August Kopff’s 68 asteroids; anything trending today? (Part One)

September 16, 2011 § 7 Comments

Researching my post on Pippa, I happened upon the minor planet discovered by German astronomer August Kopff in 1907. Of the 68 asteroids and minor planets he was credited with discovering between 1901 and 1909, I noted that at least 41 could be considered for a girl (and then I started and I realized there were even more possibilities), and I thought us namers might have fun with it! A few more could be considered for boys. What do you think of the names below? (Four part series, for the sake of longevity.) I freely offer my own advice here, feel free to offer yours!

Kopff became Director of the Institute for Astronomical Calculation at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the asteroid 11631 Kopff is named for him, as is a crater on the Moon.

I never really considered how like naming hurricanes it can be to name and track the millions of celestial bodies in our solar system! I can also appreciate the thought that goes into each name.

Kopff’s choices, in the order in which they were discovered (pay no mind to the numbering):

692 Hippodamia (November 5, 1901)
Kopff discovered his first asteroid with his friend and colleague Max Wolf. It was given the provisional name 1901 HD, which probably inspired their selection – Hippodamia. In Greek mythology, she was the wife of Pelops, King of Pisa and Peloponnesus. Their lives and children were cursed after Pelops fixed a chariot race intended to win her hand in marriage, but ended in death.

There isn’t much to say; the second half of this name survives moderately, and the first half has disappeared. The name may have been created from the Greek hippos (horse), and Damia was a Goddess of Forces of Nature in mythology.

542 Susanna (August 15, 1904)
Kopff discovered this asteroid with fellow astronomer Paul Gotz, and Gotz named it after a friend of his in Heidelberg. Derived from the Hebrew Shoshana, meaning “lily,” it appeared in the Old Testament as Susannah, the wife of Joachim. The name was selected by William Shakespeare for one of his daughters, and has had lingering success in Britain – 20th Century English actresses Susannah Harker and York have kept the name out there.

Susan, which is a short form of Susanna, was one of the most well-used names of the 20th Century, and Susanna could be seen as giving an old tradition a new spin, but so far Susanna hasn’t caught on among the masses. Equally, this name could be viewed as plenty old fashioned. 19th Century minstrel song “Oh! Susanna” by Stephen Foster remains a traditional folk song today. It’s said Foster wrote the song for his men’s club, and it was first performed by a quartet in front of Andrews’ Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1847 (published 1848). Not familiar? Here’s a very non-traditional version performed by James Taylor and Johnny Cash to make you swoon!

579 Sidonia (November 3, 1905)
This asteroid was named for a character, Sidonie, in Jean-Baptiste Lully’s 17th Century opera, Armide. Some claim, however, that Kopff was actually directly inspired by a theatrical remake produced in the 18th Century by German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. Soprano Sidonie was a confidant to the titular character in both productions.

Sidonia (pronounced Sid-OWN-ya) is a Latin name meaning “from Sidon,” one of the most important Phoenician cities (perhaps even the oldest, and Phoenicians dominated the Middle East from 1550 to about 300 BC), and today it’s the third-largest city in Lebanon. In 2006, British rock band Muse released “Knights of Cydonia,” though in this case Cydonia is in reference to the region of Mars that bears it’s name (“the face on Mars”), which was named for Kydonia, a city-state on the Greek island of Crete (modern-day Chania). Saint Sidonius Apollinaris, a poet and bishop, has been regarded as “the single most important surviving author from Fifth Century Gaul (France),” whose historic accounts have survived to today in great quantity. The husband of Papianilla, daughter of Western Roman Emperor Avitus, Sidonius resided in the centre of Roman affairs and so he’s regarded as a valuable historian.

The name also bears a striking resemblance to the modern, popular Sydney – generally understood to be an Old English name, it means “wide island.” Though the name is English, it’s essentially now an ‘Australian’ name, in that their largest city immediately comes to mind.

