Quarks have a variety of names (or flavours):

Why do they have such odd names?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I wanted to ask why they had such strange names, but obviously that just leads to confusion. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2011 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ whimsy, the names are just labels with no real baring on reality, other than strange, which was a bit strange for a while. $\endgroup$
    – Nic
    Dec 23, 2011 at 11:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Ask Gell-Mann! He invented almost all the most bizarre names that come up in chromodynamics (he is also a linguist, which may explain why he always tried to come up with original names) $\endgroup$
    – quark1245
    Dec 23, 2011 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


The up/down top/bottom should be self evident: in a matrix representation the vector is written that way



So in the isotopic spin space (the SU(2) of the SU(2)xSU(3)xU(1) of the Standard Model) according to the charge the one on top was called the up and the one on bottom, the down.

The strange got its name from the strange mesons, which when discovered were behaving strangely, with respect to pions, needing a new quantum number because they were generated in pairs ( Lamda K) and the quantum number became the "strange" one.

Charm was a whim as , they were charmed by its existence since it had been predicted to exist given the quark model expectations; from the quark entry in wikipedia:

Glashow, who coproposed charm quark with Bjorken, is quoted as saying, "We called our construct the 'charmed quark', for we were fascinated and pleased by the symmetry it brought to the subnuclear world

Top and Bottom, again because of the position in the vector, and Beauty instead of Bottom out of whimsy again, keeping the B, and Truth keeping the T.

Who said that physicists are not having fun?

For completeness, the name "quark" has the origin in Finnegan's Wake of James Joyce:

For some time, Gell-Mann was undecided on an actual spelling for the term he intended to coin, until he found the word quark in James Joyce's book Finnegans Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!

Of course our Germanic language friends say that Quark is a type of cheese!

Actually the quark article in wikipedia has an etymology section for the quarks, to be read for completeness.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is mostly ok, but one should mention that Sheldon Glashow named the Charm, in a parallel construction to strange, because adding charm would have magical consequences for a unified theory we now call the standard model, making it the standard model and not an inconsistent mess. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Maimon
    Dec 24, 2011 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Ron Maimon I could not find a link for that, if you have one I can edit, or you could, at that. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Dec 24, 2011 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps try "The Charm of Physics"? I am not sure about the history of this. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Maimon
    Dec 24, 2011 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ Gell-Mann's 1964 paper proposing 3 quarks that combined to form baryons and mesons already calls them "u, d, and s", but without giving them names. $\endgroup$
    – Don Reba
    Jan 10, 2016 at 22:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.