Beryllium, with atomic number 4, was discovered in 1798 by French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, who found it as a component of the gemstone beryl. Beryllium was first isolated in 1828 independently by German chemist Friedrich Wöhler and French chemist Antoine Bussy.
The earliest citation of beryllium in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Henry Watts’s 1863 A Dictionary of Chemistry.1 The root beryl, as the name for the gemstone, is from Old French and Latin and ultimately Greek. It was probably borrowed into Greek from some other language. Cognates exist in Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian.2
An earlier name for the metal was glucinum, a name suggested by English chemist Humphrey Davy in his 1812 Elements of Chemical Philosophy:
Glucina is a compound of a peculiar metallic substance, which may be called glucinum, and oxygene.
Davy chose this word because the Greek root means sweet, as in the word glucose, and some of the salts of the metal have a sweet taste. Davy had first suggested glucium as the name, and in a parallel to alumium/aluminum, he quickly altered the word to glucinum.3
The chemical symbol for beryllium is Be, taken from the first two letters of the name.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton