Choosing a baby name reflects our interests, our style and often times, our family history and expectations. If there's not a family tradition of naming after relatives, and our style is about honoring a certain type of person in hopes of our child sort of following that namesake's example, perhaps using the handle of an intellectual giant would be attractive.
Of course, in my playground days, too different a name meant a life of berating and teasing. I remember when I was first married and a coworker was pregnant. When she shared her yet-to-be-born son's name was to be Garrison, the male coworker next to me whispered, "He'll get beat up at school every day." Thankfully, the world has changed somewhat.
While bullying is definitely still a problem, the status of nerds has greatly evolved. They came to rule the world, and now they are respected leaders at school, goofy attire and all. And different names are not so different. Each year, my youngest daughter who herself has a unique name, comes home with a class list that will bear perhaps one or two common names at most. Picking a brainy person's name to bestow upon your child shows a certain confidence and expectation. That can be a great thing! Probably much more than naming a baby after an internet sensation or a character in a movie or TV show that won't stand the test of time!
Why not start with the most famous genius of all? Albert Einstein is a great person to name a baby after if you have high hopes and expectations for him. Considered the most influential physicist of the modern era, Einstein was born in Germany, became a Swiss citizen, returned to Germany and regained citizenship there, and ultimately went to the US to escape the Nazi's targeting of him. He was more than a scientist, however; he was a leader in government issues worldwide, and was actually offered the presidency of Israel, which he declined.
He was also more than a brainiac; he was actually pretty successful with the ladies, so not the stereotypical bookworm who is lonely on Saturday nights. Albert is certainly an older-fashioned name, but those have had a resurgence of late. Albert is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning "noble; bright," and came in at #502 for boys in the US in 2016. It is easily shortened to Al, or even Bert, if preferred.
Marie Curie was the first person, male or female, to win 2 Nobel Prizes. She discovered two elements; polonium and radium, and came up with the term, "radioactive." She was responsible for the development of x-rays, but even more than that, she herself helped equip ambulances with the equipment in WWI, and drove the vehicles to the front lines herself! Marie Curie suffered from society's expectations of her. Women were not considered suited to such a career in the sciences, and she didn't fit the ideal woman pattern of a retiring, nurturing parent who made her first priority the running of a home.
Marie has a long list of first's to her credit, and due to that, when she became a sort of celebrity later in life for her achievements, the odd praise heaped on her for doing such things as a woman and are rather embarrassing now to read. Marie has never totally fallen from favor as a girl's name, ranking #522 in 2016 in the US. It means, "bitter," but is generally associated with the Virgin Mary.
Isaac is a Biblical name meaning "He who laughs," and was the son of Abraham and Sarah, so the beginning of the Jewish family line. Isaac is most strongly associated science-brainy wise with Sir Isaac Newton. In fact, it's tough to top; Isaac Newton reportedly had an IQ of 190. Sadly, we simplify his incredible life and accomplishments with images of him under an apple tree, donked on the head by falling fruit and coming up with the concept of gravity. He was actually the father of modern physical science, as well as an innovator in optics, mathematics, theology and history, as well as chemistry.
Thankfully, early attempts to make him into a farmer were unsuccessful! Newton was recognized in his time for his gigantic achievements, and was knighted in 1705 by Queen Anne. Isaac is a name that appeals to those who like brainy namesakes, but also those who prefer Biblical names. Maybe music lovers will also enjoy the association with Isaac Hayes. Nicknames include Zak, Izzy and Ike.
Not a household name, to be sure, Irène Joliot Curie was the daughter of, (you guessed it!), Marie and Pierre Curie. No scientific slack herself, Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. She worked with her mother on x-ray technology and aided her to providing them to the fronts of the first World War. Though not a direct collaborator, her research was invaluable in creating the atom bomb. She like her mother, found love in science and worked alongside her husband in her research. She and her mate, Frederic Joliot, were also political activists, fighting the Nazis and fascism.
Curie also worked for world peace and the causes of women. While you could name a daughter Irene after Curie, her married name of Joliot is a sort of combination of Juliet and Jolie, making it a unique hybrid name based on a brainy lady. Jolie means pretty and comes from the French, whereas Juliet means youth, and is forever associated with the tragic Shakespearean play, "Romeo and Juliet."
