If you’ve been on social media recently or watched a romantic movie, odds are you’ve seen someone name a star. But is this really something that happens? How does it work, and how do you have any “claim” to a star in the sky?
To answer the first question, yes, you can name a star. However, this isn’t always the gesture it appears on paper. The beauty (of stars) really is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s important to understand what you’re agreeing to when you choose to name a star.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Actually Purchase and Name a Star?
- What Typically Happens When You Purchase and Name a Star Using a Service?
- Are There Similar Gifts or Ways to Honor a Loved One?
No matter how you feel about the practice of naming stars, you can’t deny the romanticism of it all. Humans have looked up at the stars for thousands of years. Being able to look into that vast sky and know there's something you’ve named up there can bring peace.
Compared to the vastness of the universe, we are truly minuscule. If naming stars helps us make sense of our place in this world, what’s the harm in it? In this guide, we’ll dive into the idea of naming a star and how it works.
Can You Actually Purchase and Name a Star?
As mentioned above, yes, you can actually purchase and name a star. All of these transactions are handled through the International Star Registry. Started in 1979, the International Star Registry has registered millions of names since these early days.
When you purchase and name a star, this name is added to the star registry catalog. This is a copyrighted list of stars. Each star is named only once using the NASA Hubble Guide Star Catalog. This is a common way to honor a loved one, and it’s one of the ways humans make sense of their place in the universe.
Are these names used by scientists?
However, it’s important to note that there are many misunderstandings about purchasing a star name. In reality, you aren’t purchasing the star itself. This would be impossible. Scientific star names actually cannot be sold. Only the International Astronomical Union names stars and these names have passed through the ages.
The naming system used for other stars by the IAU is not nearly so glamorous or romantic. These stars are usually just numbers and coordinates. The IAU doesn’t take new names for stars, and they aren’t likely to start any time soon.
When you “purchase” a star from the International Star Registry, you’re only buying the name from that organization. This has led to investigations into whether or not this is legal. For example, in 1998, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs gave a violation notice to the International Star Registry. This was because it’s not legal to sell something you don’t own, like stars.
What do you receive when you name a star?
Though no astronomer or actual star atlas will refer to a specific star by any name from the International Star Registry, you do receive some things when you make a purchase. When you “name” a star through this registry, you receive a one-page star chart with a single dot circled.
While the star will be known as this given name through the International Star Registry, the name hasn’t changed in any other sense. Additionally, most of the stars left through the ISR are no longer visible to the naked eye. These stars have been purchased already, so it’s more of a novelty gift.
What Typically Happens When You Purchase and Name a Star Using a Service?
You’ll find many different services offering to sell star names, but the most official service is the International Star Registry. This makes a powerful living memorial idea, and it’s a creative way to honor a loved one who died. Here’s what you’ll do when you purchase and name a star with the International Star Registry.
Step 1: Choose your star kit
There are multiple star kits available on the ISR website. You can purchase all of these online, and they all offer different novelties with your purchase. Your options include:
- Custom star kit: The custom start kit is the most basic package, and it includes an official star map as well as a certificate including your name.
- Deluxe star kit: The deluxe kit is similar to the custom star kit, only the printed materials come framed for easy hanging.
- Ultimate star kit: Lastly, this final kit has a higher-quality frame as well as an astronomer guide.
The International Star Registry also has other gifts, like jewelry, ornaments, and framed sky maps. These are popular gift ideas for birthdays, anniversaries, and memorials.
Step 2: Choose your star name
The next step is to choose your star name. You’re limited to 35 characters, so consider wisely. It’s common to use a family name, individual’s name, fictional character, place, or any name that has meaning for your recipient.
Pay close attention to your spelling and grammar. This isn’t something you can edit or change later, so make sure it’s correct before you submit your order.
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Step 3: Pick your star
While you can’t pick your star from the Hubble registry, you can indicate when you’d like your star to be dedicated. This can be any date that has meaning to you, like a birthday, date of death, anniversary, and so on.
Next, choose your constellation. You can choose from any of the 88 officially recognized constellations. It’s common to choose one associated with someone’s birthday (Libra, Virgo, etc.), but you can also have your constellation assigned by the ISR.
Step 4: Write a custom message
No gift would be complete without a custom gift message. You can write up to 80 characters, so this is the place to share your condolences, joy, or well wishes with your recipient.
The custom message is delivered with the ISR letter. You can choose between a memorial letter or a letter of congratulations, depending on the purpose of your gift.
Step 5: Submit your request
Last but not least, enter your shipping information and submit your request. You should also include your email and phone number in case there are any issues with your order. This is also the time to add anything additional, like a custom frame or keepsake.
Your package is shipped within 1 to 2 working days. Your recipient should receive their star letter within 5 to 12 business days. For expedited orders, purchase overnight shipping at checkout.
Are There Similar Gifts or Ways to Honor a Loved One?
While there’s a lot of fun in learning how to name a star after a loved one, this might not be the right fit depending on your goals. There are a lot of similar gifts that honor your loved one and capture the same wonder.
Adopt a Star
The Adopt a Star program is a nonprofit alternative to the International Star Registry. Since 2008, this nonprofit has raised funding for scientists. All of the proceeds from these donations support the search for Earth-like planets and characterizing the stars through astronomy efforts.
Starting at only $10, this is a much more affordable gift idea. With your donation, you receive a certificate similar to the International Star Registry certificate. While you don’t get to name a star, you get to do good for the solar system.
The Night Sky
If you’re interested in a custom star map, you can get a unique one through The Night Sky. Perfect for honoring birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions, The Night Sky creates a customized map of specific nights. Printed on museum-grade art matte paper using archival inks, this is a gift designed to last generations.
You can easily customize your The Night Sky map with different elements like constellations, moons, and so on. Personalize your map with a time and place signature, as well as a special, heartfelt message.
National Forest Foundation
Another alternative to naming a star is to dedicate something here on Earth to your loved one. At the National Forest Foundation, Americans are encouraged to donate to plant more trees. They currently are working towards planting 50 million trees planted, and you can easily choose a one-time gift on their website in honor of a loved one.
Lastly, if you’re naming a star in honor of a deceased loved one, often you just want a permanent reminder of their presence. Parting Stone transforms ashes into solidified, stone-like remains.
Instead of carrying a loved one’s ashes in an urn, you can hold them close with a realistic stone. This is an affordable, unique option that returns your loved one to nature. For many, this carries more weight than a star in the sky.
The Gift of the Cosmos
Ultimately, naming a star can be a highly symbolic act. While it’s not really possible to change the scientific name of a star, with the International Star Registry, you can have a dedicated name printed in an international star keepsake. Though this is mostly a novelty gift, there’s no denying that it’s a beautiful gesture.
It was astronomer Carl Sagan who compared humans to stars. He wrote, “The iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Perhaps this is why we continue to be so drawn to them?