.1%). The People lived between 700 B.C. (e.g. Greek poet Hesiod) and nowadays. Some are still alive in 2022 (e.g. Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, Soviet astronaut). If instead we look at the origin of the names, we notice how contemporary and past ethnicities are represented: American, German, British, French, Soviet, Italian, Greek, Russian, Latin, etc.

The main finding from the research can be linked to the procedure of assigning names. The Task Group for Lunar Nomenclature recommends to use an equitable selection of names from ethnic groups, countries and gender, as well as expressing the name in the language of origin. The process seems more structured and inclusive when compared to individual or collective decisions taken by mayors or province administrators.