Naming the Future

Sep 8th 2007

One of the greatest challenges of envisioning a future world is filtering out the present. Our current tastes infiltrate even our wildest imaginings. The effects may be subtle at first, but the more that time passes the more, say, a 1970s sci-fi movie looks and sounds like the 1970s.

Suppose you wanted to set a novel in the mid-range future. What would you name your heroes to keep them from sounding like time travelers from 2007? You could take the time-honored neologism approach, stringing together sounds to create a new namelike creation (think Lando Calrissian). You could morph a traditional name into a vaguely futuristic variant (Leia). You could push the envelope a little farther and imagine whole new fashions -- say a fad for Hungarian names, or names of chemical elements. Or you could be a crafty namenik and aim for a hundred-year style revival cycle. By that approach your characters in the year 2057 might be Jerry and Brenda.

Craftiest of all, you could combine those approaches. After all, multiple fashion threads run through every age. 2007 is the era of Liam, Alejandro, Braeden and Jack. So let's call our 2057 friends Arlex, R!chard, Istvan, Cobalt, Doug and Cheryl.

Not so good? Well, I never claimed to be a Hugo Award winner. So let me put you, instead, in the hands of one who is. William Gibson is a wildly inventive and influential science fiction author, the coiner of the term "cyberspace" and godfather of the cyberpunk genre. His first novel Neuromancer won not only the Hugo but the Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards for good measure. Neuromancer was published 23 years ago and could reasonably be expected to be showing its age by now. Yet the book still maintains an impressive measure of popularity and reader impact. Let's take a look at the names of the future, 1984 vintage.

- Your protagonist Case (he went by his last name)
- Your cybernetically enhanced heroine Molly
- The rastamen Maelcum and Aerol
- Bodyguard Hideo
- Magnate Lady 3Jane

Sure enough, something for everyone in a diverse fashion future. An aspiring sci-fi writer might take note that the effect is more than just atmospheric. The mixing of disparate styles means the author can't be caught guessing wrong, and helps keep this vision of the future from sounding like the past.


By Meg (not verified)
September 10, 2007 3:13 PM

Thanks for all the comments on Renee! I only knew one Renee growing up, so I wasn't sure how far it had penetrated. I guess a little too far.

Interesting point about French-like names being popular in that era. A quick search turns up Michelle, Denise, Danielle, Nicole, Stephanie, Theresa, Valerie, Annette, Yvonne, Elaine, Felicia, Lorraine, etc.

I think I'll keep looking, but there are lots of complications! I favor classic names (not "fresh" innovative ones), but low frequency to avoid the "Emma" phenomenon. I have strong preferences for particular letters (letters have colors for me), particularly R, N, T, P, H, J. And finally, the baby's donor is Indian (south Asian), so I want something that will go with an Indian middle name. For a boy, I've settled on James Ranjit, but I'm having trouble finding something I like as much for a girl.

By Elizabeth (not verified)
September 10, 2007 3:16 PM

Anyone else get annoyed when older characters are given trendy names. I mean, I highly doubt there's many 40 year old female Addisons. It's kind of like Laura's post, but reverse.

By Catherine (not verified)
September 10, 2007 3:49 PM

Meg, IMO Indian names can be tough to match with Western names because they are either very feminine or have a harsh sound when pronounced by Americans. (FYI my husband is Indian and we struggled with names.) You really can go in many directions with a first name then match with an Indian name unless there is a middle name you are set on. Have you considered finding a Western/Indian cross-over name? There are a few great options:

And many others...

Also, Indians seem to frequently use some Western names:
Names ending in "a" e.g. Karina, Serena

By Catherine (not verified)
September 10, 2007 3:52 PM

Opps, I forgot the trendest cross-over, Anika/Annika.

By Tess (not verified)
September 10, 2007 4:35 PM

Eo, Katharine and others- I know a Wren-only it is Rehn and he is in his late 30's.I wonder where it came from? Also, Sarah when you were contemplating Elliot a few weeks ago-I think I suggested Ames for a middle name-sounds like James to me! I like either name with Elliot. And Meg, I loved Lizpenn's suggestion of Renata. I would think it would go well with many Indian middle names.

By Penn (not verified)
September 10, 2007 4:40 PM

For boys, Renny can be an nickname for Reynold, too.

By Eleni (not verified)
September 10, 2007 4:41 PM

Must agree that Renee is not a favorite.
I had a neighbor whose mother would always call her in by yelling "Nicole Renee Lastname!" It has a very eighties feel.

I've posted before regarding my fondness for Wren, however. It's one of the few nature names that manages to sound both romantic *and* crisp and tailored.

Have you chosen an Indian middle name for your girl yet? I think Indian names are some of the most beautiful names I've heard for women. It might help posters to come up with suggestions (I must admit I love the name-suggestion game!) if you give us a sense of the direction you're taking . . . any contenders?

Regarding Firefly: is Inara the "Companion" character? I always thought, based on pronunciation, that her name would be written "Enora." Interesting.
And isn't she "white" (kind of a hard designation to make, I think)? Maybe I'm being blind here . . .

By Katharine (not verified)
September 10, 2007 5:56 PM

Wow! Renata is a name I've never thought about, thanks for suggesting it Liz Penn - I love it!

The other Kate mentioned Rihanna, but I have to say that I'm really not into that which is partly due to its surge in popularity because of the pop star but mainly because to me Rihanna looks like a misspelling of the Welsh name Rhiana.

Eo: I'm not sure about Renny as its a little too close to Rennie (is this just a British thing?) which is a brand of medication to help constipation! ;-)

By Meg (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:02 PM

Girl's middle name: I'm not really fixed on anything yet, but as an example, one name I'm considering is Amrit or Amrita. I'm looking specifically at Punjabi names. Oh, and also, the last name is Wilson.

By RobynT (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:06 PM

I know a boy named Reyn who is in high school or college right now.

Annika is an Indian name? Is it also like Swedish or German or something? I'm thinking of the golfer. Are they both pronounced the same?

Re: Inara: I just went by what she looked like in the IMDb photo. I *think* she looked like... Latina or something but definitely not sure.

By Hillary (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:07 PM

How are Amrit and Amrita pronounced? They are both beautiful!

By lizpenn (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:12 PM

I knew a Punjabi woman named Darshan (accent on the first syllable), which I thought was a great, elegant name. Amrit is really pretty, but the opening "A" would make a first name ending in "A" a little hard to say.

By lizpenn (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:13 PM

I knew a Punjabi woman named Darshan (accent on the first syllable), which I thought was a great, elegant name. Amrit is really pretty, but the opening "A" would make a first name ending in "A" a little hard to say.

By Valerie (not verified)
September 10, 2007 6:28 PM

I'm not sure about Pheasant as a name, but I do like Linnet. It was the name of a girl in a children's book I loved ( by Elizabeth Goudge??).
Wren is cute... unless you end up six feet tall and 300 lbs!

Yesterday I was reading an article about Miles Axe Copeland III who's an entertainment executive. His kids are Miles Axe IV (of course), Aeson Armstrong, and Axton Emerson.I thought of Laura's post about the trend for leaving off the first letter of names to make new ones when I saw Aeson and Axton!

By Christiana (not verified)
September 10, 2007 7:03 PM

I'm a little behind on the Leia/Leah conversation that started out the beginning of the comments, but I would alway pronounce Leia as they did in Star Wars just because it's so familiar to me. I'd have no problem with being corrected, but initially, I would always say "Lay-uh". Leah is a biblical name and while the first person I knew using the pronunciation Lee-uh dropped the "h", it is traditionally pronounced that way. It goes back to fairly early in the Old Testament (Jacob's first wife) so it's got quite a history there.
On the Lee-luh subject, my grandmother was Lelah - something I always assumed was a kre8tive spelling back in the 1910's, but was actualy halfway up the charts around the turn of the century (which would have been a decade or two before she was born, but still enough to have been seen by her parents or something). Lela had a longer run, peaking in the 1900's at 138 and running in the top 1000 until the 1960s.

By Catherine (not verified)
September 10, 2007 7:09 PM

Robyn, Anika is an Indian male and female name meaning splendor, brilliance, and army front but the only Indian Anika I know is a woman. Annika is a Swedish name. Pronounced by Americans they sounds the same although both sounds prettier in their native tongues and slightly different (my MIL pronounces it with an emphasis on the "i" that makes it sounds like On-EEE-ka).

By Louise (not verified)
September 10, 2007 7:33 PM

I loved those Richter books! The Luckett kids were Sayward, Genny, Achsa, Wyitt, and Sulie, and the parents were Worth and Jary.

Meg, I think Renee's datedness isn't really such a problem; to me it doesn't sound frumpy the way some of those names (Denise, e.g.) do...but I do think it suits a certain type of woman, like a no-nonsense, slightly glamorous businesswoman. It is a grown-up French name. I know a Renee who is sort of mousy and sloppy and I don't think it suits her at all.

By Mary (not verified)
September 10, 2007 7:41 PM

This is just regarding the ethnicities of Firefly characters (and actors.) Inara was played by Morena Baccarin who is Brazilian/Italian. Zoe was played by Gina Torres who is of African-Cuban descent. Shepard Book was played by Ron Glass who is African American. The other main characters are played by white actors of various European/Canadian/American descents.
In the Firefly world Chinese is a very strong influence.

By Uhura (not verified)
September 10, 2007 7:46 PM

Jane Amrita Wilson?
Charlotte Amrita Wilson?
Robin Amrita Wilson?
Mabel Amrita Wilson?
Frances Amrita Wilson?

I rather like the Jane--it 'matches' the boy's name you've chosen in sound and initials. Jane Wilson might be too generic though. I stayed with standard, not-trendy names, and avoided -a endings.

By marjorie (not verified)
September 10, 2007 8:30 PM

For Meg - the only Indian family I knew (from Delhi) had daughters Ragoni (pronounced RAH-go-knee) and Nazneen.

By LKB (not verified)
September 10, 2007 9:11 PM


My favorite Indian name is Anamika -- similar to Anika/Annika mentioned above, sounding more similar to the Swedish name. Pronounced a-NAHM-i-kah (almost as if it were an anagram of Monica, plus an extra syllable in front -- does that make sense?). Amrita is also beautiful, and I've always been partial to Priya and Divya,...Arya is nice as well. I don't know if any of these are Punjabi. To add to/second the list of crossover names, I've known Indian women named Sonia/Sonya, Selena, Serena, Leela (an Indian name that fits into the American trends, as per the previous conversation!), Rina, Tara, and Natasha (that one seemed odd). Also, a Dina (nn. for the Indian name Aditi).

By Emily (not verified)
September 10, 2007 9:23 PM

Help …someone from church stole our boys name! OK so they didn’t really steal it because we havent told anyone our names but they just used it and now I feel I cant since our kids will be so close in age and in all the same activities together.

The name was Asher, and I have loved it ever since I read “The Giver” as a kid. I am very disappointed that it is becoming so popular. So my problem is that I cant really find any other boys names that I like. Our last name is Brown which to me is really a generic last name and it needs something a little less generic to go along with it.

We are not due until February and we are not finding out the gender but I would really like to go in with at least 4 names for girls and 4 names for boys. I dont like anything!

I am doing much better on my girls name list:

By sdh (not verified)
September 10, 2007 9:29 PM

Meg -- I have always liked the Indian names Priya and Anjali. I also know an Indian woman named Praggya, which is not as common, and nice. I don't know if any of these are Punjabi or not, though.

