Impressive People Named Sophie/Sophia

sophie blanchard
Sophie Blanchard, the first female aeronaut
The baby names Sophie, Sophia and Sofia are based on the Ancient Greek word for “wisdom” or “learning.” Here are several impressive ladies named Sophie/Sophia/Sofia:

  • Sophie Blanchard (b. 1778), French aeronaut. First woman to work as a professional balloonist.
  • Sophie Germain (b. 1776), French mathematician, physicist and philosopher.
  • Sophie Scholl (b. 1921), German anti-Nazi political activist.
  • Sophie Wilson (b. 1957), British computer scientist and software engineer.
  • Sophia Danenberg (1972), American mountain climber. First African-American and first black woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest (2006).
  • Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (1840-1912), British physician and feminist.
  • Sofia V. Kovalevskaya (b. 1850), Russian mathematician. First woman in modern Europe to earn a doctorate in mathematics (1874) and to be appointed a professor of mathematics (1889).

Do you know of any other equally impressive people named Sophie, Sophia, Sofia, or some other variant of the name?

The Baby Name Morningstar

Wounded Knee Incident, March, 1973
Wounded Knee Incident, 1973

In 1973, from February 27 until May 8, American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and Oglala Lakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The standoff lasted 71 days, and both the activists and the federal government were armed. Gunfire wounded several people on each side and ultimately killed two of the occupiers.

The first victim was 48-year-old activist Frank Clearwater, who had hitchhiked to Wounded Knee with his pregnant wife Morning Star, 37. They arrived on April 16, Frank was shot in the head on April 17, and he died in the hospital on April 25. The news of his death was widely reported.

The same year, the baby name Morningstar appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time:

  • 1978: 6 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1977: 9 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 9 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 8 baby girls named Morningstar [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted

(The SSA omits spaces, so some these babies may have been named “Morning Star.”)

Supporters of the Indian movement extolled Frank, who had claimed to be Native American. The 1973 folk song “The Ballad of Frank Clearwater” refers to Frank as an “Apache who longed to be free.”

But this was probably not the case. Frank Clearwater, born Frank Clear in the state of Virginia, is listed as “white” on various documents (including arrest records and the 1930 U.S. Census).

My guess is that Morning Star’s name was similarly invented — coined as a sign of solidarity — and that she was also not Native American. I’m not sure what her real name was, or what became of her (or the baby) after 1973, but her assumed identity lives on in the baby name data…

"Show your Solidarity with the Indian Nations" poster


Images: © AP; “Show your Solidarity with the Indian Nations” via LOC

Unusual Real Names – Itti, Jeh, Ney, Uz

Time for a batch of unusual real names! Here are some of the shortest I’ve collected recently:

  • Anzia: Writer Anzia Yezierska was born in Poland (Russian Empire) in 1885.
  • Bodo: German nobleman Bodo (or Botho) VIII, Count of Stolberg-Wernigerode, was born in 1375.
  • D-Cady: Politician D-Cady Herrick was born in New York in 1846.
  • Idola: Activist Idola Saint-Jean was born in Canada in 1880.
  • Iley: Iley Lawson Hill was born in Ohio in 1808. One of the longest-living “Real Daughters” of the American Revolution, she died in 1913 at the age of 104.
  • Itti: Writer Itti Kinney Reno was born in Tennessee in 1862.
  • Ja Hu: Early Arizona settler Ja Hu Stafford was born in 1834 in North Carolina. His name was originally Jehu. He also went by “J. Hugh.”
  • Jeh: Politician Jeh (pronounced “Jay”) Charles Johnson was born in New York in 1957. His name “comes from a Liberian chief his grandfather met on a U.N. mission” according to the Washington Post.
  • Jorja: Film/TV actress Jorja Sheldon was born in Texas in 1923.
  • Miel: Art collector Miel de Botton was born in Switzerland in the 1960s.
  • Ney: Explorer/diplomat Ney Elias was born in England in 1884.
  • Race: Olympic foil fencer Race Imboden was born in Florida in 1993. He was named after the Jonny Quest character Race Bannon.
  • Rixa: Rikissa (or Rixa) Birgersdotter served as Queen of Norway during the 13th century.
  • Uz: Politician Uz McMurtrie was born in Indiana in 1884.

Which of the above do you like best?

The Top Baby Names in Maryland in 2011?

Maryland’s Open Data website includes a single table of Maryland baby name rankings (2011) broken down by race/ethnic group. This is cool because New York City does the exact same breakdown, and we happen to have the equivalent NYC baby name rankings (2011). So we ought to be able to compare and contrast the two sets of rankings, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought…until I started looking more closely at Maryland’s data.

According to the SSA, these were the top 10 boy names in Maryland in 2011:

  1. Mason
  2. Jacob
  3. Michael
  4. Ethan
  5. Ryan
  6. William
  7. Alexander
  8. Noah
  9. Daniel
  10. Aiden (tied for 10th)
  11. Jayden (tied for 10th)

But according to the state of Maryland, the top 10 boy names were quite different:

Rank OVERALL Asian &
Pacific Isl.
Black Hispanic White
1 Aiden Aiden Jaiden Christopher Lucas
2 Christopher Lucas Aiden Anthony Mason
3 Jayden Alexander Christopher John Jackson
4 Mason Muhammed Cameron Alexander Jacob
5 Lucas Ethan Elijah Daniel John
6 Jacob Nathan Jeremy Matthew Aiden
7 Alexander John Michael Brian Alexander
8 Nathan Andrew Isaiah Justin Liam
9 Michael Justin Mason Jaiden William
10 Ethan Jacob Caleb Kevin Ryan

It isn’t totally implausible that Aiden and Jayden might have ranked 1st and 3rd in 2011, but Christopher in 2nd? Maybe if this were a dataset from thirty years ago, but not five years ago. The SSA indicates that Christopher ranked closer to 18th in the state that year.

And what’s with the two different spellings of Jayden/Jaiden?

Plus there are some sizable raw number discrepancies, such as:

  • Aiden: 588 babies (MD data) vs. 281 babies (SSA data for MD)
  • Christopher: 584 babies (MD data) vs. 256 babies (SSA data for MD)
  • Jayden: 498 babies (MD data) vs. 281 babies (SSA data for MD)
  • Mason: 463 babies (MD data) vs. 432 babies (SSA data for MD)

And now the girl names. According to the SSA, these were the top 10 girl names in Maryland in 2011:

  1. Sophia
  2. Olivia
  3. Isabella
  4. Madison
  5. Ava
  6. Emma
  7. Abigail
  8. Chloe
  9. Emily
  10. Elizabeth

According to the state of Maryland, though, the top 10 girl names in the state were these:

Rank OVERALL Asian &
Pacific Isl.
Black Hispanic White
1 Sophia Sophia Chloe Sophia Sophia
2 Isabel Chloe London Emily Isabel
3 Chloe Isabel Layla Allison Abigail
4 Ava Caitlin/Kate Madison Isabel Olivia
5 Madison Hannah Kennedy Ashley Ava
6 Olivia Olivia Aaliyah Angelina Riley
7 Emily Sara(h) McKenzie Natalie Madison
8 McKenzie Abigail Zoe(y) Genesis Emily
9 Abigail Emily Payton Gabrielle McKenzie
10 Riley Lillian/Lily Taylor Kimberly Chloe

Not only does Isabel magically replace Isabella in the Maryland data, but McKenzie and Riley rank 8th and 10th — even though the SSA says they should be closer to 77th (!) and 28th.

Not to mention the raw number discrepancies, such as:

  • Sophia: 503 babies (MD data) vs. 367 babies (SSA data for MD)
  • McKenzie: 325 babies (MD data) vs. 71 babies (SSA data for MD)
  • Riley: 298 babies (MD data) vs. 118 babies (SSA data for MD)

Intriguing parallels between the MD data and the NYC data do exist. In both locations, Elijah and Isaiah were in the top 10 for African-American boys only, and London, Aaliyah, and Taylor were in the top 10 for African-American girls only.