Nikola Tesla was a mechanical genius, coming up with the alternating current electrical system, the rotary engine, and the Tesla coil used still today in radio technology. In 1901 he envisioned the technology for the smart phone and wireless internet. Tesla wasn't however, the best at business and suffered at times financially due to this. Tesla was born in Croatia and was influenced by his mother who invented small appliances in their home. His father, a Serbian Orthodox priest, pushed Nikola to join the priesthood, but thankfully for humankind, he stuck with his scientific pursuits.
The name Nikola is from Greek origins meaning "victory of the people." Nikola is a boy's name in countries including Croatia and Serbia (as the part of the world Tesla hailed from), as well as Bulgaria and Macedonia. It's more for girls in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, plus Slovakia, Slovenia and Estonia.
Lise Meitner, born in Austria in 1878, and later immigrated to Sweden. She was a scientific trailblazer, and worked on a team that discovered nuclear fission; her partner was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry. Born Elise, she shortened her name to Lise. Perhaps one of her greatest bragging rights is that Einstein referred to her as the "German Marie Curie." She was only the second women to be awarded a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna. Because of her Austrian citizenship, she was protected initially from losing her job during the beginning of Hitler's reign, but ultimately, as someone of Jewish descent, she had to flee Germany, almost penniless.
Lise felt guilty for not leaving Germany when the first Jewish scientists were targeted for dismissal. She was quite critical of the scientists who collaborated with the Nazis, and also refused to work on the Manhattan project for the US, stating, "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!" Lise is of Hebrew origins and means, "devoted to God."
No, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! Raphael Sanzio was a Renaissance artist and architect. His best known work is the wall mural, "School of Athens." The mural represents the seven liberal sciences; dialectic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry, astrology and grammar. He is considered one of the trio of artists to crown the period known as the High Renaissance, and his work was said to go beyond Michelangelo's in subtlety and more realistic renderings. His other notable works are the "Madonnas" including the Sistine Madonna, as well as figures displayed in the Palace of the Vatican.
His IQ is put at the 170 mark by experts today. Raphael is a Hebrew name meaning either God heals, or God's healer. It was also the name of one of the archangels. It's not a particularly common name, but it did make the US charts, coming in at #414. To change it to a girl's name, one could go with Raphaella or Raphaelle. Nicknames include Raph, Rafe or Raphi, as well as Raffi or Raphe.
Hypatia of Alexandria was a female scholar who was a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who taught at the university, a job not open to women. Indeed, women were not students. She never married or had children, and subscribed to a life of celibacy. She was said to be generous as well as strikingly beautiful. Unfortunately, being a woman of unique intelligence and formidable skill set her up for a terrible end in a city torn apart by religious and social strife. She was born around 350 to 370 BC, and died at the hands of an angry Christian mob who stripped, beat and burned her. She was said to be to excellent, charming and charitable and would lead Christians astray.
Afterwards, the mob sacked and burned the University of Alexandria, all pagan temples and a mass exodus of academics. She was said to be the last of the great thinkers of classic Alexandria. Hypatia is pronounced, "high-PAY-sha." It is a Greek name meaning, "highest or supreme."
I know what you're thinking--Benjamin Franklin. A good option, but I'm actually referring to Benjamin Banneker. Banneker was a free African American born in 1731 in Maryland, who excelled in science, astronomy and mathematics, as well as agriculture, urban planning and publishing. His grandmother, a white woman, after serving a term as an indentured servant bought land and 2 slaves, whom she later freed. One of those, she married. Her daughter also married a former African slave, and her son was Benjamin. He attended an interracial Quaker school, and created a wooden clock after receiving a gift of a pocket watch. He published almanacs and developed an irrigation system for the family farm.
He used his fame and success to influence others to oppose racism, slavery and war, even exchanging letters with Thomas Jefferson, chiding him for the hypocrisy of fighting for independence from the British while enslaving Africans. Benjamin is a Hebrew name meaning, "Son of the right hand," and is one of the 12 sons of Abraham, and therefore the name of one of the 12 tribes.
Grace Hopper was born in 1906 in New York City, and died in 1992. Her considerable accomplishments included earning a PhD in 1934 in mathematics from Yale, joining the Navy in 1943 and leading a team that invented the computer language, COBOL. She retired from the Navy for good in 1986 at age 79, as a rear admiral and the oldest serving officer in the service. She was the first female individual recipient of the National Medal of Technology, receiving the award in 1991. A year later she was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guided missile destroyer was commissioned in 1997, and dubbed the USS Hopper. In 2016, President Obama posthumously awarded Hopper the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The name Grace comes from the Latin "gratia," meaning favor or thanks. The Puritans popularized the name in America, citing God's grace and favor on His people. Other notable Grace's are Grace Kelly, later Princess Grace of Monaco, Gracie Allen--comedian/sidekick and wife of George Burns, as well as first lady, Grace Coolidge.
Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847. Though he is primarily associated with the incandescent light bulb, he held over a thousand patents for his inventions. Edison struggled with hearing problems, hyperactivity and being labeled difficult by his teachers. His mother pulled him out of public school and educated him at home by herself. He quickly became an adept and voracious reader, and the habit of self-education became a mainstay of his life. His first invention was an improved stock ticker, for which he received $40,000 at age 22. When he died at age 84 in 1931, communities worldwide dimmed their lights in his honor and memory.
Edison's mind for business may have been even sharper than his acumen for inventing. The name Edison for baby boys ranked at #705 in 2016. It is an English name meaning "son of Edward," and Edward means "guardian of prosperity."
While Dicaprio is a pretty smart cookie (and a cute one, too!) I am referring to the inimitable Leonardo da Vinci. For anyone hoping to bestow a name on a son that would lay out a future of multitasking glory, a mathematical, scientific and creative genius, could any name equal Leonardo? Da Vinci was born in 1452 and is the embodiment of a true "Renaissance Man." He painted two of the greatest and best-known masterpieces, "The Last Supper," and the "Mona Lisa." His notebooks reveal detailed plans for such forward-thinking inventions as the bicycle, the helicopter and the airplane, as well as the submarine and the military tank.
He studied in-depth the human body and anatomy, botany, geology and zoology, plus mechanics and architecture. Leonardo is an Italian name meaning, "bold or brave lion." The name ranked #134 in the US in 2016 for boys. The name originated from the Old High German, Lewenhart. The typical nickname is Leo. Actress Penelope Cruz and actor Javier Bardem have a son named Leonardo.
Ada Lovelace, daughter of the literary giant Lord Byron, was an accomplished mathematician. She is credited with developing instructions for the first computer program...in the 1800s! According to Biography.com, Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer. She was born in 1815 and was Byron's only legitimate child. However, she grew up not knowing him, and he died when she was 8 years old. She was given an unusually rigorous education for a girl of the times, and excelled in math. Her notes for computing were not discovered until the 1950s, long after her death.
She received many awards posthumously, and in 1980 America's Department of Defense named a computer language after her, calling it "Ada." Ada had married William King, and by virtue of marriage to the nobleman, was then Countess of Lovelace and enjoyed friendships with Charles Dickens, Charles Babbage and Michael Faraday. Ada is a German name meaning "noble, or nobility."
When you think of brainy people in history, probably the name Charles Dickens doesn't leap to mind, but perhaps it should. Dickens supposedly ranks around 180 for an IQ. To give some context to this, Charles Darwin is believed to have had an IQ around 165 while Sir Isaac Newton was considered to be in the 190 range. Dickens was born in England in 1812 and authored over 34 books, as well as serialized stories and plays. He was shaped greatly by the poverty of his early life, his father landing in a debtor's prison and young Charles was forced to factory work in lieu of school. However, Dickens took advantage of early opportunity and became a popular and successful writer who penned some of the most beloved stories of our times, including Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.
Dickens became wildly popular and a bit of a star, and toured both Britain and America, earning the equivalent of over a million dollars for his talks. He was also anti-slavery, and rather critical of crude Americans. The name Charles from German roots means "man; or free man." It numbered 122 in 2016 in the US for baby boys.
Émilie du Châtelet was born in 1706 in Paris to a noble family, and she was educated in Latin, English and Italian, but early on showed great love and devotion to the sciences and math. She married a nobleman and fulfilled her duties as a woman of this station, yet continued her self-led studies. She published a book on the foundations of physics in 1740, and continued to study, inviting important intellectuals to her home to learn from them and eventually began an affair with the poet-philospher, Voltaire. She had works published on her theories of different colors in the light spectrum having different heat signatures, a commentary on the Old and New Testaments, and a philosophical work on personal happiness.
She became pregnant by a young soldier/poet at the age of 42 and knew it would likely kill her, so she worked feverishly to complete her translation of Isaac Newton's Principia. She died soon after giving birth to the baby girl. Sadly until recently most all that was remembered of her was her famous affairs. The name Emilie means, fittingly, "industrious."