584 Semiramis (January 15, 1906)
Semiramis is the Greek name for Shammuramat, twice the name of an Assyrian queen. Assyria made up much of Asia and the Middle East until it fell around 600 BC. Semiramis II was the wife of Assyrian King Shamshi-Adad V (though some suggest she was only given the name Semiramis posthumously, as a tribute to an earlier Sumerian deity) who ruled Assyria in Ninth Century BC on her own after the death of her husband. Legend states that Semiramis was a talented botanist and alchemist, and founded the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – sometimes referred to in Greece as the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis, they are regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This telling, unfortunately, goes against other texts which claim that the Hanging Gardens, at the foot of the Tower of Babel (where languages collide), were commissioned by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in 500 BC. Semiramis’ garden may in fact have been the gardens at Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in what is present-day Iraq, which have previously been confused with the Babylonian gardens. This, of course, assumes that Semiramis was more than a mythological figure, which some will claim as texts provide such varying facts on her existence, as well as the questionable fate that Semiramis turned into a dove when she died. (You can’t necessarily take ancient texts so literally, religious or otherwise. As we are such fans of cliche or hyperbole in writing today, some ‘facts’ that seem questionable or impossible may only just be reference to a style.)

Though Assyrians still use Semiramis as a baby name today – various hotels throughout Greece and the Middle East bear her name, as does a brand of Middle Eastern pastries – it isn’t trending. But what about Semira? The short form of our long and regal name, it (and Semiramis) in Assyrian means “highest heaven.” Note that changing even one letter to achieve a pleasing modern take will alter the meaning significantly. Samira in Arabic means “evening conversationalist,” and Samara, of Hebrew and Arabic origin, means “protected by God” but may also mean “night talk,” like Samira.

582 Olympia (January 23, 1906)
When astronomers first began discovering asteroids, minor planets, comets and other organic materials orbiting the Sun with Earth, they stuck to a naming pattern that honoured Greek or Roman mythological heroes, preceded by a number. But as they began to discover more and more items, astronomers ran out of selections and began submitting name choices to honour wives, children, pets, literary heroes, and even TV characters. It was necessary to start looking elsewhere; the total number of designated asteroids or minor planets eclipsed 118,000 in 2005.

But Kopff stuck to tradition, selecting the Greek name Olympia for his third discovery. Though O names are trendy, Olympia is not. Greek for “from Mount Olympus,” it describes anyone from Greece’s storied peak. It was the ‘home’ of the 12 Olympian gods of Greek mythology, including ruler of the gods, Zeus, and is the origin of the Olympic Games, which started in ancient times as a festival of athleticism in tribute to those gods. American actress Olympia Dukakis provides a modern female representation of the name, though that’s hardly inspired its use of late. It was bestowed upon the daughter of Crown Prince Pavlos, the deposed former heir presumptive to an abolished Greek throne. He and wife Marie-Chantal Miller honoured his homeland by calling their daughter Maria-Olympia in 1996. Her name literally translates to “star of the sea from Mount Olympus.” Cool, quirky!

585 Bilkis (February 16, 1906)
Following his selection (Semiramis) for an ancient queen of the Middle East one month earlier, Kopff chose Bilkis for his sixth discovery. In ancient texts, the legendary Queen of Sheba ruled over what is now either Ethiopia or Yemen, historians can’t be positive. The Qu’ran referred to Sheba as Bilquis, a Semitic ruler. They wrote that Bilquis came from the land of Saba, where they worshiped the sun instead of God. Suleiman demanded she submit to the teachings of Allah, but Sheba was unsure how to respond. She asked her advisors, and returned a letter that said her people were of “great toughness,” and ready to fight if necessary, and told him she feared the possibility that he was “entering a country, despoiling it and making the most honorable of its people its lowest.” She agreed to meet with him to learn more, and the Prophet Suleiman (Israeli King Solomon) told his men to bring him her throne before she arrived. One succeeded “in the blink of an eye,” as promised. When Bilquis arrived to court, Suleiman presented her throne and asked if she knew it. She replied, “It is as though it were it,” and upon entering his crystal palace she submitted to Abrahamic monotheism.

