Constellation Names and Abbreviations

ancient star constellation names
The Farnese Atlas, sculpted in late Roman times, is the first known depiction of the classical constellations.
Gerry Picus

Most of the well-known star constellation names date back to ancient Greece or earlier, but the precise list remained somewhat fuzzy until the early 20th century. Then, in a series of resolutions from 1922 to 1930, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) divided the celestial sphere into 88 precisely defined constellations with official spellings and abbreviations.

Every constellation name has two forms: the nominative, for use when you're talking about the constellation itself, and the genitive, or possessive, which is used in star names. For instance, Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries (nominative form), is also called Alpha Arietis (genitive form), meaning literally "the Alpha of Aries." When space is at a premium, this is written α Ari, using the lower-case Greek letter alpha and the abbreviation for Aries.

Constellation Names

The table below lists all 88 constellations in alphabetical order. If you don't want to scroll through the whole thing, click on the appropriate abbreviation in the index table. Click on the pronunciations in the main table to hear what they really sound like. After the table, there are extended discussions of the constellations' history, their names and meanings, and their pronunciations.

The Constellation Names
Abbr.Nominative
Genitive
English Nickname
Nominative Pronunciation
Genitive Pronunciation
Comments
AndAndromeda
Andromedae
the Chained Maiden
an-DRAH-mih-duh
an-DRAH-mih-dee

ancient, daughter of Cepheus
AntAntlia
Antliae
the Air Pump
ANT-lee-uh
ANT-lee-ee

18th century
ApsApus
Apodis
the Bird of Paradise
APE-us, APP-us
APP-oh-diss

16th century
AqrAquarius
Aquarii
the Water Bearer
uh-QUAIR-ee-us
uh-QUAIR-ee-eye

ancient, in zodiac
AqlAquila
Aquilae
the Eagle
ACK-will-uh, uh-QUILL-uh
ACK-will-ee, uh-QUILL-ee

ancient
AraAra
Arae
the Altar
AIR-uh, AR-uh
AIR-ee, AR-ee

southernmost ancient constellation
AriAries
Arietis
the Ram
AIR-eez, AIR-ee-yeez
uh-RYE-ih-tiss

ancient, in zodiac
AurAuriga
Aurigae
the Charioteer
aw-RYE-guh
aw-RYE-ghee

ancient
BooBoötes
Boötis
the Herdsman
bo-OH-teez
bo-OH-tiss

ancient, also called Bear Watcher
CaeCaelum
Caeli
the Engraving Tool
SEE-lum
SEE-lye

18th century
CamCamelopardalis
Camelopardalis
the Giraffe
cuh-MEL-oh-PAR-duh-liss
cuh-MEL-oh-PAR-duh-liss

17th century
CncCancer
Cancri
the Crab
CAN-ser
CANG-cry

ancient, in zodiac
CVnCanes Venatici
Canum Venaticorum
the Hunting Dogs
CANE-eez (CAN-eez) ve-NAT-iss-eye
CANE-um (CAN-um) ve-nat-ih-COR-um

17th century
CMaCanis Major
Canis Majoris
the Great Dog
CANE-iss (CAN-iss) MAY-jer
CANE-iss (CAN-iss) muh-JOR-iss

ancient
CMiCanis Minor
Canis Minoris
the Lesser Dog
CANE-iss (CAN-iss) MY-ner
CANE-iss (CAN-iss) mih-NOR-iss

ancient
CapCapricornus
Capricorni
the Sea Goat
CAP-rih-CORN-us
CAP-rih-CORN-eye

ancient, in zodiac, fish-goat hybrid
CarCarina
Carinae
the Keel
cuh-RYE-nuh, cuh-REE-nuh
cuh-RYE-nee, cuh-REE-nee

of the ship Argo1
CasCassiopeia
Cassiopeiae
the Seated Queen
CASS-ee-uh-PEE-uh
CASS-ee-uh-PEE-ye

ancient, Andromeda's mother
CenCentaurus
Centauri
the Centaur
sen-TOR-us
sen-TOR-eye

ancient, far-southern
CepCepheus
Cephei
the King
SEE-fyoos, SEE-fee-us, SEF-ee-us
SEE-fee-eye, SEF-ee-eye

ancient, Andromeda's father
CetCetus
Ceti
the Sea Monster
SEE-tus
SEE-tie

ancient, Andromeda's assailant
ChaChamaeleon
Chamaeleontis
the Chameleon
cuh-MEAL-yun, cuh-MEAL-ee-un
cuh-MEAL-ee-ON-tiss

