Lutetium was first isolated in the oxide form, in 1907, by G. Urbain, that separated J. Marignac's yterbia in two distinct oxides which he called lutecia and neo-yterbia. The last is nowadays called yterbia. Almost simultaneously, A. Von Welsbach accomplished the same separation and baptized the two elements as cassiopeium and aldebaranium. In the middle of the 20th century lutetium was still referred in the German literature as cassiopeium. During that period, C. James, of New Hampshire, isolated the lutecia but it was the last of the three to publish its discoveries.

The name lutetium derives of old Latin name of Paris, the native city of G. Urbain.