As seen here, most Latin American hispanophone countries call tungsten tungsteno, whereas in Spain it is often called wolframio. Why the difference? I'm not aware of any other elements with different regional names in Spanish.



There are a couple of reasons why this split in terminology occurred:

  1. The element was theorised by two independent groups within a few years, and hence dubbed twice:

    • 1781: a Swede/German, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who suggested a novel metal might be derived from tungstic acid (an acid they had recently derived from scheelite (which at that time was known as tungsten).
    • 1783: two Basque brothers, José and Fausto Elhuyar, who discovered that an acid made from wolframite was identical to tungstic acid:

      Later that year, at the Royal Basque Society in the town of Bergara, Spain, the brothers succeeded in isolating tungsten by reduction of this acid with charcoal, and they are credited with the discovery of the element (they called it "wolfram" or "volfram").

    The nationality of the discoverers and location of the discovery goes towards explaining why there was a preference for wolframio for the name in Spain.

  2. The element was relatively recently discovered (end of the 18th century), at a time after Spain had already colonised the Americas, and novel Spanish words would not naturally be inherited to Latin American dialects.
  3. The term tungsten was the most popular word in Anglophone regions, specifically North America, and hence appears to have influenced the terms adopted in neighbouring Latin America.

Addendum: (non-)Proscription

Note that though the IUPAC decided on tungsten for the element's official scientific name, this was something of a political decision to assuage two arguments over competing names for two different elements:

This was a compromise of sorts; the IUPAC accepted tungsten (element 74) instead of wolfram (in deference to North American usage) and niobium instead of columbium (in deference to European usage).

And that:

English is the official language of IUPAC and it therefore does not make any recommendations on how to name chemical substances in other languages...

Additionally, the IUPAC's naming recommendations are specifically to avoid plurality of names in scientific literature and technical manuals, not a rule for common speech.

As such, wolframio is an equally valid word in Spanish and there is no need to avoid its use.

Additional reading: Foreign Language Translation of Chemical Nomenclature by Computer

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