Cartridges, What’s in a Name?

A Girl and Her Gun was talking about shooting an XD 9, and while we were discussing it in the comments she mentioned this.

I also looked up 9x19mm just to see if that was different from what I have been referring to as 9mm. While reading about it I came across the term Parabellum which is derived from the Latin: Si vis pacem, para bellum, which means “If You Seek Peace, Prepare For War”. I am sure everyone here knows that, but I had never heard of it and I love it. Might become my new motto. Well, I guess it has been my motto, but this says it so nicely.

Heh, that’s one of the pains-in-the-ass with talking guns to newer shooters, some of the more common cartridges have LOTS of names. I know I’ve talked about it before, but I like this subject so allow me to prattle.

Say the 9mm cartridge introduced by Luger at the turn of the last century, damn pill has a HUGE number of names. 9×19, 9 mm Luger, 9 mm NATO, 9 mm Parabellum, 9 mm Para, and just 9mm.

All of those are acceptable names for the same cartridge. They are 100% interchangeable, as the NATO load is a bit more powerful than the traditional loading, but overall they can be considered interchangeable.

How do these names come about? Well as a general rule the formula is Width of the bullet, either in millimeters, or in inches (note that Inch designations there is a decimal point, and this number is often refereed to as “Caliber”), then followed by a name chosen by the originator…or in the case of older cartridges, adopters.

It appears that the origonal name for this round is 9mm Parabellum (As the lady notes Latin for “Prepare For War”) but it was invented by the people at Luger, so its often called that. It was later adopted by NATO forces as their chosen pistol cartridge, hence the NATO name. Now what about the 9×19 one? We call that European Designation, and some may have noticed that I find it rather elegant in its consistency and information conveyed. That is the measurement of the bullet (only in millimeters) followed by the length of the cartridge casing from the Head (which is the bizarre name for the flat part on what I consider the bottom of the cartridge where the primer lives) to the case mouth, also in millimeters.

This is useful because it can convey a ton of information if you don’t know the cartridge. Like let’s talk about 9mm Largo (If you aren’t familiar with it don’t click the link just yet). Now the name doesn’t tell us much, just that it, like the Luger Round fires a 9mm bullet. Still if I told you 9mm Largo is also known as 9x23mm suddenly you know its a longer round, and by virtue can guess that its more powerful. Those are both true…tho not always. The old black powder revolver cartridge .38 S&W (Not to be confused with the modern .38 S&W Special AKA .38 Special) is 9x32R (“R” designating that the cartridge has a rimmed base), but that extra case length was developed for Black powder, not smokeless, so smokeless loadings of the same pressure are VERY light.

While every cartridge can be converted into a European designation, you won’t read many “9x32R” when talking about older S&W revolvers, nor will you ever see 11.43x23mm when talking about one of my favorite pistol cartridges.

Now let’s get into some errata. The numbers are not concrete scientific numbers. Like let’s talk about 9mm bullets. If say we were to take some common 9mm calibers. 9mm Luger, .380 Auto, .357 SIG, and 9mm Makarov. (9×19, 9×17, 9×22, and 9×18 respectivly) the first 3 all use 0.352″ bullets at various weights, and pushed at various speeds….but the Russian Makarov uses a 0.362″ bullet.

Also people new to revolver shooting will quickly realize that a .357 Magnum revolver can camber a fire .38 Special cartridges….but .38 and .357? Well in fact both bullets are 0.357″ (which is also “9mm”) but the .38 Special has some old history that is better explained here.

Oh and just because a bullet is called X does it mean ANYTHING, there are no rules as to what you call a new cartridge. Like .460 S&W Magnum, its based on the .45 Colt cartridge, and can chamber and fire .454 Casull cartridges….both use 0.454″ Bullets but S&W called it “.460” probably because “.454 Magnum” or some such would sound too similar to .454 Casull. And probably why .454 Casull didn’t just call itself “.45 Magnum”, or “.45 Casull”, one is allowed a certain amount of flare.