By sdh (not verified)
September 10, 2007 9:31 PM

Emily, how about Asa? It's a great old-fashioned boys' name that is not too common, but still has similar sound to Asher.

By Eleni (not verified)
September 10, 2007 9:52 PM

Meg - how funny you should mention Amrita, as that was one of two I was going to mention (the other being Shaila) as especially lovely favorites. I have a friend Amrita who is from Kasmir, and she may have influenced my feelings for the name (she's bright and elegant and beautiful).

I personally think both Amrita and Shaila work well as first names - neither poses much of a problem as far as pronunciation, and both are very similar to some fairly well-known western names.
I thought about using Shaila myself.

I'll try and come up with some sugestions for first names that go well with Amrita. How exciting for you, by the way. Congratulations!

By cabo (not verified)
September 10, 2007 10:24 PM

Meg - two girls of Indian heritage at the school where I teach are Sahana and Rashi.

By RobynT (not verified)
September 10, 2007 10:33 PM

Is Indian pronunciation Ah-NEE-kah and Scandinavian AH-nick-kah?

By LKB (not verified)
September 10, 2007 11:05 PM

RobynT, that's the way I've heard each name pronounced, respectively.

sdh, I forgot about Anjali, another beautiful name! I also like Rashi. I had never liked the name Roopa much, but I know a woman named Roopa who embodies power, grace, intelligence, kindness and so many other good qualities that I have grown to see Roopa as a lovely, strong name. I know that's my own personal association, but I thought I'd throw the name out there. I think it's pretty and pronounceable, and kind of fits in with Ruby... in fact, Ruby could be a nn.

Emily, I second the Asa suggestion. How about Augustin? I know it gets thrown around a lot, and I can't get a good sense of your style with boys' names, but somehow for me it fits with Asher. Good luck!

By Eleni (not verified)
September 10, 2007 11:37 PM

Okay, keeping in mind your preferences (not invented, not too trendy) and fondness for certain letters:

Tamsin Amrita Wilson
Helene Amrita Wilson
Rachel Amrita Wilson
Penelope Amrita Wilson
Josephine Amrita Wilson
Jocelyn Amrita Wilson

I also like the Hindu name Rhada. I think it's great, in the *brisk and breezy* tradition!

By Tirzah (not verified)
September 11, 2007 1:15 AM

The local paper did a story on the number of twins and triplets entering the school system this year. One of the twin sets were named Olivia and Odelia. The names are so similar in sound and spelling, yet they are so different in popularity and style. I thought it was interesting!

Does anyone know if it is pronounced "O-DELL-ee-ah" or "O-DEEL-ee-ah"?

By Anne (not verified)
September 11, 2007 2:28 AM

I think it's O-deel-ia... but Odelia and Olivia? I really dislike it when twins have such similar names.

On Wren: I know a Ren, whose actual name is Lauren, so that might be another source of the Rens.

On Amrita and Shaila: I like Amrita a lot, but if Shaila is pronounced like 'Shay-la' I think it sounds a little too trendy. How is it pronounced?

Anyway, a little off-topic, but a new favorite band of mine is called Tegan and Sara, twin girls who both sing and play guitar. I was reading their bio and their full names are Tegan Rain and Sara Kirsten, and I was wondering if other people thought it weird that their parents would give them so vastly different names. Does it seem like they were expecting one to be kind of tomboy-ish and the other kind of girly?

By Eleni (not verified)
September 11, 2007 2:58 AM

On Shaila: the Shaila I knew pronounced it Shy-la. I agree that Shay-la isn't as nice.

By cindy (not verified)
September 11, 2007 3:40 AM

I would like to know what everyone thinks of the name Grey for a boy. And do you prefer it spelt Grey or Gray. Do you think people would connect it to Grey's anatomy?
opinions are HIGHLY appreciated. thanks.

By Tiffany (not verified)
September 11, 2007 4:19 AM

I'm the commenter who wants to name my little girl "Leela". My husband and I have decided to spell it "Lela", yay!. Now if we could only agree on a mn. He wants Eleanor (his sister is the Italian Eleonora), but I am voting for Evangeline. I don't want a family name. I feel one side or another will feel left out if they are not honored as well in the name of our child.

I wanted to mention that while I'm not sure the Tams (Firefly) were supposed to be part Chinese, they look like they come from a mixed family. I've always suspected Summer Glau (the actress who played River Tam) was Eurasian, and I just found out she is. I wonder if she was picked specifically for that. I myself am Eurasian, so I have a knack for spotting other Eurasians.

BTW - I love Renata instead of Rene. I have an Italian friend with this mn and while she hated it because in Italy it's one of those "used to be popular now an older name", it sounded beautiful to me. I think just as names cycle here, it'll cycle soon in Italy.

By enbee (not verified)
September 11, 2007 4:57 AM

Re the Renee conversation, I went to school with a few (born in the 70's) and they were all hideous! It's not an awful name though, just not good memories for me.

I know two women of Indian decent named Rhada and Rhana, thought that may be of interest as someone else mentioned Rhada.

I like Grey over Gray but not at sure about either. They are kind of cool names though. Does remind me of both the show and the textbook, not a big deal though. Much better than Grayson!

Tiffany, I like Evangeline better as a mn for Lela.

By Laney (not verified)
September 11, 2007 11:19 AM

I really like Eleanor better than Evangeline. Evangeline bothers me a lot as a name...I mean, unless you are Christian and you're trying to make a point.

You could go with Nora or Eve. Honor the other side with your next kid!

I personally like when a middle name means something to somebody. Like the name Renee (I wonder why it's so hated--is it an 70's Madison??) over used as a common middle name it means nothing. To me it's almost a waste to just choose some random middle name for your child. What does Renee mean to all those Michelle Renees and Jennifer Renees? Nothing besides an annoying middle name.

By Laney (not verified)
September 11, 2007 11:21 AM

And the only 70's name more annoying than Renee to me is Desiree.

By Arlene F (not verified)
September 11, 2007 11:23 AM

Tiffany--I would go with Evangeline. I love the name Eleanor and its variants, but Lela Eleanor is just too many Ls together--starts sounding like la-la-la.

By Arlene F (not verified)
September 11, 2007 11:29 AM

"Evangeline bothers me a lot as a name...I mean, unless you are Christian and you're trying to make a point."

I really had to stop and think where the connection was there and finally got it...oh, yeah, evangelical.
My first association w/ Evangeline was the Longfellow poem. I'd be curious to know what other people thought of.

By Mama Luxe (not verified)
September 11, 2007 12:44 PM

I just re-read Neuromancer...such an interesting book. I think that the jarring names was in part an absorption of different genres that somewhat influence the book and also creates an idea of a "frontier," where so many classes and nationalities are mixing.


I like Elliot Asher. Sounds different and I have positive associations with Asher--although it is a Jewish sounding name so if you are not Jewish, something to consier.

I also like Eliot Walker.

If you want to be less unusual, I like Eliot Alexander.

I prefer Quentin as a first name and I don't think Cassius fits at all.

Augustus is VERY weighty. As a middle name for Elliot, sounds too much like a character in a novel. My daughter was born in August and I suggested Augusta to my husband but he nixed it.

I prefer James to Jack, but am not that excited about either.

By kristi (not verified)
September 11, 2007 12:47 PM

I do see Evangeline as a very Christian name, like Bethany and Trinity. The words evangel and gospel are synonymous - dictionary definition "the good tidings of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ" or more broadly "good news".
Makes me wonder, has anyone named a child Gospel yet? I wouldn't be surprised.

