A thoroughly sporadic column from astronomer Mike Brown on space and science, planets and dwarf planets, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the joys and frustrations of search, discovery, and life. With a family in tow. Or towing. Or perhaps in mutual orbit.


Several readers pointed out that the correct Polynesian pronunciation of Make-make is not Maki-maki, as I suggested, but rather MAH-kay MAH-kay (where the capitals show accent). These readers are, of course, correct.

I find this mistake distressing as I spend so much time in Hawaii at telescopes that I think myself a proper Hawaiian-pronunciater. I can glance up at a street sign and read ten syllables in appropriate Hawaiian while my wife is still sounding through the first letters.

Hawaiian is easy. The "e" is always pronounced "ay". I get a demonstration of this every time I visit the summit of Mauna Kea to use the Keck telescope. Or when I just stay in the town of Waimea, where the Keck headquarters are. Or make sacrifices to Pele before observing (which, well, I admit to sometimes doing; she allegedly likes hard alcohol these days rather than virgins, being in shorter suppy).

But the first time I saw the name Make-make the wrong pronunciation just flowed out so easily (influenced, no doubt, by the Wiki-wiki buses at the Honolulu airport [wiki-wiki, meaning something like "quick quick." The buses are not particulatly wiki-wike, though]) that I never paused to get it right.

Sorry Make-make. And thanks to those who set me straight.


  1. The IAU did not mention specifically how to pronounce Makemake, but your comment with the false pronounciation suggestion - you finally being THE authority about "Makemake" - has immediately spread throughout the Internet and into the Wikipedias of several languages, so that not only in the English, but even in the French Wikipedia you can read now that we should not read it "as it is written" but to read it as you suggested. Now I start to wonder which pronounciation will prevail ... ;-)

  2. Hi Mike or should I say mikemike,

    Congratulations to you and your team in getting your object named, however it is pronounced. Its kind of a cute name. Much better than Glenn Seaborg's Pu (pea you) for plutonium.

    I am re-reading your April 2004 Physics Today article on the Kuiper Belt and have a question.
    Do you know where one can find Gerard P. Kuiper's paper from 1950 that you described on page 49 of your article. in the paragraph titled Early Expectations. (Charles Bell - charbell@bellsouth.net)

  3. MikeMike, mediary to the procreation god?

    Really? really?!


  4. Since my last name is McKay, I think I'll tell me new grandnephew that it's pronounced McKay-McKay. After all, what's the point in being an uncle if you can't fill the kids with sugar and misinformation before handing them back to your kin?

    1. I agree wholeheartedly.

      I also believe "if you can't be a grand-father, be a great-uncle"

  5. Hi Mike,

    sorry to be frank, but the repetition in the name is definitely a plague. The reactions from laymen are at best amused, at worst irritated. The most painful consequence seems to be a distanciation with the dwarf planets in general ("that should not be that important given that they do not even care giving them serious names" sic).

    I scanned through Hawaiian mythology. Please reassure me. The only embarrasing names I could find were Papa (because of the familiar connotation in all latin languages) and Kapo (because of WWII). Please tell me you have not picked them for EL61 or its moons.

  6. Thank you, Mike, for your quick reaction and rectification of the pronounciation - as far as I can see, all wrong pronounciation hints in the Wikipedias have been corrected by now ... :-)

    And Mr. McKay, that is a good one, if your grandnephew is not too old - but I have to admit, I never got that straight: is your name now correctly pronounced mækai, mækoi, makai, makoi, or makei ? (Just had here an Australian from Mackay and am now completely confused ...)

  7. The grandnephew is still in the oven, so I'll have plenty of time to corrupt him.

    Since my name is Scots, it should be spelled Mackay and pronounced with a long I (muck EYE). But since I live in the states, it's long since been Americanized in spelling and pronunciation (muh CAY).

  8. About the repetition in the name: I think that you, Mike, have chosen a good name - and easy to pronounce for everybody. Though speakers of European languages consider repetition sometimes to be a typical feature of "childish language", it is actually a normal feature in Polynesian languages. And you can find examples for repetitions in Japanese as well as in old Indoeuropean. Let us have an open mind and respect holy names of foreign deities - actually I have no idea how ridiculous "Jupiter" might sound to Rapanui laymen.

  9. Looking at AY, it reminds me how difficult it is to explain to an English speaker any pronunciation without using the international phonetic alphabet. The AY in Mackay sounds very different when said by an American or by an Australian (where it sounds more like OY). And the AY in May is also not the same as the AY in "he says". The E in Makemake is close to the AY as in "he says", it has no "y"-sound at the end. Maybe it would have been better to refer to the E in Makemake as being pronounced like the E in (Easter) "Egg" ;-)

  10. Elmar:

    Indeed a repetition looks childish in European languaages. That is a fact. Jupiter may sound ridiculous to RapaNui speakers but I'm sure they have/had a proper, adequate name for Jupiter in Rapa Nui (maybe MakeMake btw, or not a god's name at all, in any case not somthing they made fun about). The Chinese and the Japanese have their own pattern for naming planets, as all other cultures, and all deserve respect.
    Respect is an issue indeed: I do not find that naming the 19th largest object so far in the Solar System after a major deity is so respectful for the concerned cullture: that leaves the dominant planets with Greco-Roman names, and smaller ones with non-Western names.

    Let's not be arrogant with non-Westerners. The name selection should stand for Western languages. 2005FY9/Makemake being the 19th or so largest object, it was too small in my opinion to be named after a MAJOR non-Western deity (as it beleaguers the concerned culture) and too large to be named without solemnity. It's really a pity that this contributes to downgrade the standing of these planetary objects.

    Now it's done. Maybe (maybe) as Mike said there is nothing splashy about MakeMake, and it will go into oblivion. But EL61 is another story. Please please Mike, avoid Papa and Kapo.

  11. By the way, "Make-make" pronounced in the proper way sounds in the ears of Japanese like "(I have) lost, lost ..." - game over. ;-)

  12. I'm afraid it's really game over for this object.
    ("what's in a name!" - sigh).

    The guessing game:
    Why I fear Mike has picked "Papa" for EL61:
    * this is a major creation deity (IAU rule)
    * from Hawaii (Mike's intention)
    * and this is a fertility deity too(Mike's desire to express the joy of his paternity)
    * and in Spanish and French, "Papa Noel" is Santa

    Why I think IAU should reject "Papa" if asked to state:
    * for more than a billion people, this means "Daddy" and is therefore ridiculous
    * for almost as many, this also means "Pope" (including in latin), which should disqualify it on the ground of infringing religion neutrality

    But apparently this has not halted Brian Marsden and his committee for Makemake:
    * the repetition or the funny sounding are not criteria
    * in arabic there is no phonetic distinction between "AY" and "AH" except for the duration and the intonation, leaving Makemake sound like Makkah-Makkah.

    So I fear the worst. And I really hope Mike has not picked Papa.

  13. In case somebody wanted to know: in the Kantonese Wikipedia now the characters "horse-riding, horse-riding" have been chosen to phonetically represent the sound of "ma-ke-ma-ke" - in Kantonese. The choice of the appropriate characters for Mandarin pronunciation is still open.

  14. Now the Mandarin version of Makemake is there: rather than a phonetic approach they prefer to translate. So after "Xi-shen-xing" (= quarrel-god-star = Eris) we have now in Mandarin "Niao-shen-xing" (= bird-god-star = Makemake).

  15. To Elmar: good news that the name has escaped the ridicule in Mandarin. Maybe the Chinese will one day explore it and this object may not be lost for science finally.
    Btw, this fully illustrates what I claimed: in Chinese the naming pattern is consistent among all planets (full or dwarf). First this means we should in no way try to name them with universal arrogance but only for Western languages. And second the Chinese naming helps considerably to raise the standards of dwarf planets. Unlike in the West where silly-sounding names like Makemake contribute to belittle the scientific importance of these objects.

