The World Health Organization skipped two Greek letters before choosing the name omicron for the latest COVID-19 variant.

What is the omicron variant?

Over the weekend, South African researchers announced the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, giving it the scientific name B.1.1.529, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

So, naturally, everyone waited to know what the variant would be named. The WHO has been using Greek alphabet letters to name the different coronavirus variants that have popped up in recent months, as the Deseret News reported.

  • For example, the WHO has named variants alpha, beta, gamma and delta, along with some lesser-known variants like epsilon and lambda.

Why is it called omicron?

Just this week, the WHO named another new variant omicron after the letter in the Greek alphabet. But one look shows that the WHO skipped two letters.

  • The WHO skipped the letters nu and xi when naming the new variant.

So why did the WHO not use those letters? The WHO said it was because they already have meaning in the real world, per CNN.

  • “Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and xi was not used because it is a common surname,” the WHO said in an email to CNN.
  • “And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”