By kristin dawn (not verified)
September 11, 2007 1:45 PM

No matter the actors' heritage, the names River and Simon are not Asian sounding. And when they flashbacked to their parents, the actors playing the parents were whiter than Wonder Bread. The names chosen for the characters were based on trying to convey a certain personality more than the idea of the future, but I think it detracts from the effect somehow.

Even though I am a huge JW fan, I don't always think he picks the best character names. Harmony and Cordelia for super-popular 90's girls? Tara for a witch? And Zoe for a tough African American soldier?

Switching subjects, my first son is named Wyatt after the Richter books, long before the bump in Wyatt popularity. I had a (male) HS teacher who loaned me the books from his personal collection. I doubt you could get away with that kind of thing nowadays, so sad.

Trinity is popular due more to the Matrix movies than any Christian connotation, don't you think?

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
September 11, 2007 2:35 PM

I know of one little Trinity (aged 2). Her parents aren't religious at all, but named her that because they only plan on having one child, and considered that with her birth, they were a complete family of three.

By kristi (not verified)
September 11, 2007 2:56 PM

I like that use of Trinity for a family of three. I guess the Matrix did launch this name, but it seems like one that Christian families will latch onto now that it has popped up. Does anyone else know a little Trinity?

By Penn (not verified)
September 11, 2007 3:08 PM

Of course, the Spanish name Trinidad (which translates to Trinity) is traditional, from long, long before The Matrix. (It's rarely in the US top 1000, though.)

Oh, here's a tidbit--the island of Trinidad had a previous, native name, Kairi.

By kristin dawn (not verified)
September 11, 2007 3:10 PM

Yes, I know a Trinity born within a couple of months after the Matrix, and not to show my age or anything, but I seriously think I was on hand for the naming of first Madison, after the mermaid in the movie Splash, literally weeks after the mother saw the movie.

On another topic, isn't Geordi an actual name? I know of a Jordi from Spain as well. Star Trek is one futuristic show that gives their characters old-sounding names. Leonard, James, Beverly?? It works somehow - maybe that which is timeless in human culture, has endured? Or maybe it's just to distinguish clearly between humans and aliens - could you tell offhand if someone named Suri is human?

By Arlene F (not verified)
September 11, 2007 3:19 PM

And if the family of three with a Trinity had another child, what would it be? Quattro? Tetra?

kristin dawn--Geordie is a Scots nn for George. Also, I taught a Jordi in jr hi back in the late 60s.

By Amy A (not verified)
September 11, 2007 3:23 PM

To Cindy; sorry but I really don't like Grey or Gray for a boy (or a girl, for that matter!). It is such a bleak colour. It feels more like a word or a surname, not something to call a loved one. Just an opinion.

"I know of one little Trinity (aged 2). Her parents aren't religious at all, but named her that because they only plan on having one child, and considered that with her birth, they were a complete family of three."

Oooh, I do not like that at all! I hate when people name kids after things like this; as bad, in my opinion, as conception place names. It's naming to make a point, and doesn't let the child have anything of a blank slate.

I do like Evangeline; it's so beautiful and although religious in meaning, not obvious. I wouldn't consider Bethany a particularly 'Christian' name either; I see it more of an elaboration of Bethan, and a pretty sound. I'm sure that there are those who choose it for its Biblical roots though.

By Valerie (not verified)
September 11, 2007 4:11 PM

I met a girl named Tertia (TER-sha) which also means third.I don't know if she was the third child. I don't actually like it, as it reminds me of the word terse. Trinity has a much prettier sound, at least.

By Irene's mom (not verified)
September 11, 2007 5:00 PM

Cindi- I knew a Greydon (or Graydon, don't know how he spelled it) years ago. I think it's a little better than just Grey, but you could use Grey or Grady as nns.
Emily- Since Asher was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, I thought about Reuben, Simeon, Levi(though Strauss seems to have claimed it), Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan (well that doesn't spruce up Brown), Gad, and Nephtali (a little femine to my ear). Just throwing some names out there for you!