Naming the Moons

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Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais (1851-1852)

For my mother’s 50th birthday, we bought her a star. Though arbitrary, I remember the immense amount of pressure that I felt when I was trying to give the star a name, knowing that (at least in our household) I was participating in the excavation of the final frontier, putting a little mark in my mother’s honor on outer space. Eventually, we just called it Ellen, in honor of my mother as well.

This is partially why I was so drawn to the names of the moons, aside from their obvious creativity and originality; how did they (whoever they were) choose? What did these names mean? Particularly the Jovian moons, and particularly, the moons of Uranus. William Shakespeare penned carefully the plays which inspired the names of Uranus’ moons, but what about these characters did the astronomers find so apt as to name the moons after them? We may never truly be able to know the answer to that question, but it is certainly interesting to look at the figures that they chose. Cordelia, Ophelia, Desdemona, and Juliet are all women who die for/at the hands of a man who they love, who has wronged them. The feminist in me takes pause at this, with the male Uranus (God of the Sky) and his fragile, female moons. I appreciate the reference, but am not sure I agree with the characterizations. In fact, of the many moons of Uranus, only a few are men. And those men are strong, mischievous, and full of their own sort of fire. Again, the feminist takes pause. Perhaps it is the overwhelming prevalence of men in the sciences, or perhaps it is an inherent and historical consideration of the feminine and delicate nature of the moon which should be questioned; regardless, whether it has to do with William Shakespeare or NASA, it is interesting to think about who was chosen, and why.

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One thought on “Naming the Moons

  1. I used to have the same thought as yours, but not quite. I have a passion for Greek and Roman history, gods and goddesses. These things has managed to fascinate me in a way that I cannot really explain, they are awesome! When I first learned that our planets are the Roman names for Greek gods and goddesses, I was intrigued. For example, Mercury was the Roman name for the Greek messenger of god, Hermes and Venus was the Roman name for the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Just how did the astronomers, or the ancient explorers named these planets? Or did they idea just popped out of nowhere? There must be a reason behind it, as everything is build upon reasons and consequences.

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