The Renaming of Mars' Moons
The idea of renaming Mars' moons arose whilst I was thinking of
names for sols of the week for the Areosynchronous
Calendar. I wanted to allocate one sol per week to each of Mars'
moons - just as on Earth we have one day per week named for the Moon
('Monday' in English), I initially named two sols, 'Phobosol' and
'Deimosol', for the moons of Mars.
I realized, however, that these translated to 'Fear Day' and
'Terror Day'. [Note that the words 'Phobos' and 'Deimos' have very
similar meanings. Phobos is most frequently interpreted as 'fear',
but also 'fright', or 'terror'. Deimos is most frequently
interpreted as 'flight' or 'terror', but also 'panic', 'dread', or
'fear'.] I thought more about this and wondered whether I would want
to live on a planet with Fear and Terror circling overhead.
Of course, we will be scientists and engineers, and not swayed by
such primitive superstitions - they're just lumps of rock, right?
Your subconscious might disagree. In any case, while scientists may
think "what's in a name? A lump of carbonaceous rock by any other
name would still be a lump of carbonaceous rock", it is well-known
that human beings are naturally superstitious. We are not
building a Mars for scientists, we are building it for
everyone. I suspect that I'm not the only one who would
prefer different names for the Martian moons, and, although it may
not be an easy thing to change, I was inspired to research the topic
further and propose some ideas.
Mars and Ares
When Aseph Hall discovered the moons of Mars in August of 1877,
he took the advice of Henry Madan of England, and named the
satellites 'Phobos' and 'Deimos', after the attendants of Ares
mentioned in the fifteenth book of Homer's Iliad.
Note that in Samuel Butler's and other translations of the Iliad,
'Mars' is written instead of 'Ares'. This is because many scholars
view these two as equivalent. Ares was a Greek god, whereas Mars was
Although Mars is commonly equated with Ares, the two are actually
different. Ares was only concerned with war - as Zeus says to Ares
in Book 5 of the Iliad: "Most hateful to me are you of all gods on
Olympus, for ever is strife dear to you and wars and fightings."
Mars, however, was originally an agricultural god, responsible for
springtime, growth in nature, fertility, and cattle.
How, then, did Mars become equated with Ares? The reason for this
is not well known, but perhaps it is because the history of the
Roman Empire was full of war, and although the Roman people were
originally pastoral, they became very warlike in nature. The Roman
army gathered in Mars' temple before battle, and this is probably
how Mars became strongly associated with war. Another possible
reason is that wars were often begun or renewed in March, the month
named for Mars because it was the beginning of Spring.
Mars had a much better reputation than Ares - Mars was seen as
noble and honorable, whereas Ares was considered savage and brutal.
Ares was not a popular Greek god, whereas Mars was one of the most
popular and worshipped Roman gods (second only to Jupiter) and had
several festivals in his honour.
Mars, the god of agriculture, growth, and fertility
It is my dream to one day emigrate to Mars. In fact, I would like
to be one of the first settlers - sometime in the 2030's (when I'm
in my 60's), maybe I can hop a flight to the new world and stake my
If Mars is to be my future home, I much prefer the image of Mars
as the god of agriculture, growth, and fertility. This image of Mars
inspires belief in the success of terraforming, the abundance of
food and good health, and the proliferation of life on Mars. It is,
however, difficult to escape the image of Mars as a war god with
Fear and Terror circling overhead. This is why I think it's
essential that the Martian moons be renamed - whether to remind us
that Mars was a god of agriculture and fertility, or at least just
to be more positive and encouraging concepts than Fear and
Alternative names for the Martian satellites
Other names have been proposed for the Martian moons before.
Brian Aldiss and Roger Penrose in "White Mars" rename Phobos as
'Swift' and Deimos as 'Laputa'. Edgar Rice Burroughs named the
larger Barsoomian moon 'Thuria' and the smaller, more distant, was
At first I considered renaming the moons after Mars' twin sons
and founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus (Phobos and
Deimos were actually the sons of Ares), however after investigating
the mythology around these two characters, I decided that they were
not the best choice. In Roman mythology, the twins quarrelled when
dividing up rulership of Rome, and Romulus killed Remus. This story
would not carry positive overtones for the future of Mars!
