Back-to-School Baby Names: Theodora, Darwin and Danica

August 26, 2018 John Kelly

By John Kelly

From kindergarten to college, the kids are going back to school. But for those of you with babies on the way, let’s take some inspiration from famous figures their older siblings are studying up on various subjects in the classroom. Here’s a full schedule of names for you, from the sciences to the Fine Arts.

English Class

Shakespeare might be a bit overwhelming as a first—and Beowulf a bit too bold—so consider some other cornerstones of English lit. Chaucer is charming, and the lesser-read (Edmund) Spenser, of The Faerie Queene, makes a poetic alternative to the rising Spencer (#292 in 2017). They both have the added appeal as occupational names; Chaucer may ultimately mean “shoemaker,” and Spencer is “steward.” Virginia (Woolf) can be inspiration for this classic girl’s name, while (Jane) Austen has a hip sense and sensibility to it. Why settle for one of the sisters when you can honor all three with Bronte? It’s now #623 on Nameberry.


It would take some special genius to pull off Einstein. We think, instead, some of the ancients might appeal. Euclid—the great Greek geometer whose name means “good glory”—is unique but sophisticated. Archimedes is more eccentric, but it has personality and a choice nickname, Arch or Archie. Skip Pythagoras for Hypatia: She was an important, though under-sung, philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician in ancient Alexandria. Her name, which both looks and sounds beautiful, means “highest” or “supreme.” Rachel Weisz played a Hypatia in a film


Galileo could make a very star-gaze-y tribute to the early astronomer. His contemporary, Kepler, has a more accessible and contemporary vibe. He worked with Tycho (Brahe), which has been given to some tykes in his native Denmark, where he’s called Tyge, a name related to Thor. Before them was Copernicus, an unconventional but staid appellation of the man who established that the planets revolve around the sun. Darwin is a name that’s been catching on—it’s at #83 and was as high as 310 in the 30s.

Then there’s (Marie) Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize; her daughter, Irene, was an accomplished scientist in her own right, and offers a vintage girl’s name that’s already well liked on Nameberry (#279) and is currently 19th in Spain. Rosalind (Franklin)—a scientist all too often overshadowed by James Watson and Francis Crick who used her X-rays in discovering the double helix of DNA—is also a time-tested Shakespearean name ripe for revival—already #247 on NB.


Here, let’s highlight some of the mightiest women in the course of civilization. Would you crown your daughter the imposing Nefertiti, Cleopatra, or Zenobia, ancient rulers of the Mediterranean? Isabella, the Queen of Castile who sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyage, is a lovely option far from forgotten by time: It was the #4 most popular girl’s name in 2017 and #1 in 2009 and 2010. Theodora, the powerful empress of ancient Rome’s Justinian, is a compelling female form of Theodore, as in Roosevelt. TR’s distant cousin and later president, Franklin, married the accomplished and influential first lady, Eleanor, who was Teddy’s niece.

Fine Arts

Roll over, Beethoven. Bach, as in Johann Sebastian, might be a better bet if you want to honor classical composers. We think jazz names are cooler, though, like the slick surnames of John Coltrane or Duke Ellington. Ella, as in Fitzgerald, might have become too trendy for some, coming in at #16 in 2017. Consider Etta (James) or, for a deeper cut, Mahalia (Jackson)—and we also expect to see Aretha, the late Queen of Soul, to jump in coming years. (Claude) Monet and (Edouard) Manet make a great impression as girl names, both mellifluous and cosmopolitan. For female painters, Tamara is a tasteful choice, after Tamara de Lempicka, the illustrious Polish Art Deco portraitist. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones has a daughter named Tamara.


Finally, to let off some steam. The surnames of some of the greatest male athletes of all time are inspiring: boxing’s (Muhammad) Ali, baseball’s (Jackie) Robinson, and track and field’s (Jessie) Owens, legendary for his performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As for women greats, the sport of tennis serves up great options: Who can’t admire the celestial Serena or Venus (Williams)? More historic is 2017’s #7 most popular girl’s name: Charlotte (Dodd), the 19th-century British all-around sportswoman best known for tennis and who went by the sweet nickname, Lottie. Soccer’s Mia (Hamm) is indomitable—as is her name, #6 in 2017. For something more distinctive, there’s Danica for Danica Patrick, who’s broken barriers as a woman in car racing. The pretty name Danica comes from a Slavic word meaning “morning star.”


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