A search in google clearly shows that the word tantalum is the correct spelling of the word and is widely used today. What made me curious was this Wikipedia entry wrote:

Previously known as tantalium...

So, I searched when this word come into usage. A search to google Ngrams shows this:

Google Ngram tantalium, tantalum 1600 to 1850

This clearly shows that a spike in the usage of the word tantalium in around 1802 which is about when 'tantalum' was discovered. Then slowly into the future closer to modern times, tantalium is now classified as obsolete.

Google Ngrams tantalium, tantalum 1600 to 2015

I have a few questions relating to this:

1) Why is tantalium obsolete and made tantalum surpass it?

2) There is a spike in usage of the word tantalium just after the discovery of this metal. Could the word originally be named tantalium?

3) There was a small amount of usage of the word tantalum in 1747 and 1754, well before the discovery of such metal. What could be the cause of this?

  • Probably for the same reason that Aluminum was changed to Aluminium in Britain? Only for a rarer metal the change died out. – Chenmunka Oct 16 '15 at 10:10
  • Tantalum is named for Tantalus, so the -lum ending makes more sense etymologically. Aluminum is named for alum, so the etymology doesn't favor either ending. – Peter Shor Oct 16 '15 at 11:56
  • @PeterShor Ah, but isn't it spelled Aluminium? It is derived from alumina and ium. Before this change, it was aluminum but then revised. Aluminium and Tantalus had opposite changes; Tantalium to Tantalum; Aluminum to Aluminium. I'm not sure where your train of though is going. Perhaps you would like to post an answer? – CipherBot Oct 16 '15 at 13:08
  • 2
    @CipherBot: It's Aluminum in the U.S. – Peter Shor Oct 16 '15 at 14:48
  • Basically, the "USified" version of the word won out, likely in part due to the use of tantalum in industrial processes in the US. Especially after 1950 when tantalum capacitors began to be produced. (And it's "aluminum" in the US, as it ought to be.) – Hot Licks Oct 16 '15 at 15:05

According to the OED Tantalium is only an early variant of the original name Tantalum. Tantalium first instance is from 1805, after tantalum was discovered and its name coined:

  • An early variant of the name tantalum (after other names of metals in -ium).

Early usage examples:

  • 1805 Nisbet Dict. Chem., Tantalium is a new metal, which has lately been discovered by Mr. Ekeberg, a Swedish chemist.
  • 1839 Ure Dict. Arts 309 It is also called Tantalium.


  • One of the rare metals, occurring in combination in various rare minerals, and in certain metallic ores; discovered in 1802 by Ekeberg in two minerals, one from Finland and the other from Sweden, which he named tantalite and yttrotantalite. It has been isolated as a solid greyish-white colour and metallic lustre, and has been used for the incandescent filament in electric lamps. Atomic weight 182; symbol Ta. Also attrib., as tantalum lamp, etc.

  • 1802 Ekeberg in Kongl. Vetenskaps Acad. Handl. XXIII. 80 (tr.) This new recruit among the metals I call Tantalum, partly following the custom which favours names from Mythology, partly in allusion to its incapacity, when immersed in acid, to absorb any and be saturated.


I don't have enough reputation points to reply to the comment by Chenmunka about aluminium, but that it is not correct that the name was changed in Britain.

According to https://www.thoughtco.com/aluminum-or-aluminium-3980635 the original discoverer proposed a couple of names, but the name standardised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry was "aluminium" to be consistent with the standard ending -ium for metals. (The names of 75 metal elements end in -ium.)

Along came Webster (who changed many spellings https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_spelling_reform#19th_century), and North Americans started calling it aluminum.

Tantalum is the only metal I know of which ends in "um" but not "ium" (outside of North America). I'd love to hear of others.

  • "Aluminum" was the predominant spelling/pronunciation in the US as long as I can remember (since the 50s). But those Canucks insisted on the "aluminium" spelling/pronunciation into the 60s, at least, in large part because they had the major part of the North American alumin(i)um production, and so were defensive about, among other things, the name "Aluminium Limited" that they gave to a major producer. – Hot Licks Mar 1 '20 at 0:23
  • Molybdenum, Platinum, [Gold = Aurum, Mercury = Hydrargyrum] – GEdgar Mar 1 '20 at 1:05

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