Thursday, February 18, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Happy Discovery Day, Pluto!

Greetings, readers and space aficionados!

Today is the 86th anniversary of the discovery of the ninth planet, Pluto! While Pluto may have been demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006, it was not demoted in our hearts. For this post, I'll be looking at the names associated with the planet and its discovery.

Pluto made the news last summer, when the New Horizons spacecraft flew by the planet for the first time. Most pictures of Pluto are from this voyage!

I have to admit, I'm incredibly surprised that Pluto has never been recorded as a name in US history (I look forward to being proven wrong in the comments!) It means "wealthy", and was the Roman name for the god of the underworld, versus the Greek Hades. Sure, it's now connected to the eponymous Disney dog (see the Norm connection below), but with the recent rise of O-names and trends toward individuality, I think Pluto could work in the right context. 

The largest of Pluto's five moons, the two celestial bodies are often connected because of their gravitational lock. Charon's name was inspired by discoverer James Christy's wife, Charlene, as well as the connection to the mythological underling of Hades. Officially pronounced "KAR-on", Christy's initial mispronunciation have led many at NASA to switch to "SHAR-on". It's an unusual, rather quirky choice, but a lot of people will pronounce it like Sharon

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, an American astronomer at the Lowell Observatory. He later discovered and named hundreds of asteroids after his family members. The most visible feature on Pluto's face is named the Tombaugh Regio in his honor. The name Clyde has been rising up the charts rapidly since 2013, probably due to the current retro trends. The name originated in Scotland, and is now associated with the notorious duo Bonnie and Clyde.

The name of the observatory from where Pluto was discovered, Lowell also refers to Percival Lowell, an astronomer who tried for years to find evidence of a ninth planet. While unfortunately he didn't live to see the discovery, his wife Constance fought to uphold his legacy, and it was due to their tenacity that the planet saw the light of day (for lack of a better phrase). Putting aside that both Percival and Constance are excellent vintage choices, Lowell has been off the top 1000 for awhile, and could have a lovely comeback as an aristocratic family name. 

At the ripe old age of 11, Venetia Burney was the first to suggest the name Pluto when scientists were deliberating. She mentioned it to her grandfather, Falconer Madan (reviewed below), and he sent the suggestion through colleagues to the Lowell Observatory. It received every vote in the name election, not only for its mythological connotation but also because its first two letters corresponded to Percival Lowell's initials. Venetia herself later became a mathematician and professor in economics. The name Venetia references the Italian city of Venice, and is a lovely unusual choice. 

Most famous for his position as Librarian of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Falconer Madan was also instrumental in the naming of Pluto (see above). His connections to astronomer academics facilitated his granddaughter's suggestion getting to the Lowell Observatory. An occupational name, Falconer hasn't been recorded in US name logs - but it would be a strong, nature-themed option!

The leader of the New Horizons project, which was the first mission to fly by Pluto, Sol Alan Stern is an engineer and planetary scientist. He is also on the forefront of advocating for Pluto's promotion back to its original status as a planet (yay!) While he goes by Alan, I think Sol is a fabulous name. It's historically a diminutive of Solomon, but the connection to the sun makes it a great choice for any space fan! It also fits in with the recent trend towards short male names, like Jack, Ben, or Kai.

A major animator at Walt Disney Studios in the 1930's and 1940's, Norm Ferguson was one of the artists who brought the cartoon canine Pluto to life. While reports vary on how the dog was named, most believe it was the planet's fame as Pluto that inspired the Disney staff. Ferguson brought puppy Pluto to fame as well through the animated short Playful Pluto, now a Disney classic. Short for Norman, Norm is now associated with other names in the first half of the twentieth century, and notably the character in Cheers. 

This has been one of my favorite posts to research and write! Tell me what you think in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. I was really surprised to see my father's name, Lowell, on here! I also really like Falconer and Sol.