In 1801, C. Hatchett found an unknown ore while he was analyzing some chromium minerals from Connecticut. He called "columbite" to the mineral, and "columbium" to the element, once it had been discovered from an American ore. One year later, in 1802, A. G. Ekeberg discovered a new element in Finnish minerals similar to "columbite" and gave it the name tantalum. This denomination derives from the Greek god Tantalus, as a reference to the enormous difficulty in dissolving the mineral in acids.

In 1844, H. Rose found two new elements in a sample of "columbite" from Bodenmais. One of them was similar to the Ekeberg's tantalum. The other was called "niobium", in honor to Niobe, mythological daughter of Tantalus and goddess of the tears. The difference between tantalum and niobium was unequivocally made by Sainte-Claire Deville and by Troost, who determined the formulas of some of its compounds. The Hatchett's columbium was probably a mixture of these two elements, although the term has been used to refer to niobium.