16th century
CirCircinus
Circini
the Drafting Compass
SER-sin-us
SER-sin-eye

18th century
ColColumba
Columbae
the Dove
cuh-LUM-buh
cuh-LUM-bee

16th century, Noah's dove
ComComa Berenices
Comae Berenices
Berenice's Hair
COE-muh BER-uh-NICE-eez
COE-mee BER-uh-NICE-eez

Queen of Egypt c. 240 B.C.
CrACorona Australis2
Coronae Australis
the Southern Crown
cuh-ROE-nuh aw-STRAL-iss3
cuh-ROE-nee aw-STRAL-iss3
ancient, far-southern
CrBCorona Borealis
Coronae Borealis
the Northern Crown
cuh-ROE-nuh bor-ee-AL-iss3
cuh-ROE-nee bor-ee-AL-iss3
ancient
CrvCorvus
Corvi
the Crow
COR-vus
COR-vye

ancient
CrtCrater
Crateris
the Cup
CRAY-ter
cruh-TEE-riss

ancient
CruCrux
Crucis
the Southern Cross
CRUCKS, CROOKS
CROO-siss

16th century, carved out of Centaurus
CygCygnus
Cygni
the Swan
SIG-nus
SIG-nye

ancient
DelDelphinus
Delphini
the Dolphin
del-FINE-us, del-FIN-us
del-FINE-eye, del-FIN-eye

ancient
DorDorado
Doradus
the Dolphinfish
duh-RAH-do
duh-RAH-dus

16th century
DraDraco
Draconis
the Dragon
DRAY-co
druh-CONE-iss

ancient
EqlEquuleus
Equulei
the Little Horse
eh-QUOO-lee-us
eh-QUOO-lee-eye

ancient
EriEridanus
Eridani
the River
ih-RID-un-us
ih-RID-un-eye

ancient, a mythological river
ForFornax
Fornacis
the Furnace
FOR-naks
for-NAY-siss

18th century
GemGemini
Geminorum
the Twins
JEM-uh-nye, JEM-uh-nee
JEM-uh-NOR-um

ancient, in zodiac
GruGrus
Gruis
the Crane
GRUSS, GROOS
GROO-iss

16th century
HerHercules
Herculis
Hercules
HER-kyuh-leez
HER-kyuh-liss

ancient, mightiest of heroes
HorHorologium
Horologii
the Clock
hor-uh-LOE-jee-um
hor-uh-LOE-jee-eye

18th century
HyaHydra
Hydrae
the Water Snake
HIGH-druh
HIGH-dree

usually female in ancient times
HyiHydrus
Hydri
the Male Water Snake
HIGH-drus
HIGH-dry

16th century
IndIndus
Indi
the Indian
IN-dus
IN-dye

16th century
LacLacerta
Lacertae
the Lizard
luh-SER-tuh
luh-SER-tee

17th century
LeoLeo
Leonis
the Lion
LEE-oh
lee-OH-niss

ancient, in zodiac
LMiLeo Minor
Leonis Minoris
the Lesser Lion
LEE-oh MY-ner
lee-OH-niss mih-NOR-iss

