The idea of renaming Mars' moons arose whilst I was thinking of names for sols of the week for an early version of the Kepler Calendar, then known as the Areosynchronous Calendar. I wanted to allocate one sol per week to each of Mars' moons - just as on Earth we have one day per week named for the Moon ('Monday' in English), I initially named two sols, 'Phobosol' and 'Deimosol', for the moons of Mars.
I realized, however, that these translated to 'Fear Day' and 'Terror Day'. [Note that the words 'Phobos' and 'Deimos' have very similar meanings. Phobos is most frequently interpreted as 'fear', but also 'fright', or 'terror'. Deimos is most frequently interpreted as 'flight' or 'terror', but also 'panic', 'dread', or 'fear'.] I thought more about this and wondered whether I would want to live on a planet with Fear and Terror circling overhead.
Of course, we will be scientists and engineers, and not swayed by such primitive superstitions - they're just lumps of rock, right? Your subconscious might disagree. In any case, while scientists may think "what's in a name? A lump of carbonaceous rock by any other name is still a lump of carbonaceous rock", it is well-known that human beings are naturally superstitious. We are not building a Mars for scientists, we are building it for everyone. I suspect that I'm not the only one who would prefer different names for the Martian moons, and, although it may not be an easy thing to change, I was inspired to research the topic further and propose some ideas.
When Asaph Hall discovered the moons of Mars in August of 1877, he took the advice of Henry Madan of England, and named the satellites 'Phobos' and 'Deimos', after the attendants of Ares mentioned in the fifteenth book of Homer's Iliad. Note that in Samuel Butler's and other translations of the Iliad, 'Mars' is written instead of 'Ares'. This is because many scholars view these two as equivalent. Ares was a Greek god, whereas Mars was Roman.
Although Mars is commonly equated with Ares, the two are actually different. Ares was only concerned with war - as Zeus says to Ares in Book 5 of the Iliad: "Most hateful to me are you of all gods on Olympus, for ever is strife dear to you and wars and fightings." Mars, however, was originally an agricultural god, responsible for springtime, growth in nature, fertility, and cattle.
How, then, did Mars become equated with Ares? The reason for this is not well known, but perhaps it is because the history of the Roman Empire was full of war, and although the Roman people were originally pastoral, they became very warlike in nature. The Roman army gathered in Mars' temple before battle, and this is probably how Mars became strongly associated with war. Another possible reason is that wars were often begun or renewed in March, the month named for Mars because it was the beginning of Spring.
Mars had a much better reputation than Ares - Mars was seen as noble and honorable, whereas Ares was considered savage and brutal. Ares was not a popular Greek god, whereas Mars was one of the most popular and worshipped Roman gods (second only to Jupiter) and had several festivals in his honour.
It is my dream to one day emigrate to Mars. In fact, I would like to be one of the first settlers - sometime in the 2030's (when I'm in my 60's), maybe I can hop a flight to the new world and stake my claim.
If Mars is to be my future home, I much prefer the image of Mars as the god of agriculture, growth, and fertility. This image of Mars inspires belief in the success of terraforming, the abundance of food and good health, and the proliferation of life on Mars. It is, however, difficult to escape the image of Mars as a war god with Fear and Terror circling overhead. This is why I think it's essential that the Martian moons be renamed - whether to remind us that Mars was a god of agriculture and fertility, or at least just to be more positive and encouraging concepts than Fear and Terror!
Other names have been proposed for the Martian moons before. Brian Aldiss and Roger Penrose in "White Mars" rename Phobos as 'Swift' and Deimos as 'Laputa'. Edgar Rice Burroughs named the larger Barsoomian moon 'Thuria' and the smaller, more distant, was 'Cluros'.
At first I considered renaming the moons after Mars' twin sons and founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus (Phobos and Deimos were actually the sons of Ares), however after investigating the mythology around these two characters, I decided that they were not the best choice. In Roman mythology, the twins quarrelled when dividing up rulership of Rome, and Romulus killed Remus. This story would not carry positive overtones for the future of Mars!
I decided that, as Mars was a Roman god, the best place to search for new names would be in the area of Roman mythology. Many names that may have been suitable have already been assigned to minor planets, for example: Bellona (goddess of war, Mars' sister or daughter); Minerva (goddess of science, trade, and war); Victoria (goddess of victory); Felicitas (goddess of success); Virtus (god of courage and virtue); and Fortuna (goddess of good luck).
Fortunately there are so many Roman gods and goddesses that there remain several whose names have not been used for minor planets yet might be useful for Mars' moons. After considering Libertas (goddess of freedom), Voluptas (goddess of satisfaction and pleasure), Fecunditas (goddess of growth and fertility), Lactanus (god of vitality and growth), Robigus (god of grain), Ubertas (god of wealth and plenty), and Vertumnus (god of seasons), I finally settled on Nerio and Liber.
Nerio - 'the strong one' - originally a Sabine fertility goddess, she was the wife of Mars. Her name means 'strength', 'courage', and 'valour'. I expect Mars would like to have his wife around, and the attributes expressed are very positive and encouraging.
Liber - 'the free one' - god of vegetation, husbandry, fertility, growth in nature, countryside, and also associated with wild personalities, passionate lovemaking, grapevines and wine. Liber, along with Ceres, has a strong link with Mars - they were the gods to whom Mars' agricultural responsibilities passed when he became the god of war. ['Ceres' was the name given to the largest, first-discovered asteroid. She orbits in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and can sometimes be seen with the naked eye, from both Mars and Earth.]
If you want to search for some names, check out some of the Roman mythology references at the bottom of the page. Don't forget to check the list of minor planet names to make sure they haven't already been used.
I was tempted to suggest the name Abeona, the Roman goddess who protects children when they leave the house for the first time, however I decided that this name would probably lose significance as Mars became more independent. I think it's a good name for an early Mars mission.
My feeling is that these are the two perfect names for the Martian moons. Both of these characters have strong links with Mars and both express positive attributes, Nerio being 'the strong one' and Liber being 'the free one'. Both are also associated with fertility, although Liber much more so, being a fairly important agricultural god. Liber was also in charge of grapevines, so presumably Martian wine will benefit from his influence! Liber, as a Martian moon and eventually a space station, could become our Martian 'Statue of Liberty'.
Which name to which moon? My suggestion is that Phobos (the closer, larger moon) be renamed 'Nerio' and Deimos (the further, smaller moon) be renamed 'Liber'. We would then see Nerio twice a day, reminding us to be courageous and strong, and Mars would have his wife close by. Distant Liber we would only see occasionally, as he moves slowly over the surface of the planet, steadily shining fertility and growth on each part of the land, and reminding us that we are free.
What do you think? Is it a good idea to rename Mars' moons? Do you think the names 'Nerio' and 'Liber' are the right ones? Please feel welcome to send me an email.
The Iliad by Homer, translated by Samuel Butler
Minor Planet Names
Mars the god:
Mars in Roman Religion, Tom Gangale, Martian Ministry of Culture (long, but comprehensive - recommended)
Encyclopaedia Mythica - Mars
Ancient Roman Mythology (brief - contains reference to Liber and Ceres as Mars' agricultural successors)
Encyclopaedia Mythica - Roman Mythology
A Roman Pantheon
Roman Mythological Characters