Silicon, element number 14, was first isolated by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in 1787. Lavoisier obtained his silicon from samples of flint, which in Latin is silex, hence the root of the name. The modern name, however, wasn’t proposed until 1817, when Thomas Thomson used it in the fifth edition of his System of Chemistry:
The base of silica has been usually considered as a metal, and called silicium. But [...] as it bears a close resemblance to boron and carbon, it is better to class it along with these bodies, and to give it the name of silicon.1
The name silicium had been proposed by Humphry Davy in 1808. This earlier name for the element was used throughout the 19th century, but was gradually replaced with silicon, disappearing from the language by the turn of the 20th century.2
The chemical symbol for silicon is Si, taken from the first two letters of its name.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton