Some of the elements in the periodic table are
named after their common English names, but as you
point out correctly, many of them are
not. Usually they are the first letters of the
element in another language- either the language
of the person who discovered them, or sometimes
Your example of potassium was
discovered by Sir Humphrey Davy in England in
1807. The name comes from the English word
"potash" (pot ashes) and the Arabic word "qali"
meaning alkali (since potassium, when dissolved in
water, forms an alkaline solution and is in the
column of the periodic table called the alkali
metals. The origin of the symbol K comes from the
Latin word "kalium".
There is an excellent
which lets you click on a particular element and find
out a lot of information about it, including where
it's name comes from.
By the way, it's also
very interesting that, in addition to discovering
potassium, Sir Humphrey Davy invented the Davy
lamp. This was the first safety lamp, in which the
flame was enclosed so that it couldn't ignite any
surrounding flammable gases. It was widely used by
miners and saved many lives by preventing
explosions in mines.
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