17th century
LepLepus
Leporis
the Hare
LEEP-us, LEP-us
LEP-or-iss

ancient
LibLibra
Librae
the Scales
LEE-bruh, LYE-bruh
LEE-bree, LYE-bree

ancient, in zodiac
LupLupus
Lupi
the Wolf
LOOP-us
LOOP-eye

ancient, far-southern
LynLynx
Lyncis
the Lynx
LINKS
LIN-siss

17th century
LyrLyra
Lyrae
the Lyre
LYE-ruh
LYE-ree

ancient kind of harp
MenMensa
Mensae
the Table
MEN-suh
MEN-see

18th century, from Table Mountain
MicMicroscopium
Microscopii
the Microscope
my-cruh-SCOPE-ee-um
my-cruh-SCOPE-ee-eye

18th century
MonMonoceros
Monocerotis
the Unicorn
muh-NAH-ser-us
muh-NAH-ser-OH-tiss

17th century
MusMusca
Muscae
the Fly
MUSS-cuh
MUSS-see, MUSS-kee

18th century
NorNorma
Normae
the Carpenter's Square
NOR-muh
NOR-mee

18th century
OctOctans
Octantis
the Octant
OCK-tanz
ock-TAN-tiss

18th century
OphOphiuchus
Ophiuchi
the Serpent Bearer
OFF-ee-YOO-kus, OAF-ee-YOO-kus
OFF-ee-YOO-kye, OAF-ee-YOO-kye

ancient4
OriOrion
Orionis
the Hunter
oh-RYE-un, uh-RYE-un
or-eye-OH-niss

ancient, a mythological hunter
PavPavo
Pavonis
the Peacock
PAY-vo
puh-VOE-niss

16th century
PegPegasus
Pegasi
the Winged Horse
PEG-us-us
PEG-us-eye

ancient
PerPerseus
Persei
the Hero
PER-see-us, PER-syoos
PER-see-eye

ancient, Andromeda's rescuer
PhePhoenix
Phoenicis
the Phoenix
FEE-nix
fuh-NICE-iss

16th century
PicPictor
Pictoris
the Painter
PICK-ter
pick-TOR-iss

18th century, from Painter's Easel
PscPisces
Piscium
the Fishes
PICE-eez, PISS-eez
PICE-ee-um, PISH-ee-um

ancient, in zodiac
PsAPiscis Austrinus
Piscis Austrini
the Southern Fish
PICE-iss (PISS-iss) aw-STRY-nus
PICE-iss (PISS-iss) aw-STRY-nye

ancient
PupPuppis
Puppis
the Stern
PUP-iss
PUP-iss

of the ship Argo1
PyxPyxis
Pyxidis
the Magnetic Compass
PIX-iss
PIX-ih-diss

of the ship Argo1
RetReticulum
Reticulii
the Reticle
rih-TICK-yuh-lum
rih-TICK-yuh-lye

18th century
SgeSagitta
Sagittae
the Arrow
suh-JIT-uh
suh-JIT-ee

ancient
SgrSagittarius
Sagittarii
the Archer
SAJ-ih-TARE-ee-us
SAJ-ih-TARE-ee-eye

ancient, in zodiac
ScoScorpius5
Scorpii
the Scorpion
SCOR-pee-us
SCOR-pee-eye

ancient, in zodiac
SclSculptor
Sculptoris
the Sculptor
SCULP-ter
sculp-TOR-iss

18th century, from Sculptor's Studio
SctScutum
Scuti
the Shield
SCOOT-um, SCYOOT-um
SCOOT-eye, SCYOOT-eye

17th century
SerSerpens
Serpentis
the Serpent
SER-punz
ser-PEN-tiss

ancient4
SexSextans
Sextantis
the Sextant
SEX-tunz
sex-TAN-tiss

18th century
TauTaurus
Tauri
the Bull
TOR-us
TOR-eye

ancient, in zodiac
TelTelescopium
Telescopii
the Telescope
tel-ih-SCOPE-ee-um
tel-ih-SCOPE-ee-eye

