R.H. Allen:
Star Names

Ian Ridpath:
Star Tales

Universe Guide

Sea and Sky:



Canis Major

Star Lore

Canis Major is a constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere. Its name is Latin for "greater dog."

The constellation's main star Sirius ( α CMa) is the brightest star in the night sky

Not surprisingly, Sirius gets most of the attention in the constellation. In the Almagest for example, Ptolemy called the star Κύων (Kyon) "the Dog", the same name as for the whole constellation.

Ian Ridpath gives a very good description of the main star of Canis Major. Here are some pieces of it:
"The name of the star Sirius comes from the Greek word Σείριος (Seirios) meaning ‘searing’ or ‘scorching’, highly appropriate for something so brilliant. ...

In Greek times the rising of Sirius at dawn just before the Sun marked the start of the hottest part of the summer, a time that hence became known as the Dog Days. ‘It barks forth flame and doubles the burning heat of the Sun’, said Manilius, expressing a belief held by the Greeks and Romans that the star had a heating effect. ...

Source: Ian Ridpath

Much of the star lore in the following paragraphs has less to do with Canis Major and more with its brightest star

Source: Wikimedia

Ancient Mesopotamia

In the Mesopotamian Three Stars Each table, dating to around 1200 BC, Sirius, was named named KAK.SI.DI. It was was seen as an arrow aiming towards Orion, while the southern stars of Canis Major and a part of Puppis were viewed as a bow, named BAN.

Later, in the MUL.APIN tables, the arrow, Sirius, was also linked with the warrior Ninurta, and the bow with Ishtar.

The Ancient Greeks replaced concept of bow and arrow depiction with the tale of a dog.

Sources: Wikipedia, Mythology Wikia, J.H. Rogers, Origins of the Ancient Constellations

Ishtar with bow and arrows
Seal of Inanna, 2350-2150_BC
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Egypt

Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky was the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, as the heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile.

The Egyptian name for Sirius was Sopdet. The star was personified as the goddess of the Nile and the goddess of fertility.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Ridpath & Tirion: Stars and Planets Guide

Sopdet, Gregorian Egyptian Museum
Source: Wikipedia

Greek Mythology

The earliest Greek records by Homer, Hesiod and Aratus refer to Canis Major and Canis Minor as Orion's hunting dogs, pursuing Lepus the Hare or helping Orion fight Taurus the Bull.

In the Iliad, Homer describes Achilles approachin Troy in these words:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.

Orion and his hunting dogs
Source: Bob Moler's Ephemeris Blog

Eratosthenes on the other hand interpreted the constellation as the legendary dog Laelaps.

Ian Ridpath tells us more about this dog:

Laelaps "... had a long list of owners, one of them being Procris, daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens and wife of Cephalus, but accounts differ about how she came by it. In one version the dog was given to her by Artemis, goddess of hunting; but a more likely account says that it is the dog given by Zeus to Europa, whose son Minos, King of Crete, passed it on to Procris.
The dog was presented to her along with a javelin that could never miss; this turned out to be an unlucky gift, for her husband Cephalus accidentally killed her with it while out hunting.

Cephalus inherited the dog, and took it with him to Thebes (not Thebes in Egypt but a town in Boeotia, north of Athens) where a vicious fox was ravaging the countryside.

[End of Ian Ridpath quote]

The Teumessian Fox was a gigantic fox that was destined never to be caught. It had been sent by Dionysus to prey upon the children of Thebes as a punishment.

The reason for the punishment got lost in time but it must have been severe as the people of Theben were forced to sacrifice a child every month. Creon, the then Regent of Thebes, set Amphitryon the impossible task of destroying this beast. Amphitryon handed the task to Cephalus and his legenday dog.

Ian Ridpath continues: "The fox was so swift of foot that it was destined never to be caught – yet Laelaps the hound was destined to catch whatever it pursued. Off they went, almost faster than the eye could follow, the inescapable dog in pursuit of the uncatchable fox. At one moment the dog would seem to have its prey within grasp, but could only close its jaws on thin air as the fox raced ahead of it again. There could be no resolution of such a paradox, so Zeus turned them both to stone, and the dog he placed in the sky as Canis Major."

According to Ian Ridpath, Laelaps was sent to the skies alone, without the fox. Other sources like greekmythology.wikia suggest that Zeus actually put both the dog and the fox into the sky. As Canis Major and Canis Minor they are destined to chase each other for eternity.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, greekmythology.wikia

The Death of Procris, Laelaps on her right
Source: Wikipedia

The Teumessian fox and Laelaps, the dog
Source: greekmythology.wikia

Canis Major and Lepus in "Urania's Mirror, 1824
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Rome

Roman mythology refers to Canis Major as Custos Europae, the dog guarding Europa but failing to prevent her abduction by Jupiter in the form of a bull, and as Janitor Lethaeus, "the watchdog".

Source: Wikipedia

Cerebus, the watch dog
Caeretan hydria, ca 530 BC
Source: Wikipedia,

Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, Sirius is called Lokabrenna, literally meaning "burning done by Loki". Commonly, it is referred to as "Loki's torch."

Loki was first mentioned in the 13th century in the Heimskringla and in the Poetic Edda. He was described as a shapeshifter and is perhaps the most colorful of the Nordic Gods, sometimes assisting his fellow gods and sometimes tricking them and behaving in a malicious manner towards them.

As far as we know, there is no story in which Loki would have used a torch; however, the name "Loki's torch" for the brightest star in the night sky is commonly used in Northern Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia, Richard Denning: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?

Loki in a 16th-century
Icelandic manuscript

Middle East

Arabian Peninsula: udhrat al-jawza’ - The Maidenhead of Jawza’

Jawza’ is one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It is centered in Orion but also includes parts of neighboring constellations.

The stars δ, ε, η, ο
2 and σ Canis Majoris formed the asterism ‘udhrat al-jawza’, the Maidenhead of Jawza, representing the virginity of Jawza' a tragic female character in Arab mythology. (You can read the whole story here).

Later, Islamic astronomers adopted the Virgin designation, and the stars became known as al-‘adhara, The Virgins, a name still carried today by Adhara (ε CMa).

Presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

Jawza's husband Suhayl came from the other side of the river (which is the Milky Way). After Jawza's tragic death, he had to flee to the south. One of his sisters, ash-shi’ra al-‘abur, the Shi’ra who crossed over, followed him. The two are represented by the two brightest stars in the night sky, Sirius (Suhayl) and Canopus (α Carinae - ash-shi’ra al-‘abur)

Sources: Arabic Star Catalog, R.H. Allen

Medieval Arab Astronomy

In medieval Arab astronomy, the constellation became al-kalb al-akbar, "the Greater Dog", later transcribed as alcheleb alachbar.

Islamic scholar Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī referred to it as kalb al-jabbār, "the Dog of the Giant."

today, many of the stats of Canis Major still have Arabic names.

Sources: Wikipedia, Richard H. Allen

The name Mirzam (β CMa) derives from the Arabic murzim (مرزم), meaning "The Herald," most likely because of its position, heralding th rising before of Sirius in the night sky.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Muliphein (γ Cen) comes from the Arabic muħlifayn (محلفين), meaning "Jurors." The star shares its linguistical roots with the slightly differently spelled Muhlifain (γ Centauri)

Source: Wikipedia

Wezen (δ CMa) derives from the medieval Arabic al-wazn (وزن), meaning "Weight." Richard H. Allen suggest the name describes the star's difficulty to rise above the horizon in the northern hemisphere.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

The name Adhara (ε CMa) goes back to the ancient Arab al-‘adhara (the Virgins) asterism (see above).

Egyptian astronomer Muḥammad al-Akhṣāṣī al-Muwaqqit called the star awwal al-adhara (أول العذاري), the "First of the Virgins."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

ο2 CMa was called thaanii al-aðārii, the "Second Virging by

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

The name Aludra (η CMa) also has its roots in the original al-‘adhara (the Virgins) asterism (see above).

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Furud (ζ CMa) comes from the Arabic al-furūd (ألفرود), the "Solitary Ones," a name used by early Arab poets for a number of stars in the Canis Major and neigboring Columba.

Al-Sufi, on the other hand, called these stars al-ʼaghribah, (ألأغربة) "The Ravens".

Another translation for al-furūd is "The Bright Single One."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Canis Major on the Manuchihr Globe, 1632; Wikipedia

Arabic star names in Canis Major
Map based on

Canis Major in Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,
a 15th century copy of al-Sufi's drawing

Sirius Reference in the Qur'an

Sirius is mentioned in the 53rd Surah, An-Najm ("The Star"), of the Qur'an, where it is given the name الشِّعْرَى (aš-ši‘rā or ash-shira; the leader).

The verse is: "وأنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَى", "That He is the Lord of Sirius (the Mighty Star)".

Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Persia

In Persian mythology, Sirius appears as Tishtrya and is revered as the rain-maker divinity.

Tishtrya is a divinity of rain and fertility and an antagonist of Apaosha, the demon of drought.

In the struggle with Apaosha, Tishtrya is often depicted as a white horse, rising from the Vourukasha Sea, the source of all waters.

Sources: Wikipedia, World History Encyclopedia

Apaosha and Tishtrya
Source: Twelve Gods of Persian Mythology


Ancient India

In Sanskrit, Sirius is known as Mrigavyādha (deer hunter) and as Lubdhaka, the hunter who shot his arrow into Mriga, the deer, represented by Orion's Belt.

As Mrigavyādha, the star represents Rudra, a Rigvedic deity, associated with wind, storm and hunting.

Source: Wikipedia, Richard H. Allen

Rudra by Pieter Weltevrede
Source: Rudra in Rigveda

Ancient China

In Chinese, Canis Major is written 大 犬 座

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation is located in the quadrant of the Vermilion Bird of the South.

The entire constellation is located in the 22nd Lunar Mansion, called The Well. Here, the stars of Canis Major are part of five different asterisms.

Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath have detailed descriptions of the asterisms.

In China, Sirius is known as Tianlang, the Celestial Dog, which is also the name of a large asterism, that includes γ, θ and μ Canis Majoris.

The Celestial Wolf symbolizes invasion and plunder.

ζ and λ Canis Majoris are part of an asterism called Sūn, the Grandson, that extends to the southwest into Columba.

As with most ancient Chinese constellations, the definitions differ between different astronomers. Ian Ridpath describes the dilemma:

"Take Junshi, for example, representing a market for soldiers... In one version, this was a ring of 13 stars, including ν and ξ Canis Majoris, extending into present-day Lepus. At its centre was Yějī, a pheasant, (or in Wickipedia's translation Wild Cockerel) represented by Mirzam (β CMa). But an alternative interpretation identified the pheasant as ν2 Canis Majoris, with Beta one of a ring of 6 stars (rather than 13) making up Junshi.
Celestial Wolf

Similar malleability can be seen in the case of Húshǐ, the bow and arrow. In one depiction the bow, Hu, was represented by the arc of stars from κ via ε, σ, δ and τ Canis Majoris to ξ Puppis.

A line from η via δ to ο
2 Canis Majoris was Shi, an arrow, pointing at Tianlang in a show of defiance against thieves and raiders. But another version sees the bow as an altogether larger figure, extending well into Puppis and with δ Canis Majoris as the tip of the arrow." [End of Ian Ridpath Quote]

Our drawing (right) follows the description of Gustaaf Schlegel in Uranographie Chinoise - pretty much the largest extension of Bow and Arrow.

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

Bow and Arrow, drawn by the author



In the creation myth of the Serer people in what is now Senegal, and in their cosmology, Sirius is called the Star of Yoonir.

Yoonir's symbol is a five-pointed star. The top-point represents Roog, the Supreme god of the Serer religion. The other four point stand for the cardinal points of the Universe.

Xooy, the Serer New Year coinsides with Sirius' heliacal rising, which announces the beginning of flooding and the start of the planting season.

Source: Wikipedia

Yoonir, Symbol of the Universe
Source: Wikipedia

/Xam and G//ana

Sirius (α CMa) and Canopus (α Car) are the two brightest stars in the night sky.

The /Xam people of southern Africa called Sirius The Grandmother of Canopus, because Sirius rises after Canopus, the same way as the elderly follow behind the youths.

The G//ana people, on the other hand, consider Sirius and Canopus the husbands of the Pleiades.

Source: Astronomical Society of Southern Africa - African Ethnoastronomy

Sirius (top left) and Canopus (bottom right)
in the southern sky

Sotho, Tswana

The Basuto, Lobedu, Northern Sotho and Tswana had a constellation called Magakgala or Mahakala that was formed by the four bright stars Procyon (α CMi), Betelgeuse (α Ori), Rigel (β Ori) and Sirius (α CMa).

When these stars were visible in the early evening, it was time for the corn harvest.

Source: ASSA - African Ethnoastronomy

Procyon, Betelgeuse, Rigel and Sirius



To the Boorong in north-western Victoria, Sirius (α Canis Majoris) is the center of the constellation Warepil, the male wedge-tailed eagle, chief of the Nuh-rum-bung-goo-tyas, the elders who created the land.

The wings of Warepil spread to either side of Sirius across less bright stars.

His wife is Collowgullouric Warepil, represented by Orion's bright star Rigel.

Sources: John Morieson: The Night Sky of the Boorong and Museum of Victoria

Eagle Soaring
© Melanie Hava

Also in Boorong lore, σ Canis Majoris was a man named Unurgunite, flanked by his wifes Wezen (δ Canis Majoris) and Adhara (ε Canis Majoris).

In the natural world of the Boorong, Unurgunite is a poisonous lizard called Nyurgen-nyurgen-djine literally "bitten-bitten-foot."

In 2017, the IAU approved Unurgunite as the official name of σ Canis Majoris.
© Francis Firebrace

The Boorong have lived in what is now north-western Victoria for at least 1,600 generations and their oral history, including their star lore dates back perhaps ten thousand years or more.

With that in mind, Unurgunite may very well be the oldest star name still used.

Sources: Morieson, Wikipedia,, Australian Broadcasting Corporation


The Dharumba (part of the Dhurga language group) in New Southwales tell a story about the stars of Canis Major: Wunbula, a Bat, had his two wives, Murrbumbool a Brown Snake and Moondtha, a Black Snake. When his wifes tried to burying him alive while he was hunting a wombat down its hole, he impaled them on spears and they all went to the sky, forming a constellation called Munowra.

Sources: Wikipedia and Dianne Johnson p. 166

Bat and Moon


In Māori, Sirius is called Takurua and the constellation is called Te Kahui-Takurua, the "Assembly of Sirius."

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Star Names

On the Tuamotu Islands, the constellation is called Muihanga-hetika-o-Takurua, "the abiding assemblage of Takarua."

Source: Wikipedia

North America


To the Alakan Inuit of the Bering Straits, Sirius is the "Moon Dog."

When the Moon comes near Sirius, high winds will follow.

Source: Jay B. Holberg: Sirius - Brightest Diamond in the Night Sky


Tohono Oʼodham, Seri

To the Tohono O'odhham in the Sonoran Desert, Sirius is the dog that follows mountain sheep.

The Tohono O'odhham share this believe with the Seri in northern Mexico.

Source: Jay B. Holberg


To the Cherokee, Sirius (α CMa) and Antares (α Sco) are the dog stars that guard the end of the "Path of Souls", the Milky Way. Sirius in the winter sky guards the eastern end, while Antares in the summer sky guards the eastern end.

A departing sould must carry enough food to placate both dogs and pass beyond or spend eternity wandering the "Path of Souls".

Source: Jay B. Holberg

Cherokee Milky Way; Source:


Native Skywatchers identified the stars of Columba and Puppis, together with the southern stars of Canis Major as the Dakota constellation Zuzeca, the Snake.

The snake is sometimes portrayed as swallowing an egg which represents protecting the culture.

On earth, the snake constellaton may be represented by Serpent Mound in Ohio or other similar mounds.

