Uranus was the son of Gaia, without a mate. Having borne him, she then mated with him and produced the Titans. Uranus is the god of the sky, of course, and the popular origin of his name is ouranos, 'heaven', 'sky'. This seems so obvious that no doubt many writers have felt there should be a more complex derivation for the name.

Eric Partridge, for example, suggests an association with ouron, 'urine', with the sense-link being the rain that falls from the sky. Robert Graves proposes 'king of the mountains', this being a masculine form of Ur-ana, 'queen of the mountains'. (Presumably the Ur- here is the first element in the name of the Ural Mountains.) Yet another theory offers the Sanskrit root var-, 'to veil' 'cover', since Uranus was a personification of the heavens that cover the earth.

The planet Uranus was discovered by the English astronomer Sir William Herschel in 1781. Herschel was not much of a professional namer, however, and he proposed calling the planet Georgium Sidus, 'George's Planet', in honour of King George III. The name 'Georgian' actually lived a hesitant life for about fifty years on and off, while in France the name 'Herschel' was used for the newly discovered planet.

Meanwhile some astronomers were not too happy about Herschel's name. In 1783 the Swedish-born Russian astronomer A.I. Lexell presented a report about Uranus to the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in which he stated that Herschel's name was 'not fully appropriate' and that it would be more fitting 'to name this body "Neptune of George III" or "Neptune of Great Britain" in memory of the great feats undertaken by the English fleets over the past two years'.

Uranus, thus, was nearly called Neptune! But already two years before, in the year of discovery, the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode had suggested Uranus as an appropriate name, since this god was, after all, the father of Saturn, who in turn was the father of Jupiter. Jupiter and Saturn were the two planets already in existence, of course, next to Uranus, and this latter name was therefore the one to be accepted. It was notable for being the first Greek planet name, since there is no Roman equivalent name for Uranus.