18th century
TriTriangulum
Trianguli
the Triangle
try-ANG-gyuh-lum
try-ANG-gyuh-lye

ancient
TrATriangulum Australe
Trianguli Australis
the Southern Triangle
try-ANG-gyuh-lum aw-STRAL-ee3
try-ANG-gyuh-lye aw-STRAL-iss3
16th century
TucTucana
Tucanae
the Toucan
too-KAY-nuh, too-KAH-nuh6
too-KAY-nee, too-KAH-nee6
16th century
UMaUrsa Major
Ursae Majoris
the Great Bear
ER-suh MAY-jur
ER-suh muh-JOR-iss

ancient, also called Wagon
UMiUrsa Minor
Ursae Minoris
the Lesser Bear
ER-suh MY-ner
ER-suh mih-NOR-iss

ancient
VelVela
Velorum
the Sails
VEE-luh, VAY-luh
vee-LOR-um, vuh-LOR-um

of the ship Argo1
VirVirgo
Virginis
the Maiden
VER-go
VER-jin-iss

ancient, in zodiac
VolVolans
Volantis
the Flying Fish
VOH-lanz
vo-LAN-tiss

16th century
VulVulpecula
Vulpeculae
the Fox
vul-PECK-yuh-luh
vul-PECK-yuh-lee

17th century

1The ancient constellation Argo Navis was split into Carina, Puppis, Pyxis, and Vela in the 18th century.

2In 1932 the IAU officially changed this constellation's name from Corona Australis to Corona Austrina (genitive Coronae Austrinae), but the revised name never really caught on. The original name is used far more often, and even the IAU website implicitly endorses it as an alternative.

3Australe, Australis, and Borealis are sometimes prounced aw-STRAIL-ee, aw-STRAIL-iss, and bor-ee-AIL-iss, respectively.

4Ophiuchus and Serpens used to share several stars. The IAU reforms assigned the shared stars to Ophiuchus, leaving Serpens in two disjoint pieces: Serpens Caput (the Serpent's Head) and Serpens Cauda (the Serpent's Tail).

5Before the IAU reforms, astronomers used the names Scorpius and Scorpio interchangeably. Scorpio is now used primarily by astrologers.

6Tucana and Tucanae are sometimes pronounced tyoo-KAY-nuh and tyoo-KAY-nee, respectively.

Constellation Origins

Star constellations are human inventions, not things that really exist "out there" in the sky. Different cultures have divided and organized the stars and deep sky objects in very different ways, though a few patterns (notably true physical clusters like the Pleiades) are so eye-catching that they're nearly universal. The constellations recognized by scientists today are the ones that arose out of the European tradition.

The major European constellations are very old. A few, notably the Great Bear, are widely believed to predate the invention of writing some 5,000 years ago. And there's compelling evidence that many, including the zodiacal constellations, originated in Mesopotamia sometime before 1,000 BC. Somehow, the Mesopotamian constellations were imported into ancient Greece, but there's no record of how or why this occurred. As for timing, the Mesopotamian constellations were not mentioned in the works of Homer and Hesiod (about 700 BC), but they were firmly entrenched in the earliest comprehensive Greek constellation lists, which appeared around 350 BC.

The Greeks seem to have invented some constellations of their own, notably the Perseus family, around the same time that they adopted the Mesopotomian constellations, and a few more were added after 350 BC. The comprehensive list of ancient constellations appeared in a book written around AD 150 by the Greco-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. This book, which summarized all of classical astronomy, is now known by its (entirely appropriate) Arabic name: Almagest, meaning "the Greatest."

Astronomy was neglected in Europe for more than a millennium following the Almagest, but it revived in the 15th century, when European navigators started to explore unknown waters. When these sailors ventured south of the equator, they saw stars that were not in Ptolemy's catalog and organized them into new constellations. Later, in the telescopic era, astronomers invented additional constellations to fill the gaps between the traditional ones — areas that were uninteresting to Ptolemy and the early European navigators because they contain no bright stars.

Rome conquered the entire Greek-speaking world by 30 BC, and the Greek constellation names were translated or transliterated into Latin, the primary language of the Roman Empire. Latin has remained the standard language for scientific nomenclature ever since. That's why all constellations invented since classical times have Latin names, as do all species of plants and animals.

