Branding Constellations

Is it any surprise that in an age of “branding” some folks would think it’s a perfect time to rename all the Constellations? No, I didn’t think you’d be surprised. Of course, the complaints are usually something of the order of that the sky is full of “pagan” symbols, or that no one cares about some woman chained to the rocks (Andromeda) unless she’s Xena. But somehow those good old names live on.

In fact, co-opting the stars into new constellations for an agenda is an old trick (from Hinckley, “Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning (1899,1963) pp16-17):
“It has been the fashion with astronomers to decry this multiplicity of sky figures, and with good reason; for, as Miss Clerke writes in her monograph on ‘The Hershels and Modern Astronomy’: Celestial maps had become “a system of derangement and confusion,” of confusion “worse confounded.” New asterisms, carved out of old, existed precariously, recognized by some, ignored by others; waste places in the sky had been annexed by encrouching astronomers as standing-ground for their glorified telescopes, quadrants, sextants, clocks; a chemical apparatus had been set up by the shore of the river Eridanus, itself a meandering and uncomfortable figure; while serpents and dragons trailed their perplexing convolutions through hour after hour of right ascension; with more to the same effect. This condition of things led the Royal Astronomical Society, in 1841, to depute to Sir John Herschel and Mr. Francis Baily the task of attempting a reform. But although improvement was made by the discarding of several figures and the subdivision of others, their changes were too sweeping and were not successful, so that as the constellations stood then, in the main do they stand today, and so will they probably remain, at least with the people. “

So don’t be surprised if someone tries to rename Andromeda “Xena” to sell a video game. But if the Royal Astronomers couldn’t get away with it, I wouldn’t lie awake at night worrying about Nintendo. Now, I suppose we should discuss Pluto and planetary designations, right?

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