What do you call the third planet from the sun?

By Ruth Griffiths

The television sitcom Third Rock From The Sun entertained us as we entered the 21st Century. The TV series followed the antics of four extraterrestrials on an expedition to Earth. They assumed human form in order to observe the humans on the “third rock from the sun.”

We call it Earth, but I wonder what others in the universe might call our small blue planet?

And not all of us on this planet call it Earth. Our planet does not have the same name in every language. Like most words and names, Earth has its own unique name in each of the many different languages around the globe. Other names for our planet include: Tierra (Spanish), Aarde (Dutch), Terre (French), Jorden (Norwegian), Nchi (Swahili), Bumi (Indonesian), askiy (Cree).

Our ancient ancestors didn’t know a lot about the composition of our planet. They would have known about a river, lake or ocean near where they lived, but they could not have had any idea that approximately 70 per cent of Earth’s surface was covered with water. They did, however, know the ground beneath their feet.

It’s no surprise, then, that “Earth” came from the Anglo-Saxon word “erda” and the German word “erde,” both of which mean ground or soil. The Old English version of these words became “eor(th)e” or “ertha,” which eventually became “Earth.” In fact, one of the earliest recorded uses of the name Earth can be traced back to the translation of the Bible into English.

In English, the word earth also means soil. Maybe this is why some of us treat our planet like dirt. We don’t appreciate the richness of Earth and squander its resources, polluting the land and oceans into one giant garbage pile.

But good earth is not dirt. Horticulturists know that good soil is a living ecosystem composed of living organisms, organic matter and minerals. The bacteria, fungi and small creatures that live in our soil create a balance that produces a healthy growing medium for plants. Soil that has been sterilized by heat or chemicals is inhospitable to growing things.

Likewise our planet, Earth, is an interdependent system of land, air and water. When humans harm the balance of nature, the whole planet suffers.

The ancient Greeks believed all things sprang from Gaia, the mother of everything. The name Gaia has come to symbolize the concept of Earth as a living being.

During this era of climate crisis, we might ponder the name of our planet and how we can heal it for future generations.