For reasons that will become clear around the first of April, I find myself needing a good name for a baby girl. And because it’s me, I want a name that has some resonance. I am called James because my parents liked the name James. I should have been Thomas, the name given to the first male in every other generation of my family, except nobody bothered to remind my father of this until it was too late.
But names are important. One of the reasons that I became the person I am was the Jameses who were presented to me by media and education: James Watt, James Burke, James Cook, James I, James Bond, James Hunt, James and the Giant Peach. They weren’t exactly role-models but they were seed-crystals for my early ideas about what I could do and who I could become. And I want to give my new daughter the same sense that she’s part of a chain of illustrious forebears who shared her name, and had skills and attitudes that will serve her well in the twenty-first century.
I also want a name that only idiots can mis-spell.
Of course, when I say I need a name for a baby girl, I mean that I need a name for a baby girl, a girl child, a teenage girl, a twentysomething woman, a career-woman, a mother and the future goddess-empress of the universe. Though I have a suspicion her older sister is first in line for that job.
So a propos of nothing and because I don’t want to see my research on the subject go to waste, I thought I’d compile a short list of good names for daughters of geeks. More suggestions welcomed.
- Ada. After Ada Lovelace, who worked with Charles Babbage on his difference engines and who thus was the first computer programmer. (Which would make Babbage the first sysadmin, I suppose. Though wasn’t one of the difference engines clockwork? (“It’s crashed, you say? Have you tried running it down and winding it up again?”)
- Eliza. After the software robot Eliza, designed by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966. Designed to mimic the behaviour of a Rogerian psychotherapist, Eliza is noted for being small and asking a lot of questions. On early evidence (2.5 years into the trial), naming your daughter after a chatbot is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Florence. After Florence Nightingale, who revolutionised healthcare and saved thousands of lives through the application of scientific principles. She was also a gifted mathematician and the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.
- Heddy or Hedwig. After Heddy Lamarr, the great golden-age film actress, who also held one of the first patents on frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication techniques. Stuff she invented is in your mobile phone. Bizarre but true.
- Lara. Nothing wrong with fictional role-models.
- Marie. For Marie Curie, obviously. First woman to win a Nobel prize, first person to win two.
- Maya. The leading 3D animation program, though it’s also the Sanskrit word for ‘illusion’ which is a bit “Uh, wha?” I have the same reaction to kids called ‘Maya’ as I do to kids called ‘Cassandra’—did their parents really not do the reading?
- Roberta. After Roberta Williams of Sierra Online, games designer and creator of the classic King’s Quest series of graphic adventures.
- Ursula. After the sainted LeGuin.
- Valentina. After Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
- Zelda. The largely ineffectual princess from the eponymous games. I am less convinced by this one, but then I’ve never been a Nintyhead. Of course you’ve also got Zelda Fitzgerald, if you wanted to name your offspring after a alcoholic schizophrenic.