Early Greek astronomers named the galaxy "Via Lactea" in reference to the pale band of light formed by stars along the galactic plane. The origin of the name, which translates as "Road of Milk," has been lost to time.
It was not until 1610 that the Italian astronomer Galileo discovered that the bright band that the Milky Way was named for was made up of billions of individual stars. Sir William Herschel first made the claim that our galaxy was shaped like a disk in the late 18th century. This theory was proven in 1920 when astronomer Jacobus Kapetyn developed a parallax method of measuring distances between stars.