A Stone By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? Think for a moment about your favorite countertop material. Was it the elegance of the way the name sounded that made you choose that particular stone? And think too about all of the slabs that are made of the same material of which you were not so fond. Yes, it wasn’t what the stone is named that moved you to choose it. Rather it was its beauty, the characteristics, the pattern, and other aspects of the stone that drew you to it. However, once your choice is made and the stone is yours, it becomes very important that you know what material you have. In this post, we are going to discuss some naming practices that at times confuse consumers as they shop for the slab of their dreams. Then we will talk about the importance of focusing on what the stone is and why the name alone should not be your deciding factor in selecting stone for your project.

Names Are Just Labels Used to Identify

Naming things, businesses, and even people is a method used for keeping a record of the named thing. This way of tracking over time is practical and effective when it is done consistently. Why? Because over time a history, or reputation, is established by whatever the name represents. For example, a newborn baby is usually given a name. Now when that name is given, it contains very little, if any information about the person it represents. Depending on the name, it could communicate something about the child depending on the information to which the name is already attached.

In other words, whether a newborn is named Stephen or Stephanie immediately hints to the hearer what the gender of the baby is. Yet, over the course of that person’s life the information in that name grows. And the full name of the person eventually represents the reputation of the individual. The same is true of stone materials.

Naming Conventions

The way things are named and why things are named the way they are is the result of using a naming convention to identify whatever it is that is being discussed. As far as stone is concerned, multiple naming conventions are used. And because of this, it can get confusing if you are not familiar with this fact.

Scientific Names of Stone

From a geological perspective, stone is named using a convention that communicates its composition, mineral content, and even the process through which it was formed. Because of this level of detail, there are strict boundaries that define, for example, whether a material is travertine or onyx. As that article brings out, those two materials are basically the same stone in two different versions. However, because of the naming conventions used to classify stone geologically, these are given different names.

Materials and Their Commercial Names

From a commercial perspective, stones are named based on their practical traits. To put it another way, the commercial stone industry names stone based on how it is used, how it withstands use, and what its composition is. Because of this naming convention, you could actually find travertine, limestone, and onyx all called “marble”. Or you might find a serpentinite slab referred to as a “hard marble”. What’s the point?

The take away from the fact that multiple naming systems are used to describe stone is that the name is not as important as knowing the actual properties of the stone. Because if you know the properties of the stone, you will have an accurate representation of how it will perform, wear, and last.

Mistaken Identities

Because of multiple naming conventions, as we have discussed, there are occasions where mix-ups occur. A stone that is defined one way geologically may be known by another name commercially. We are going to use a bit of time here to talk about these cases of mistaken identity.

Is it Quartzite? Or Marble?

One of the splendid things about quartzite (geologically speaking) is that it often times has an elegant, delicate look. In fact, it can closely resemble marble is some cases. Quartzite is composed almost completely of the natural mineral quartz. It is very hard and because of this, it is resistant to scratching. Marble (geologically speaking) on the other hand, is made of largely of calcite. Calcite is not as hard as quartz and therefore scratches more easily than quartzite does. Additionally, calcite dissolves in the presence of acidic liquids like fruit juices, vinegar, and soft drinks.

Even though quartzite and marble are very different in their composition, there are cases when a slab of marble gets a label that calls it quartzite. Remember, we said earlier that the commercial names are not completely aligned with the geological names. So, you can get situations like this where a slab gets named based on what it looks like it is.

Stones Formed in the Presence of Water

Let’s look at a couple of other cases of mistaken identity. Geologically, limestone is a sedimentary rock that often forms in oceanic environments. Travertine is a specific kind of limestone. Like limestone, it is a sedimentary rock. However it is a “terrestrial” form of limestone that is formed by a rapid precipitation of calcite (the primary mineral in limestone). Geologically, these are two different kinds of rock. But commercially, you may find one of these referred to using the name of the other.

Additionally, banded calcite is also made up of the same mineral as both limestone and travertine. However, it is a metamorphic rock and not sedimentary like the others. However, in commercial stone nomenclature, banded calcite is referred to by all of the following names; onyx, onyx-marble, alabaster, Egyptian alabaster, oriental alabaster. As for the term “onyx”, if you are using geological terminology, the material being referenced is not even composed of calcite like the commercial stone. Rather, geological onyx is a silicate. But it is easy to see why banded calcite gets labeled as onyx because both are color-banded stones.

Serpentine’s Elusive Name

Another label that is hard get a handle on if you aren’t aware of these mistaken identities is Serpentine. Geologically speaking, serpentine is not a type of stone. Instead it is a group of minerals with greenish hues. Various blends of these minerals are present in certain stone, giving that stone a green color. Stone that is made up of serpentine minerals is serpentinite. Shifting gears though, over to the commercial naming system, the stone is called “serpentine”. In fact, serpentine is a name used in the stone industry to describe multiple materials that are green. Incidentally, some of those same slabs are referred to as “hard green marble”.

Making a Name for Oneself

As you can see, names are, as we said at the beginning simply labels that are used to convey information about a slab or stone. The terminology used is what will either distinguish one material from another, or consolidate various materials into one group that would otherwise be separate.

As we have seen in this post, you cannot simply assume what the characteristics of a stone are just by its name. To be sure, you must test the material and see what properties it has. Only then can you be sure that you are getting what you intended.


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