Names and Nicknames

Most constellation names are simple common nouns with obvious English equivalents. For instance, Leo is Latin for "the lion" or "a lion." The Greeks sometimes tried to associate the constellation Leo with some particular lion from their mythology, but there's every reason to believe that when they inherited this constellation from Mesopotamia, it was just a generic lion. Or, more precisely, the great celestial Lion — the Lion that Lives in the Sky.

Other constellations are named after specific people or things. For instance, Eridanus is one particular mythological river, not the Latin equivalent of "a river" or "the river." The constellation Perseus is often nicknamed the Hero in English, but this is a little misleading, as that nickname could apply equally well to Hercules.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of intermediate cases. Thus, Cetus means just a sea monster, whale, or large fish, but it's very likely that the constellation's inventor was thinking of the particular monster that tried to eat Andromeda. And Gemini is the common Latin word for "twins" but also the special epithet of the mythological twins Castor and Pollux.

Some sky atlas guides will use one variation of a constellations name while others may use another so be keep this in mind when using this reference guide.

Pronunciations

Our pronunciations are drawn from four sources:

  1. The article Pronouncing Astronomical Names by George A. Davis, Samuel G. Barton, and I. McHugh, Popular Astronomy. August 1942.
  2. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition.
  3. Celestial Objects for Modern Telescopes by Michael A. Covington, pages 80–84.
  4. Usage polls of Sky & Telescope editors.

Pronouncing Astronomical Names was the report of a committee of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) charged with standardizing the pronunciation of constellations and stars. Sky & Telescope republished the constellation pronunciations several times, first in the June 1943 issue and most recently (with minor modifications) in the article Designated Authority by E. C. Krupp, May 1997, page 66. The AAS pronunciations were the S&T standard until 2004, when the desire to include pronunciation guides in Night Sky magazine forced us to reexamine the entire subject.

In fact, the AAS report is deeply flawed. It was inspired by the IAU's standardization of constellation definitions, but that was a very different situation. The IAU reforms were successful because they addressed an urgent need. Newly discovered variable stars are named after the constellation that contains them, and this only works if everyone agrees on the constellation boundaries. There's no comparable reason to standardize pronunciation. Experienced astronomers, both professional and amateur, pronounce constellation names in many different ways but have no trouble understanding each other. Moreover, the pronunciations chosen for the AAS report were somewhat arbitrary. There are several well-defined systems for pronouncing Latin, and the AAS pronunciations don't conform with any of them.

What's worse, the AAS report clashes with common usage in several important cases. Even at Sky & Telescope, which has been eager to promote the AAS standard, not a single editor pronounces Pisces as piss-ease, in accordance with the AAS recommendations. Nonetheless, having told people for generations that they can't go wrong with the AAS pronunciations, we've made sure that they're all included in the table above, though not necessarily as the first choice.

The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) lists all but two of the constellations, with one or more pronunciations specified for each. It's much more faithful to actual American usage than the AAS report. We've included all of the AHD pronunciations except for a few minor variants.

Michael Covington is a professional linguist with a solid grounding in Greek and Latin. He has also written several books on amateur astronomy. Celestial Objects for Modern Telescopes specifies constellation pronunciations, most of them based on the English system, as explained on Covington's website Latin Pronunciation Demystified. Covington's pronunciations have served as a cross-check on the other authorities.

The editors of Sky & Telescope have served as a handy sample of the American amateur-astronomy community. Several pronunciations were included because they were the most popular choice at S&T, even if they don't appear in any of the other sources.

Finally, it must be emphasized that these are suggestions, not rules. Nobody has the right to complain if you use one of the pronunciations listed here, but there are many equally legitimate ways to pronounce constellation names. For instance, many people rhyme all genitives ending in "i" and "ae" with "be" and "by," respectively. This is exactly backward from what's specified in the table above, but it's how these endings were pronounced in classical antiquity — and how they still are pronounced by many choral groups and by almost everyone outside the English-speaking world.

The bottom line is that if you're happy with the way you say something, and other people understand you, then there's no reason to change.