Charles Darwin set out on a 5-year voyage around the world, surveying and recording carefully and formulating what would become the most explosive modern scientific theory; evolution of the species. Later DNA research would confirm his theories, although they have landed him in direct opposition to those espousing creationist religious theories of the origin of life. He had only achieved a bachelor's degree at this point in his budding career. Darwin was born in 1809 in England to a family of means, and a long line of scientists. Apparently, while his father hoped he would become a medical doctor, Darwin got faint at the sight of blood.
He went on to become what many have termed the greatest biologist in history. He had the genes for it; his grandfather Erasmus Darwin had made contributions to the theory of evolution and espoused the idea that all life had a common origin. Darwin means "dear friend," and is of English origins; in 2016 it came in at #1504--not a terribly common name.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995 for her work on embryonic research on fruit flies. Volhard was not an enthusiastic student in high school, at least initially. However, she went on to earn degrees in biology, physics and chemistry, and biochemistry; she holds a doctorate in biology and genetics. She is one of only a dozen women awarded a Nobel prize in the sciences. Her focus has been on genetic variations, and how that occurs. Volhard was born in post WWII Germany as the daughter of a father who worked as an architect, and a mother who was a painter and musician.
She says her path was harder due to expectations of a woman being tied to family, and not focused on academic pursuits, particularly in the sciences compared to young women today. Christiane is a French name meaning "follower of Christ; a Christian." Chris, Christi or even Tiane or Tia are possible nicknames.
Sofia Kovalevskaya was a noted mathematician, as well as an author and a proponent of women's rights. She was born into a family of mid-level Russian nobility in 1850 and it is said she first became intrigued with numbers in her nursery, where her walls were covered with her father's calculus notes in lieu of wallpaper. A neighbor who was a university professor urged her father to get her into higher education, but that meant traveling to Switzerland. At that time, it was not allowed for a single woman to travel independently, so she entered into a marriage of convenience so she could study. She is considered the leading woman mathematician of the pre-twentieth century, but was blocked from achieving as much as possible due to her gender.
She also worked in literary arts, out of some necessity. Her marriage of convenience apparently did evolve into one of love, but ended tragically with her husband's suicide. She published a number of influential papers on math, and was considered a creative thinker in the field. Sofia is a name from Greek origins, and means "wisdom or skill."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered one of the most brilliant men in history. His IQ was reportedly in the 200-220 range according to most estimates. He was a novelist, a poet, and a playwright. The German writer was born in 1749 and also excelled in the sciences, including physics and biology. He was also a statesman, and owned an extensive collection of minerals, said to be the largest in Germany. He was also a polyglot, speaking French, Italian, Hebrew and Latin, as well as Greek.
In his 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther he is said to have created the archetype romantic hero. Goethe also worked for a while as a lawyer, but got a bit too carried away and was reprimanded. He wrote a court drama afterwards, then eventually practiced law once more. Of course, another notable Johann, Sebastian Bach could easily have been included in this list for his musical genius. The name Johann means "God's gracious gift."
Katherine Johnson may sound like the ordinary girl next door, but she is anything but. You may have seen a portion of her life story represented in the film, Hidden Figures this year. Katherine is an African American woman who was born in 1918 in West Virginia. She began breaking down barriers for both race and gender when she was one of three black students to be entered into West Virginia's graduate school program. She had graduated from college at age 18. She went on to work at NASA as one of their earliest, and segregated initially, computers.
Her brilliant affinity for math led her to complete the number crunching necessary for our space programs launch in 1960 and moon landing in 1969. President Barak Obama presented Katherine with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2015. Katherine lives in Virginia in a retirement community and is still fascinated with science, and was an enthusiastic promoter of the movie. She is 98 years old. The name Katherine means "the pure," and numbered #189 with this particular spelling.
Blaise Pascal was born in France in 1623, and was a philosopher, mathematician and physicist. His main claim to fame would be in creating the modern theory of probabilities. A prodigy, Blaise was educated at home by his mathematician father, who worried his son would be overly obsessed with math to the detriment of learning other aspects of a classic curriculum. The forbidden nature of the subject only made math more intriguing to Blaise. Pascal's influence in the subjects of not just geometry and physics, but also computer science. He was said to influence the likes of Isaac Newton, and Swiss computer scientist, Nicklaus Wirth named the computer language he invented Pascal in honor of the scientist and the Pascaline--Blaise's early prototype of a computer.
