What do you say to Pluto’s demotion to “dwarf planet” status? I did not approve of the demotion, but a few days ago our BBC Sky at Night team did give a reasonable reason why it does require a new category. With Neptune, one can say “planets end here”, while Pluto is the first of many bodies such as the remarkable Eris that we now know inhabit the Kuiper Belt.
But while, to quote, Pluto does not meet the definition of a planet but as we will see that does not diminish it, I do think a nicer term than “dwarf planet” should be invented. “Planet” means “wanderer” in Classical Greek, and according to Google Translate the modern Greek word is περιπλανώμενος (periplanó̱menos) which sounds like it comes from the same verbal root.
So perhaps we could look for a word for “wanderer” in the languages of some of the ancient explorers. I immediately think of the Vikings, and find that Stígandr means “wanderer” in Old Norse, giving rise to the name Stian in modern Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. The Vikings certainly knew their stars, as the article All At Sea With The Vikings tells us.
But the Old Norse form might be difficult for speakers of modern languages, so perhaps one could turn to one of the Polynesian languages. According to a Student Companion to Herman Melville, the word “Omoo”, title of his second book, is Tahitian for wanderer. Considering the tremendous sea voyages of the Polynesians, who must have known the stars like the back of their hand or even better, might not Omoo be an ideal name for this class of bodies?