Also some names are associated with specific loads or pressures, the most famous are the NATO loads. Seems when NATO adopted various cartridges they decided to be different when it came to cartridge pressures…and decided to not be consistent on how they changed it. 9×19 NATO and 5.56x45mm NATO are both slightly more powerful than commercial 9mm Luger and .223 Remington…but 7.62x51NATO is LESS powerful than .308 Winchester….tho all of those cartridges are the same in overall dimensions.

This is why I’m so amused by this subject, as there is SO much to talk about, and there is so much history, marketing, and “Why not?” thrown in there.

And guns are fun!

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0 Responses to Cartridges, What’s in a Name?

  1. Wally says:

    Well Weerd there are the old school designations that you left out too.

    Such as the .45-70, a .45 caliber bullet originally loaded with 70 grains of black powder. The same applies to the .30-30, .32-20, .44-40 and .25-25.

    Or sometimes they are named based on bullet weight such as the.38-200, .38 caliber with a 200 grain bullet (which can be indistinguishable from a 38S&W)

    Or the year formatting. .30-03 and .30-06 are thirty caliber rifles rounds from 1903 and 1906, respectively.

    And there are the few bastardized cartridges who incorporate parts of predecessor cartridges. .25-06, for example, is a .25 caliber projectile mated to a modified 30-06 case. Similar for a .17-225, a .225 Winchester case has been modified for a .17 caliber bullet, or a .17-357 using a 357Sig case as the parent.

    And it’s a whole different twist for shotgun bores. Smaller the gauge number, the larger the bore diameter. They are also often labeled in cartridge length, weight of the shot, size of the shot, and sometimes with ‘dram’ ratings as to the round’s powder charge.

    • Jack says:

      Gauge is fun given the details of how it’s defined.

      “The gauge of a firearm is a unit of measurement used to express the diameter of the barrel. Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the firearm, and is expressed as the multiplicative inverse of the sphere’s weight as a fraction of a pound (e.g., a 1⁄12th pound ball fits a 12-gauge bore). ”

      Bullet diameter is also a factor given that the East and the West both have 7.62 mm weapons.

      But the nominal 0.300 in varies with 0.308 in the west and the Russians normally using .311 in. Though the Japanese and Brits would use yet more diameters.

      • Weerd Beard says:

        And freaky things like .30 nagant is 0.311″, but the .30 Tokarev is 0.308, because the first is a purely Russian design, while the .30 Tokarev (7.62×25) is based on th .30 Mauser (7.63×25)….and even tho the chamber dimensions on the two rounds are identical, and you can fire the lower-power mauser round in either gun, but the Euro designation is different in each.

        Nothing is set in stone.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yeah, I forgotten about those designations, and decided to leave shotguns for another day.

      Makes the head spin in a totally pleasant way!

  2. “Guns & Ammo” used to use metric and English designations for cartridges in the `70s. I wrote them and suggested that they not use the metric designation for common American cartridges. The editor wrote a nice letter back and said that he appreciated receiving a letter which didn’t accuse him of bowing to a Communist plot.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      LOL that’s funny! 8)

    • McThag says:

      One of the authors for the role playing game, GURPS was ever so much in love with the universal metric designation system.

      It took a major letter writing campaign to get it through his skull that cartridges are named. .308×1.5″ being the classic example. What I think finally convinced him was my asking for 7.62x51mmR in gun shops around here. That’s the UM designation for .30-30. We couldn’t even find a box with that designation in parenthesis.

      Another of my favorites for naming is .38-40. It’s not a .38 round at all, it’s a .40.

  3. It all reminds me of learning, when I got into cycling, than 1 1/2″ tires are a COMPLETELY different size as compared to 1.5″ tires. Naming schemes are fun.

  4. Love it!

    Of course it’s a ton of info, so I’m printing out and gonna have to refer back to it a lot, but I was actually surprised by how much I did understand.

  5. Terriligunn says:

    What about 9mm Kurtz? This one is fun considering the new carry pistols that have come out.