It's also said he invented a primitive wrist watch. Blaise is also credited with the hydraulic press and a calculating machine. What's more remarkable is with all his publications and inventions, Blaise died at the young age of 39. The name Blaise means either "lisp or stutter," or "firebrand."
Galileo Galilei is considered the father of modern science. He made important gains in mathematics, physics, astronomy and philosophy, as well as cosmology. The telescope he invented permitted viewing of Jupiter's moons, Saturn's rings and Venus' phases. It also revealed sunspots and the moon's surface. Other contributions include improved microscopes, balances, compasses and thermometer. He was subject to silencing by the powerful Catholic Church for supporting the Copernicum-sun-centered view of the universe. He spent his last years on house arrest for his anti-religious (according to the Church officials of the time) rhetoric.
Galileo had some popular, powerful friends, as well as church enemies. Twentieth century Popes apologized for the Church's treatment of Galileo. Interestingly, Galileo had 3 children, and the two girls were urged to join the convent and both became nuns. (His son became a musician.) The name Galileo means "from Galilee" and is a Christian reference to Jesus, and it's an Italian name.
Rachel Carson was a scientist who applied her knowledge to help save our world. The author of the seminal book, Silent Spring. She was a marine biologist and environmentalist who warned her generation, and those that followed, of the dangers of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The banning of DDT occurred in no small part due to Carson's work. Because of her book, a presidential commission looked into her findings and confirmed them, which raised a new environmental consciousness in our country. She worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, using her scientific and writing skills.
She received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University. Her nickname was the "nun of nature." What is often forgotten today is the hatred she faced in her work. She was labeled a communist sympathizer, a spinster cat lady, in short a busybody old crank trying to ruin good things for others. Rachel means "ewe" in Hebrew, and in the Bible Rachel was Jacob's lovely wife.
Caroline Hershel, born in Germany in 1750, was the first woman to discover a comet; she subsequently found several more. You might not recognize her name, but you may have heard of her brother, William. He was a professional musician and conductor, and Caroline was actually an accomplished soprano. William's increasingly important hobby was astronomy, and he made telescopes. The two studied the stars and planets together. He became court astronomer after discovering Uranus. A number of heavenly bodies are named for Caroline, and she was awarded many impressive titles and awards.
Her tombstone says, "The eyes of her who is glorified here below turned to the starry heavens." Caroline lived to be 97 years old and was made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. The name Caroline is from Latin roots and is the combination of Carol (song) and Linda (beautiful.) It ranked at #64 in 2016 in the US.
Ainan Cawley may not yet be famous, but he is undeniably brilliant. He spoke his first word at one month of age, and by age 9 he could rattle off Pi to 518 decimal places. He was born in 1999 and has already directed a film and composed the movie's score, and began university courses at a challenging technical school at age 8. He is a true science prodigy, but is also a musician and artist. His IQ scores are staggering, ranging from 263 and 349. The amazing thing is he is so young and still learning and developing; his potential in the broad field of mathematics, science and humanities is still undetermined.
He is credited with some pithy quotes, including, "There is no such thing as bad Art, for if it is bad, it is no longer Art." Ainan is an Islamic name meaning, "two springs." The name is found twice in the Quran, describing springs or fountains in Paradise. It can also be spelled, Aynan.
Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist who discovered the structure of DNA, although others took credit for it. She received a PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University. She also pioneered work in x-ray technology, using it for crystallized images of solids. Sadly, Rosalind only lived to be 37 years old, after suffering from a long battle with ovarian disease. She endured a few operations and experimental chemotherapy treatment, but it didn't buy her very much time. She had only a ten month remission. Rosalind Franklin also worked with coal, graphite and viruses, and had begun working on polio.
Her exact contributions in the area of DNA research are still somewhat questioned by certain factions, but it seems likely she didn't receive the credit deserved at least partly because of her gender. The name Rosalind has a lovely meaning, "pretty rose," and comes from the Latin. Rosalind was used by Shakespeare in one of his comedies, the popular to-this-day As You Like It, and numbered in 2016 at #2755. It was especially a big name in the 1940s in the US, with film star Rosalind Russell. The name was believed to be originated by the author, Edmund Spenser.