1. Gnomes are elemental spirits of Earth. The name was invented by Paracelsus in the 16th century. He identified spirits of the four elements, or elementals.
2. gnome - one of a fabled race of diminutive beings supposed to inhabit the inner parts of the earth, and to be the guardians of mines, quarries, etc. The name gnome was given by Paracelsus to beings having earth as their element, so that they can move through it as freely as a fish through water (cf. sylph, salamander, undine). In later use the conception has been largely influenced by popular ideas about dwarfs, elves, and fairies, probably in particular by the Teutonic belief in "dark elves."