  6. 45er says:

    Heck with new shooters, I got all jittery ordering a case of 9 and even though I knew better, still double checked to make sure I was getting 9×19.

    Then there’s always the “seven six two” discussion. Whatever do you mean? 7.62 Nato – also 7.62 x 51, 7.62 X 39, 7.62 x 25. It’s maddening.

    • Lol, I shared a story on my FB about a time I went into a store to buy ammo and the guy behind the counter kept saying to me over and over are you sure this is what you want, are you sure this is what you want. If you buy your husband the wrong thing I don’t want him yelling at you. After I told him 3 times, yes this is what I want, he said it again, so I finally said, first, my husband doesn’t yell at me and 2nd, it’s for me and it’s what I want. He was not convinced, but he sold me the ammo.

      A few weeks later my husband goes to buy ammo and long story short he bought the wrong stuff. Well, he bought 400 rounds of personal protection ammo instead of range ammo, so I asked him if the guy asked him if it was really wanted he wanted and showed any kind of concern that his wife might yell at him if he bought the wrong stuff…lol. He said, nope, just sold to me. I said, well, you both better double check next time:)

      Of course the thing about it is ammo is confusing for me and I certainty have a lot to learn, but it helps me to have you guys affirm that it is indeed a complicated dicussion.

      • When I took my brother shooting the first time, we had my Makarov. He wanted to buy his own ammo, so I handed him a box of 9×18 to buy. The woman at the counter did double check with him to make sure that’s what he really wanted instead of 9×19. He just looked at me to confirm.

  7. Tam says:

    The SAAMI spec for 9x19mm ammo in the US was set back before WWII, when most all of the 9mm pistols in the US were WWI bring-backs, including some pretty dubious ones, like the Dreyse and Glisenti. The spec was set deliberately low to keep from turning these guns into pipe bombs.

    NATO spec is pretty much what European manufacturers have always loaded to.

  8. Tam says:

    5.56 was originally developed as a military round; the difference is in chamber dimensions more than pressure. Commercial varmint rifles put a premium on accuracy, and so the throat is a lot shorter, and rounds are rarely loaded to full SAAMI maximum. A current 62gr SS109 NATO load would practically seat the bullet into the rifling on chambering, which is a no-no when you’re pushing maximum pressures.

    7.62 also started out as a military round, developed for the M-14. The hunting cartridge that spun off from it, .308 Win, uses heavier bullets and higher pressures because it’s expected to shoot things that are tougher to kill than <200-lb hairless monkeys.

    It is interesting that four of the most popular sporting cartridges in America (.223, .308, .30-'06, and .45-70) started out as service rifle cartridges. How's that for "Sporting Purposes", Sarah Brady? 😀

    And why no love for .30-40 Krag?

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Awesome, thanks, yeah I’m never sure which came first, the chicken or the egg. That all makes sense.

      As for .30-40 no love as in not mentioning it? (Well same idea as .30-30, and .45-70, bullet diameter over powder charge) but as for why no love for that cartridge in sporting guns?

      Well given that its a .30 cal rimmed round traditionally with a blunt nose, that would make it ideal for sporting use in a lever-gun…which is kinda been dominated by the .30-30 which started out as a sporting cartridge…and really the both rounds are pretty similar.

      But who knows. There’s a lot of talk of .300 BLK becomming the new .30 CAL AR round, which is VERY similar to 7.62×39….but .300 BLK has a better feed angle for the AR action….but the round is damn near identical to .300 Whisper/Fireball.

      The gun industry is finicky, and not a fan of making sense.

  9. Bubblehead Les says:

    RE Tam’s “And why no love for the 30-40 Krag?” Probably because it had a short service life with Big Army, and a lot of the rifles never came back from the Philippines and Cuba, so the actual numbers of 100+ year old Rifles that somehow survived the Scrap Heap within the United States is small. Kinda like the Johnson Rifle of WW2. Rare and hard to find.

    As to Cartridge Designation, why do we call 8mm Mauser 8mm when it’s actually 7.92?

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