To commemorate this week’s International Women’s Day (we’re only a day late), we thought that this time we’d look not at creative artists or political figures, but at accomplished female scientists and mathematicians. These range in time from the 4th century BC to the recent past, all of them women who had to overcome the cultural biases against females in their fields–all inspirational namesakes. Brainy names for brainy babies!
And in the usual nameberry fashion, we’re not aiming to be comprehensive, but focusing as much on noteworthy names as on notable achievements. So apologies to the many Marys, andMaries who don’t appear below..
ADA Lovelace, aka AUGUSTA Ada Byron – daughter of the poet, a mathematician who contributed to research that led to the modern computer.
ALESSANDRA Giliani –14th century Italian anatomist, reputedly the first person to use the injection of colored fluids to trace blood vessels.
AMALIE Emmy Noether – (known as EMMY) – did work relating to the general theory of relativity and ring theory.
ARTEMISIA, Queen of Caria (c. 300 BC), a botanist and medical researcher; the plant genis Artemisia is named for her.
CECILIA Payne-Gaposchkin– as a graduate student in 1925, she established one of the fundamental theories of astrophysics, that stars were made up of hydrogen and helium.
DOROTHEA Klumpke was an internationally known astronomer who studied meteorites and broke several gender barriers.
ELENA LUCREZIA Cornaro Piscopia –a 17th century Venetian mathematician, the first woman to earn a PhD.
ELSA Beata Bunge – Well known early Swedish botanist who wrote on the nature of vine grapes.
ÉMILIE du Châtenet – Translated Newton’s Principia into French and deduced the conservation of energy.
GERTY Theresa Cori (shown) was awarded a 1947 Nobel Laureate for her medical research, which she shared with her husband.
This year in celebration of Black History Month we turn for naming inspiration to the cultural heroines of the Harlem Renaissance. These women—novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors and musicians– all played significant roles in the movement that flourished from the end of World War I through the mid-1930s, during which a group of writers and other artists fostered an intellectual blossoming that was instrumental in forging a new black cultural identity.
The talented women listed below, some better known than others, would all provide great namesakes and role models for any child.
A’LELIA Walker—an African-American businesswoman who was an important patron of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
ALICE Dunbar-Nelson — Journalist, poet, activist and prominent Harlem Renaissance figure.
ANGELINA Weld Grimké—Harlem Renaissance writer, one of the first black women to have a play performed in public.
ANITA Scott Coleman—Though born in Mexico and later a resident of the Southwest, Coleman published many short stories reflecting the themes of the Harlem Renaissance.
ARIEL Williams—a teacher, musician and published poet.
AUGUSTA Savage—a sculptor known for her bronze busts of Frederick Douglass, W. C. Handy, James Weldon Johnson and other prominent African Americans.
CLARISSA Scott Delaney—onetime secretary to Booker T. Washington, she was a poet whose subjects included Pan-Africanism and bi-racialism.
DOROTHY West — Harlem Renaissance novelist and short story writer, best known for her novel The Living is Easy, about an upscale black family. (shown at right)
EULALIE Spence—an actress, teacher and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance.
GEORGIA Douglas Johnson—a prolific poet and playwright whose Washington DC home was open to the leading black artists of the day, including Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.
GWENDOLYN Brooks was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, for Poetry in 1950
HELENE Johnson—a Harlem Renaissance poet, cousin of Dorothy West; one of her innovative poems, ‘Bottled,’ appeared in the May 1927 Vanity Fair.
JESSIE Redmon Fauset—called by Langston Hughes a “mid-wife” of African-American literature, she was the literary editor of Crisis magazine and was the first black woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
LOIS Mailou Jones—a prize-winning artist who had a long and influential career, and whose work is represented in many major museums, including New York’s Metropolitan.
MARITA Bonner, whose writing dealt with issues of race, gender and class.
NELLA Larsen—a novelist who was the first African-American woman to win a Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing.
REGINA Anderson, New York City librarian who was one of three women to establish a salon for artists and intellectuals; helped found the Negro Experimental Theatre
ZORA Neale Hurston—one of the best known figures of the movement—though she died in poverty—particularly recognized for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Also considered part of the Harlem Renaissance were such entertainers as:
LIL Hardin Armstrong,
NINA Mae McKinney
To commemorate Martin Luther King Day, we honor some of his fellow heroes and heroines of the civil rights movement. It would be impossible to list all of them, so here are some of the most worthy namesakes.
AMELIA Boynton Robinson – brought Dr. King to Selma in 1953
ANGELA Davis –radical Black activist, advocate of racial justice
CARLOTTA Walls – youngest member of the Little Rock Nine students who desegregated Central High School in 1957
CHARLAYNE Hunter-Gault –one of the first two African-American students to enter the University of Georgia in 1961
CLARA Luper – activist known as the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’
CLAUDETTE Colvin – refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus nine months before Rosa Parks did
CORETTA Scott King – Dr. King’s full partner in the civil rights movement
DAISY Bates – a key figure in the integration of Central High School in Little Rock
DOROTHY Cotton – the highest ranking female in Dr King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT – a civil rights activist during her husband’s tenure as President.
ELLA Baker – influential activist, key figure in the NAACP, SCLC and in the creation of the Student Noviolent Coordinating Committee
What could be a greater gift to bestow on your daughter than a name with a heroic namesake, someone with an inspiring story to add a layer of pride to your little girl’s feelings about her name–and give her great material for a school report?
The following is a list of mostly American women of great courage, perseverence and accomplishment—many of whom broke barriers for women– that could fill this bill. And of course, this being nameberry, the name’s the thing, so apologies to all the equally distinguished Marys, Elizabeths, Sarahs and Anns who haven’t been included: the following ladies were picked (almost) as much for their interesting names as for their achievements.
ABIGAIL Adams – The first First Lady to occupy the White House and an ntellectually equal partner of her husband, President John Adams.
ADA LOVELACE – daughter of the poet Byron whose work in mathematics was (probably) a precursor of the modern computer.
AMELIA Earhart — the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.