  16. Would you please list your source for naming Makemake?


  17. Was this a question to Mike for the Rapanui sources to name his dwarf planet "Makemake", or was this a question of where to find the Mandarin naming of "Makemake" ?

    In case the question is about Mandarin, you may look to various Chinese astronomy sites, as well as simply into Chinese Wikipedia: go to English Wikipedia "Makemake (dwarf planet)", then click on left on the language "中文" (Chinese), then you see the article, in which the text starts with the Chinese name "鳥神星" (= bird deity star) of Makemake.

  18. For Mike's reference.

    From my knowledge, I don't think the people of Rapa Nui knew/know Makemake was 'creator of humanity.'

    I'm interested in what he referenced...and how it was verified.

  19. Hi there, for the next Dwarf planet I'd like to suggest Dagda the Celtic father god who is also a fertility and resurrection god.
    AKA. Eochaid
    There should be some Celtic planets out there. :)
    More info.

  20. It was great to stumble across a blog like this from someone active in discovering new TNOs or new satellites (even if they are really small).

    Regarding 2003 EL61, I understand not wanting to leak the name before it gets approved because if it gets out beforehand, it might get rejected and then leave you with egg on the face (well, it does look a bit like an egg), but can you give those of us who are eager every time a new body is discovered or named a little clue, like what culture's mythology you had in mind for 2003 EL 61?

  21. What is the adjective form of Makemake? Would future scientists refer to the features of "Makemakean geography" for example? Or would they refer to the features of the "geography o Makemake"?

  22. Using the Polynesian attributive form with "... o ..." is going too far - every language has the right to apply its own grammar to imported words. English however incorporated so many different patterns of adjective forms that it is now hard to tell which one the "real English" ways is - is it the Romance style "Makemakean" or the more Anglosaxon style "Makemakish" ? Or would you prefer a more classical approach like "Makemakical" or just leave it "Makemake" and use it as an adjective ?

    What is a problem with every imported word in English does not need any discussion in many other languages. If e.g. the Esperanto name of Makemake should be "Makemako" (as it probably will turn out, because all nouns in this language end with -o), then it would automatically be clear that the adjective form is "Makemaka" and the adverbial form "Makemake" (= "in Makemakean way").

  23. Hi Mike,

    I heard that 1996 TC 36 turned out to be a triple system, in which two larger primary bodies are very close to one another, and the third one circles around the other two like a moon.

    Do you know whether this is now believably confirmed or not ? And what about the magnitude changes of Makemake - could it also turn out to be some kind of multiple system ??

  24. Hi Mr. Brown, could take advantage of that Pluto, Charon and Eris reign in an area of the Solar System that reminds the hell a lot, since they are there Orcus, Radamanthus and Ixion and to give names of other divinities and infernal monsters, as:
    Ataecina, Lusitanian queen of the hell;
    Aeolus, god of the winds and storms;
    Furrina, Roman (headless) goddess of the thieves;
    Cerberus, dog of three heads;
    Echidna, the mother of the monsters;
    Empusa, woman demon;

    The dwarfish planet 2003 EL61, could be baptized as Megera, and your satellites with the names of other Erinyes: Alectus and Tisiphone!!!!

  25. Actually, Mike, I wonder if you didn't simply fall back on English. Final unstressed [e] ("ay") in foreign names regularly becomes [i] ("ee") in English. Consider "ukulele", which very few people pronounce with a final "ay" vowel. Same with "sake" (rice beer), "karaoke", etc. "MAH-kee-MAH-kee" (US) or "MAK-ee-MAK-ee" (UK) is the fully anglicized pronunciation, like the Maori tree name ake-ake. Some people will want to strive for a more authentic pronunciation, just as some people pronounce "ukulele" with a final "ay" sound and some astronomers pronounce the moon Io "EE-oh" rather than "EYE-oh", but neither is wrong.