By Esmeralda Rocha
For International Women’s Day on March 8, we celebrate a dozen women (and a dozen names) from around the globe. Some are still alive, some died millennia ago; some were activists, some were scientists, some were artists. All displayed a sense of courage and genius that we should celebrate – and all of them had interesting names that we should consider for our next generation of impressive women.
Ada – When Ada Lovelace was born, her father, the famed poet Lord Byron, was unashamedly disappointed to have a daughter. And yet, Ada went on to become an accomplished mathematician and the co-creator of the first computer programme. Ada is a name that bears consideration – popular throughout the 19th century, it is now less used than Ava, and more wearable than Ida.
Ayaan – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (shown) is a fearless Somali-Dutch girls’ rights activist most famous for her continuing campaigning against FGM and for girls’ education. Ayaan is a unisex Arabic name that can mean ‘God’s gift’ or refer to a studious and perceptive person. Ayaan could be shortened to Aya or Yaya.
Cicely – Dr Cicely Williams was a Jamaican doctor and one of the first women to graduate from Oxford. She specialised in children’s and women’s health at a time when this was beneath the dignity of most male doctors, and devoted her life to the impoverished communities of West Africa. Her record gives a fierce edge to the quintessentially prim Edwardian name Cicely.
Flossie – Dr Flossie Wong-Staal is one of the greatest living medical researchers, and was instrumental in proving that HIV causes AIDS. Flossie is a traditional nickname for Florence (and far more appealing than ‘Flo’), but like Millie, Dottie and Effie, it could easily be used as a name in its own right.
Hedy – Born Hedwig Kiesler in Austria, Hedy Lamarr is a testament to the fact that women can be beautiful and brainy, creative and scientific. Hedy was a celebrated Hollywood movie star and also a co-inventor of the technology behind Wifi and Bluetooth. Hedy is an unusual name that could fit in with the growing tide of retro chic Germanic names like Elsa and Lottie.
Hypatia – Hypatia was an ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher, famous for working in Alexandria in the final days of Classical antiquity. With the rise of other historical Greek names, Hypatia is a name that deserves reconsideration.
Malala – Malala Yousefzai is a committed Pakistani education rights activist who was attacked by the Taliban while still in her teens for daring to get an education. Her example has imbued this very soft and mellifluous name with a secret reserve of steeliness.
Mary – Mary Wollstonecraft proves that there is nothing plain about the name Mary – indeed this Mary was a mighty force to be reckoned with. She was an unflinching observer of the terrifying days of the French Revolution, a human rights supporter at a time when most people didn’t have human rights, and the author of one of the greatest feminist works in history, “A Vindication on the Rights of Woman”.
Mirabai – Born a princess, Mirabai was one of the most influential Indian authors of all time; her 16th century poetry sits at the core of Hindu literature and has become a symbol for using love and light to stand up for freedom and empathy. The name Mirabai has a soft and sumptuous feel to it and can be shortened to appealing Mira or cute Miri.
Sojourner – Sojourner Truth was one of the most impressive and courageous abolitionists and suffragettes in American and world history. As a name, Sojourner imparts character and strength and suggests a lifetime of journeying and striving. A possible nickname is the very spunky Sojo.
Vida – Vida Goldstein was a devoted Australian women’s rights activist who became one of the first women in the world to stand for parliament. Vida is a great vintage name that could join the ranks of Vera and Edith.
Zainab – Zainab Salbi is an Iraqi women’s rights activist, famous for her role in helping women survivors of war crimes and rape in Bosnia and Sudan. As more spunky Z names like Zelda, Zara and Zenobia are beginning to be used again, Zainab, a botanical Arabic name meaning ‘beautiful’, could be another interesting addition to the mix.
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