One of the mythological origins for the constellation Ursa Minor is that it was created by Zeus, who transformed Arcas into the constellation after preventing him from killing his mother, Callisto.

It makes sense that the female Callisto would become a constellation named Ursa Major, but why did Arcas become Ursa Minor and not Ursus Minor? Is it because it got its name from a different myth where the transformed individual was female, and if so, why did the name remain the same?

1 Answer 1


Greek ἄρκτος is grammatically feminine, both in the meaning “bear” (of either sex) and as the name of the constellation. Latin has ursa for “bear” (of either sex), but also ursus specifically for a male bear. The Latin name – or rather its gender – is calqued on the Greek.

  • 3
    Learned a new word today: calque. Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 19:01
  • I wonder why the Greek word is feminine, since ἄρκτος and ursus are cognate
    – Asteroides
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 3:46
  • 3
    @chux-ReinstateMonica Did you also notice that calque is a loanword and loanword is a calque? ;-) Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 4:44
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    @Asteroides. ursus implies IE *Hrtƙo- but arktos implies metathesized *Hrƙto-. So they are cognates, but not identical.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 12:36
  • @Asteroides Actually ἄρκτος is given with both genders, depending of the sex of the animal. Considering the declension, it was originally masculine, which is the default gender I guess. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 13:35

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