I decided that, as Mars was a Roman god, the best place to search
for new names would be in the area of Roman mythology. Many suitable
names have already been given to minor planets, for example: Bellona
(goddess of war, Mars' sister); Minerva (goddess of science, trade,
and war); Victoria (goddess of victory); Felicitas (goddess of
success); Virtus (god of courage and virtue); and Fortuna (goddess
of good luck). However, I discovered several excellent names amongst
the Roman gods and goddesses (of which there are many) which have
not yet been used for celestial objects, as far as I can
The names listed here are not necessarily those commonly
associated with Mars in mythology (although some are), but rather
those which reflect the positive attributes of Mars and whom Mars
might be happy to have around. I have arranged them in order of my
Nerio - 'the strong one' - originally a Sabine fertility
goddess, she married Mars and came to represent strength, courage
and valour. I expect Mars would like to have his wife around, and
the attributes expressed are very positive and encouraging.
Liber - 'the free one' - god of vegetation, husbandry,
fertility, growth in nature, and grapevines. Liber, along with
Ceres, has a strong link with Mars - they were the gods to whom
Mars' agricultural responsibilities passed when he became the god of
war. ['Ceres' was the name given to the largest, first-discovered
asteroid. She orbits in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and
can sometimes be seen with the naked eye, from both Mars and
Libertas - goddess of freedom and liberty. I like the idea
of the spirit of freedom surrounding Mars ('Liber' expresses this
also). This is a positive reference to Mars in his visage as the god
of war - after all, it is usually our freedom for which we
Voluptas - goddess of satisfaction, pleasure (esp.
sensual), and delight. This association with Mars can be made
through astrology, which maintains that Mars governs creativity and
sex. [If you were living on Mars, which spirit would you
really want surrounding our lovely low-g planet, hmmm?]
Fecunditas - goddess of growth and fertility.
Lactanus - god of vitality and growth.
Robigus - god of grain (esp. corn) who was sometimes
equated with Mars.
Ubertas - god of wealth and plenty.
Vertumnus - god of seasons and orderly change.
If you have want to search for some names, check out some of the
Roman mythology references at the bottom of the page. Don't forget
to check the list
of minor planet names to make sure they haven't already been
I was tempted to suggest the name Abeona, the Roman
goddess who protects children when they leave the house for the
first time, however I decided that this name would probably lose
significance as Mars became more independent. I think it's a good
name for an early Mars mission.
Nerio and Liber
My feeling is that these are the two perfect names for the
Martian moons. Both of these characters have strong links with Mars
and both express positive attributes, Nerio being 'the strong one'
and Liber being 'the free one'. Both are also associated with
fertility, although Liber much more so, being a fairly important
agricultural god. Liber was also in charge of grapevines, so
presumably Martian wine will benefit from his influence! Liber, as a
Martian moon and eventually a space station, could become our
Martian 'Statue of Liberty'.
Which name to which moon? My suggestion is that Phobos be renamed
'Nerio' and Deimos be renamed 'Liber'. We would then see lovely
Nerio twice a day, reminding us to be courageous, and Mars would
have his wife close by. Distant Liber we would only see
occasionally, as he moves slowly over the surface of the planet,
steadily shining fertility and growth on each part of the land, and
reminding us that we are free.
What do you think? Is it a good idea to rename Mars' moons? Do
you think the names 'Nerio' and 'Liber' are the right ones? Please
feel welcome to send
me an email.
The Iliad by
Homer, translated by Samuel Butler
Mars the god:
in Roman Religion, Tom Gangale, Via Sacra Martiana
(long, but comprehensive - recommended)
Mythica - Mars
Roman Mythology (brief - contains reference to Liber and Ceres
as Mars' agricultural successors)
Mythica - Roman Mythology