In English, "sun" and "moon" are treated as common nouns. A sun and a moon are kinds of things, but the sky only happens to have one of each (at least in a pre-Copernican view), so they don't need names of their own.

This is reflected in the fact that we use the definite article with them, and don't capitalize them. I think this is true for most European languages, although German capitalizes nouns in general so we can't make the distinction that way. But I think of Sol and Luna as being proper names in Latin.

There is a deeper question here. Latin did not have articles or a capitalization convention. In an inscription, it's meaningful to distinguish GAIUS as a proper noun and AGRICOLA as a common noun, but is there a way to even say which category LUNA goes in? So this is a question with multiple parts:

  1. Are there any (many? most?) languages where the moon unambiguously has a proper name?
  2. Are there any languages without articles where this question can be answered about the moon? And, if so, how do linguists make the distinction?
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    The fact that we use the definite article doesn’t mean they’re not proper nouns (we also say the Bronx, the Bahamas, the Netherlands, the Wirral, the Zambezi, etc.), and Sun and Moon are in fact sometimes capitalised, just like Earth is sometimes capitalised. So I’d say it’s pretty ambiguous which category they go in in English as well. (And in Latin, it’s only meaningful to categorise AGRICOLA as a common noun when you’re not talking about the person.) Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 7:24
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    This question, in various forms, and in various forums, has been asked before, for instance on the astronomy stack exchange: astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/40110/…. As I pointed out in my similar question on the history site (history.stackexchange.com/questions/62067/…), these questions are often based on a false premise. The Moon is not called the Moon because it is the most important of all the moons in our solar system. Other satellites are called moons because they resemble The Moon.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 16:37
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    @Juhasz. "The moon" and "the sun" are much older that the Copernican system.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 11:03
  • @janus other examples: the FBI, the Marianas Trench, the Soviet Union, the International Space Station, the Rocky Mountains. Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


Like the majority of the Slavic languages, Russian has no articles. In Russian, Луна (Luna) is ‘Moon’. It's a proper noun when you talk about it astronomically, like the Apollo missions to the Moon, but when you describe a summer night it becomes луна (luna), a common noun, like a tree, the wind, the sound of the stream – just a part of the landscape. Even if you describe an alien planet which has three moons, in a description of the way the sky there looks like you'll use it as a common noun, взошли три луны 'three moons rose'. The same thing with Солнце (Solntse) ‘Sun’ and Земля (Zeml’a) ‘Earth’. When you talk astronomically, like about researching these Solar system bodies, they are proper nouns and capitalized, but when you speak about what you lie on and what makes your skin brown, they are common nouns, like the rest of the landscape details or elements.

Note: for languages, spelling is secondary, quite a recent invention, if it is only the spelling that allows you to differentiate between common and proper nouns, it looks like a sign that this category is not at all relevant. It is just the modern European tradition of capitalization in general and capitalization of proper nouns in particular that makes us be able to tell if the word is common or proper (or make it be one or the other). In German where every noun is capitalized you will have problems to tell exactly which noun it is, common or proper, not to speak of the languages which know no capitalization whatsoever, like Chinese or Arabic, or Hindi. That difference is pretty semantic, so pretty subjective. The difference could be objective only in a language without articles where common nouns have grammar properties different from those of the proper nouns, but I'm afraid I don't know of such languages (but I know about languages where all the proper nouns are used with articles, e.g. Greek and Portuguese).

Also consider the situation in fairy tales for children where the characters are animals and their names are the same as the names of their species, e.g. Wolf, Fox, Hare, Bear. In Russian, where there are no articles, a child listening to such a fairy tale cannot tell it for sure if those are personal names (proper nouns) or species' names (common nouns).

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    also I just remembered that sometimes Bear or Fox are used as proper nouns in Russian fairy tales, viz. when they get their own patronymic, cf. Михаил Потапыч or Лиса Патрикеевна.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 18:03
  • @AlexB. - Well, yes, although I doubt that Михаил (Hebrew phrase מי כאל‎ mī kāʼēl, in Aramaic: ܡܝܟܐܝܠ (Mīkhāʼēl [miχaˈʔel] meaning "Who [is] like [the Hebrew God] El?") means 'bear' in Russian. Actually, it's just the other way round: since a usual name of bears in fairy tales was Михаил, its endearing diminutive form Мишка became a common noun мишка meaning 'bear', especially 'teddy bear'.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 18:35
  • well, of course, I wanted to add a note re: Михаил and bear but then I decided to keep it short :)
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 19:28

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