A short note on the
naming of minerals

by Eric Stevens

It is evident that there is some confusion amongst amateur mineralogists about the naming of minerals. It doesn’t matter whether it is for competition purposes, for the labels of one’s own collection or just plain knowledge, the incorrect naming of minerals indicates a lack of desire to do the most basic things correctly. Just like any other hobby, why bother if you are not prepared to take that little extra time to do things properly.

Where to look for correct names is very simple as there is only one definitive reference text for all mineralogists and that is: Glossary of Mineral Species 1995 by Michael Fleischer and Joseph A. Mandarino. This A5 sized book costs around A$25 and can be purchased from The Mineralogical Record in the USA or through mineral dealers.

Collectors and mineral enthusiasts quite often confuse the mineral species name with either the group or variety names. As this article is extremely abridged by necessity, here are some examples.

  1. The are NO such minerals as GARNET, APATITE, TOURMALINE, FELDSPAR, MICA or OLIVINE These are group names, NOT species names. Simply, mineral groups are comprised of a number of mineral species with similar chemical and crystallographic characteristics. As an example the garnet group has 14 separate species and the tourmaline group has 11 species. Often the group name is based on the name of one of the species it contains, e.g: PYRITE or EPIDOTE groups.
  2. There is also a tendency to call mineral species by their variety names. e.g: adularia instead of orthoclase, amethyst instead of quartz, native copper instead of copper, emerald instead of beryl, selenite instead of gypsum,etc. They might sound better, but they are incorrect.
  3. The following are examples of correct naming of some common mineral species:

- Quartz var. Amethyst - Almandine (instead of Garnet) - Schorl (instead of Tourmaline) - Orthoclase var. Adularia. - Gypsum (instead of Selenite) - Elbaite ( instead of rubellite) - Andradite var. Topazolite

If you are not sure what your mineral’s correct name is, then either look it up in Fleischer or ask someone who does know. I find it hard to believe that a person who claims to be interested in minerals as a hobby, has not enough enthusiasm to make the effort to get the name right.

The definition of a mineral has changed recently. The International Mineralogical Association has accepted the definition by Nicklin (1995): In general terms, a mineral is an element or chemical compound that is normally crystalline and which has been formed as a result of geological processes. There are some exceptions like mercury which occurs naturally as a liquid at normal temperatures, but the new definition will now accept extraterrestial substances as minerals, whilst previously recognised species from Laurium in Greece will now be discredited because they are formed from the weathering of slag.

To do this topic justice would take a much larger article than this. But amateur mineralogists, please make the effort to be correct in the most basic area of your hobby, the name for your mineral.

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