Source: Ojibwe Constellation Guide

Serpent Mount in what is now Ohio is a large Effigy mound. Those mounds are remnants of early Native American cultures, raised piles of earth built in the shape of a stylized animal, symbol, human, or other figure and generally containing one or more human burials.

In the 13th century, the Dhegihan people lived in what is now Ohio. The Dhegihan are believed to be one of the ancestor nations of the Dakota, one of the main sub-groups of the Sioux.

Source: Dakota Constellation Guide

Serpent Mount in a 1890 drawing
Source: Wikipedia


The Navajo see a similar constellation. Tãish Tsoh, the Big Snake constellation is located in the southern sky made of parts of the Greek constellations Puppis and Canis Major.

Historically Navajos used this constellation to indicate the coming and going of winter. This constellation is thus visible when the snakes on earth are hibernating in the ground.

Source: Navajo Skies

Tãish Tsoh © Melvin Bainbridge

Skidi Pawnee

The Skidi Pawnee called Sirius the "White Star" (see Four Directions).

According to Skidi cosmology, Sirius brought death into the world and would escort deceased tribal members along the "spirit pathway" (the Milky Way) to the place of the dead in the south.

Source: Jay B. Holberg


In the 2019 NameExoWorld project, each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet. Two of the chosen stars were within the constellation Canis Major.

Nigeria selected the name Amadioha for star HD 43197.

Amadioha is the god of thunder and lightning in the religion of the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria.

Planet HD 43197 b was named Equiano.

Olaudah Equiano was an 18th century a writer and abolitionist from the Kingdom of Benin in today's southern Nigeria). He was enslaved as a child, taken to the Caribbean and served several masters until he purchased his freedom in 1766. He then moved to England and became an advocate against the slave trade.

There is also a crater on Mercury named Equiano.
Amadioha; Ewuiano; Wikipedia

The star WASP-64 was named Atakoraka as proposed by Togo.

Atakoraka is a local word for the Atacora, the highest mountain range in the country.

The highest mountain in the range is Mount Agou. Its local name Agouto was given to Planet WASP-64 b.
Atacora Mountain Range;

Flags and other National Symbols

The center of the Brazilian flag presents the night sky as it would have been on November 15, 1889 at 08:30 over Rio de Janeiro. Each star corresponds to a Brazilian Federate Unit, sized in proportion relative to its geographic size.

Sirius (α CMa), the brightest star in the constellation symbolizes the state of Mato Grosso.

The Flag of Mato Grosso also features the star.
Muliphen (γ CMa) symbolizes the state of Rondônia;

The Flag of Rondônia also features the star.
Wezen (δ CMa), symbolizes the state of Roraima.

The Flag of Roraima also features the star.
Mirzam (β CMa) symbolizes the state of Amapá;

Adhara (ε CMa) symbolizes the state of Tocantins.
Source:Wikipedia, Flags of the World - Astronomy of the Brazilian Flag

The Crest of the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia shows the star Sirius on top of a tower.

Source: Wikipedia

Modern Day Technology

Throughout modern history, there has been a large number of ships named after the brightest star in the night sky. Two of them stand out:

In 1787, the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth, England, to establish the first European colony in New South Wales, Australia. Flagship of the eleven-ship fleet was the HMS Sirius.

For two years, the HMS Sirius served as supply vesel for the colony, until she was wrecked on the reef off Norfolk Island.


In 1838, the steamship SS Sirius opened the first transatlantic steam passenger service from Cork, Ireland to New York and became the first ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean exclusively under steam power.

Sources:Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica

The loss of HMS Sirius, 1790
Painting by George Raper

SS Sirius; Source: Wikipedia

Modern Day Fiction

In The Caves of Androzani, the sixth serial of the 21st season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, the colonized (fictional) planets Androzani Major and Androzani Minor are part of the Sirius system.

Source: Wikipedia

For a comprehensive list of Books and Films about Sirius, see
Wikipedia's Sirius in fiction

The Caves of Androzani

Back to Star Lore
Start Page

Back to Mythology
Start Page

Back to Space Page

Back to English
Main Page

Back to Start Page