Blog How did the Word ‘Gold’ get its Name?

How did the Word ‘Gold’ get its Name?

We’re precious metal experts at Garfield Refining, but we’re also word nerds. That’s why we got curious about the origin of the word “gold.” How did gold get its name?

“Gold” derives from the Proto-Germanic gulþą, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European ǵʰelh₃-. The Proto-Indo-European word means “to shine, to gleam; to be yellow.” Gold is the only naturally yellow metal, so ancient civilizations named it after its stunning color.

Gold’s symbol on the Periodic Table of Elements is “Au,” deriving from the Latin word aurum. The Proto-Indo-European ancestor of aurum is h₂é-h₂us-o-, which means “glow.”

The ancient Romans used the Latin word aurum to describe gold. Romans weren’t the first civilization to encounter gold, but they invented many improvements to mine and extract precious metals.

Gold was associated with the sun

Historians agree gold is the earliest recorded metal to be used by humans. Small amounts of natural gold were found in Spanish caves dating back to the late Paleolithic period around 40,000 B.C.E.

Ancient cultures associated gold with the sun. Aurum also derives from the Latin word aurora, which was the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn.

A relief of the Greek sun god, Helios. Gold may have gotten its name from a Latin word that was associated with the Roman goddess of the dawn.
A relief of the Greek sun god, Helios. Source:
Yair Haklai
, Wikimedia Commons.

Many ancient cultures used gold for religious rites and symbolism. In the Inca civilization of Peru, they considered gold to be the sweat of their sun god, Inti. The Incas manufactured gold to use as religious objects, such as masks and sun disks. In ancient Colombia, they used gold in powdered form to cover the body of their future king during their coronation ceremonies.

Gold’s ceremonial uses persist

People today may not associate gold with sun gods, but we still use it for ceremonial purposes. In the Olympic Games, for instance, the top prize in each competition is a gold medal. Olympic gold medals are really composed of 92.5% silver and must be plated with at least six grams of gold. But it’s the symbolic significance of the gold that matters.

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