Constellations of Words

Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations


Xiphias, the Swordfish [

Coryphaena hippurus, the Dorado

Coryphaena hippurus, the Dorado [


1. Clues to the meaning of this celestial feature

2. The fixed stars in this constellation

3. History_of_the_constellation

Clues to the meaning of this celestial feature

Dorado, from Spanish dorado, a fish of the genus Coryphaena, is the name of the mahi-mahi or dolphin-fish. The constellation was created in 1597 and has also been depicted as a swordfish and was renamed Xiphias, the swordfish (referring to Xiphias Gladius), the name Dorado ultimately become dominant. The constellation Dorado is also referred to as the Goldfish

The word dorado is past participle of dorar, from Latin deaurare, ‘to gild’, from de– + aurare, ‘to gild’, from aurum, ‘gold’. Latin aurare comes from the Indo-European root *aus-. ‘Gold’. Derivatives: aureate (golden color), aureole (a circle of light or radiance surrounding the head or body of a representation of a deity or holy person; a halo), auriferous (gold-bearing), dariole (a small cooking mold), dory (John Dory seafish), or (gold, represented in heraldic engraving by a white field sprinkled with small dots), ore (mined mineral), oriflamme (the red or orange-red flag of the Abbey of Saint Denis in France, used as a standard by the early kings of France), oriole (a bird), ormolu (alloys resembling gold in appearance), oroide (an alloy of copper, zinc, and tin, used in imitation gold jewelry), orphrey (elaborate embroidery, especially when made of gold), orpiment (arsenic trisulfide, a yellow mineral used as a pigment. from Latin orum, gold). [Pokorny ayes– 86. Watkins

The English word gold has the symbol Au, from Latin aurum

The Mahi-mahi, Coryphaena hippurus, also known as dolphin-fish, dorado, or lampuki (in Maltese), are surface-dwelling ray-finned fish found in off-shore tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. The name ‘mahi-mahi’ (‘strong-strong’ in Hawaiian). When they are removed from the water, the fish often change between several colors, this being the reason for their name in Spanish DoradoMaverikos, finally fading to a muted yellow-grey upon death. [] Dorado fish are also commonly known as maverikos; related to the English word maverick. The word maverick is an eponym, deriving from the name Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), an American cattleman who left the calves in his herd unbranded. In common usage a maverick is a rebellious person, especially a loner who opposes established rules.

“’Treasury‘ (thesaurus) is named after the Greek term thesis, ‘positing,’ that is, ‘deposit.’ Thus thesis means ‘positing,’ and the term has combined a Greek with a Latin word, for the element thes means ‘deposit’ in Greek, and Latin supplies aurum (‘gold’), so that the word thesaurus sounds like the combination ‘gold deposit.’ An auraria (i.e. a kind of tax; also a gold mine) takes its name from gold (aurum).” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.329.]

El Dorado or Eldorado (Spanish for ‘the gilded one’) is a metaphor applied to any place of fabulous wealth or inordinately great opportunity. El Dorado is a legendary city or historical region of the New World, somewhere in South America. El Dorado is a legend that began with the story of a South American tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and would dive into a lake of pure mountain water. As the story was told and re-told, El Dorado came to be viewed as a city containing immense wealth, a legend that inspired many explorers from the 1500s on. According to Freyle, the king or chief priest of the Muisca was said to be ritually covered with gold dust at a religious festival held in Lake Guatavita, near present-day Bogotá… []. The story of El Dorado was embellished with accounts of his golden city, the mythical Manoa where even the cooking utensils were made of gold. Explorers and adventurers took off on the hunch that the city was located somewhere in the unexplored forests of the Amazon valley, and vanished into the jungle, scores never returning [].

Read more about the city of El Dorado here

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Dorado
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
delta 24ARI53 26ARI16 086 10 13 -65 45 15 -88 15 28 4.52 A5
gamma 05TAU09 06TAU32 063 40 44 -51 36 43 -70 08 51 4.36 F5
alpha 06TAU26 07TAU49 068 13 42 -55 08 52 -74 35 09 3.47 AO
zeta 17TAU17 18TAU40 076 09 45 -57 32 26 -78 56 53 4.76 F4
beta 20TAU42 22TAU05 083 17 50 -62 31 20 -85 02 59 var F5
epsilon 08PIS16 09PIS39 087 29 09 -66 54 49 -88 56 38 5.15 B5
History of the constellation

from Star Names 1889, Richard H. Allen

Dorado, the Goldfish, was first published by Bayer among his new southern figures, is still thus known in Germany and Italy, but the French say Dorade; and Flammarion has Doradus, perhaps from confusion with its supposed genitive case. The word is from the Spanish, and refers not to our little exotic cyprinid, but to the large coryphaena (Mahi-mahi, common dolphinfish is the dorado, Coryphaena hippurus) of the tropical seas, of changing colors at death. On the planisphere in Gore’s translation of l’AstronomicPopulaire it is strangely {Page 202} rendered GoldField; and Craver, in the Colas’ list of the CelestialHandbook of 1892, is equally erroneous. Chilmead mentions it as the Giltheadfish, but this, in ichthyology, was a very different fish, the Crenilabrusmelops of British coasts.

Caesius combined its stars with the Greater Cloud and the Flying Fish to form his Old Testament figure of Abel the Just

The alternative title Xiphias, the Swordfish, I first find in the RudolphineTables of 1627; Halley used it, in addition to Dorado, in his catalogue of 1679; Flamsteed gave both names in his edition of Sharp’s catalogue; and the modern Stieler’s planisphere still has Schwerdtfisch. Xiphias, however, had appeared in astronomy in the first century of our era, for Pliny applied it to sword-shaped comets, as Josephus did to that "which for a year (!) had hung over Jerusalem in the form of a sword," — possibly Halley’s comet of A.D. 66.

The Rudolphine Tables and Riccioli catalogued here 6 stars of 4th and 5th magnitudes, but Gould 42 from 3.1 to 7.

The head of Dorado marks the south pole of the ecliptic, so that, according to Caesius, the constellation gave its name to that point as the Polus Doradinalis. Within 3° of this pole is the very remarkable nebula 30 Doradus, that Smyth called the True Lover’s Knot, although now known as the Great Looped Nebula, N. G. C. 2070, described by Sir John Herschel as an assemblage of loops and one of the most extraordinary objects in the heavens, — "the centre of a great spiral."

epsilon appears in Reeves’ list as Kin Yu, but this star being only a 5th-magnitude, and these words signifying a Goldfish, they doubtless were designed for the whole figure introduced into China by the Jesuits.

zeta, a 5th-magnitude, bears the Chinese title Kaou Pih

Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard H. Allen, 1889.]