But if we can’t trust the data, we can’t draw any meaningful conclusions.

Labels like “Caitlin/Kate,” “Sara(h),” “Zoe(y)” and “Lillian/Lily” suggest that variant names were combined here and there. I suspect this is also what happened with Isabel/Isabella, Sophia/Sofia, Aiden, Jayden, MacKenzie, Riley, and maybe even Christopher (perhaps Maryland merged all the “Chris-” names). What are your thoughts on this?

Poll: Favorite “Feminine Blend”?

Nope, this isn’t a post about a pink smoothies. “Feminine blend” was a phrase Henry Louis (H. L.) Mencken used in his 1921 book The American Language to describe a female name created by blending two other names together. Here are the feminine blends he lists:

(Addie + Lloyd)

(Addison + Nellie)

(Adrienne + Belle)

(Ardelia + Wilhelmina)

(Elizabeth + Christine)

(Birdie + Pauline)

(Charles + Pauline)

(Leila + Elizabeth)

(Luna + Nettie)

(Marjorie + Henrietta)

(May + Elizabeth)

(Ola + Isabel)

(Olive + Louise)

(Romeo + Juliette)

(Rose + Bella)

If you had to use one of the above in real life, which one would you choose?

Favorite "feminine blend"?

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Source: H. L. Mencken. The American Language. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921.

Baby Born at Police Station, Named for Cop

On October 6, 1947, a 20-year-old Los Angeles County resident named Dolores Del Real went into labor. She wasn’t going to make it to the hospital on time, so she stopped at the El Monte police station for help.

The on-duty policeman, Joseph V. Ervin, “acted as midwife” and “delivered the boy in a rear room of the station.” In honor of Officer Ervin, Dolores named her baby Joseph.

(And records show that the baby’s middle name was Virgil — this may have come from Ervin as well.)

Source: “Infant Born in Station Named After Policeman.” Los Angeles Times 7 Oct. 1947: A1.

Space Race Baby Names: Gemini & Agena

Agena as seen by Gemini VIII (3/16/1966)
Agena as seen by Gemini VIII (3/16/1966)

The name Yuri first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in the early ’60s, and the name Aldrin showed up in the late ’60s. But these aren’t the only two Space Race baby names that popped up on the charts during the ’60s.

In 1965 and 1966, the 10 manned missions of NASA’s Project Gemini were flown. The sixth mission, in March of 1966, included the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit — the Gemini VIII with the Agena Target Vehicle (an unmanned spacecraft built specifically for that purpose).

Right on cue, the baby name Gemini debuted in 1965, and Agena followed in 1966:

Year U.S. Babies Named Gemini U.S. Babies Named Agena
1967 x x
1966 x 15 baby girls [debut]
1965 13 baby girls [debut] x
1964 x x

Gemini reappeared in the data later on (e.g., 11 baby girls and 12 baby boys were named Gemini in 2015) but Agena, the top one-hit wonder of 1966, never did.

So how did Project Gemini and the Agena Target Vehicle get their names?

Gemini, which means “twins” in Latin, reflects not only the two-man crews of the Project Gemini missions, but also the fact that Gemini was the second human spaceflight program (after Mercury), and that one of the overall objectives of the project was to achieve a space rendezvous that involves two spacecraft.

Agena was named after the bright star Agena (a.k.a. Beta Centauri; Hadar) in the constellation Centaurus. The name “Agena” is thought to have been coined by Connecticut astronomer Elijah H. Burritt (1794-1838) from the Greek words alpha, “first,” and gena, “knee,” as the star marks the knee of one of the centaur’s front legs.

Which do you like better as a baby name, Gemini or Agena?

Which do you like better as a baby name?

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