Bilkis is the more common spelling today, and though rare, this name did pop up on a Muslim Indian woman named Bilkis Banu, a tragic figure of recent international news. She was savagely raped and beaten in the post-Ghodra riots of 2002 at five months pregnant, while her family was murdered in front of her after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims coming from the holy city of Ayodhya was set on fire at Ghodhra station on February 27, 2002, killing 59. It was followed by religiously motivated rioting in surrounding Gujarat, India, where hundreds of Muslims and Hindus were killed. Banu has been tirelessly fighting in the courts for the 18 men who participated to be put to justice, alienating her family and friends for taking it on so strongly.

On all kinds of levels, this is a heavy name to give a kid.

596 Scheila (February 21, 1906)
Kopff selected this recognizable moniker for an English student at the University of Heidelberg who was a friend of his. Just last year, this 112-kilometre wide asteroid sparked interest among astronomers when it sprouted a “tail,” and some questioned if a piece of space rock could become an active comet – and if it could, what might that mean on earth? Earlier this year scientists concluded that Scheila‘s collision with another space object sent dust and other particles into the surrounding atmosphere, making her look like a comet.

Generally spelled Sheila, the name is of Irish Gaelic origin from the word sile and means “blind.” It’s not trending now, but close cousins like Shayla and Shaylie are. Sheila has been on the decline in North America since it peaked in the US Top 10 in 1960. It was once a common term for an Australian woman Down Under, which sprang up because so many Irish emigrated to Australia and chose the popular name for their daughters in the 19th Century. The term has fallen out of fashion in recent years, though, for being slightly improper, and it’s use Down Under as a first name long ago faded out of fashion. (Thank you Anna over at Waltzing More Than Matilda!)

589 Croatia (March 3, 1906)
Kopff selected this name at the suggestion of his colleague Max Wolf, in honour of the foundation of the Astronomical Observatory of the Croatian Natural Sciences Society in Zagreb, which had become an honourable donor to their research.

While a few countries have found their way to birth certificates (New Zealand, Jordan, Kenya, Georgia), Croatia really hasn’t. But as it becomes a more popular international tourism destination, that may change. Maybe.

591 Irmgard (March 14, 1906)
Fittingly for a space name, the female name Irmgard/e is a variation on the ancient Germanic name Irmen, which means “universal.” That Dr. Kopff was a pretty careful namer, right after our own hearts it seems!

Irmgard is a bit of a tough sell these days, even soundalike, better-known Ingrid has always hung around just short of being exactly on trend outside Scandinavia. Ingrid is Old Norse for “Ing’s beauty.” In Norse mythology, Ing was the god of earth’s fertility, and he rode the land each year to prepare it for spring planting. ‘Ing’s beauty’ was probably in reference to the harvest, but Ingrid may also mean “meadow.”

593 Titania (March 20, 1906)
Kopff’s discovery of an asteroid on the famed belt resulted in the name Titania, after the fairy queen of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare juxtaposed Titania’s tiny stature by giving her a name that in Greek means “giant.” Kopff’s use may also have been a tribute to the largest moon of Uranus, named Titania after the fairy upon discovery in 1787 by German-born British astronomer William Herschel.

Fairy queens provide minimal or novelty influence over name selection (Tinkerbelle?), and Titania is also burdened by it’s phonetic similarity to Titanic, the fateful ocean liner, and the second highest-grossing movie of all time. Besides, what if your daughter grows up to be quite tall (or short), and has to answer to a name that means giant? The male form, Titan, means “powerful big man” in Greek, and the Titans were a group of warriors, including Atlas, who wore the weight of the world on his shoulders. Sam Worthington starred in the hit 2010 film Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 British classic starring Laurence Olivier and Dame Maggie Smith. Former MTV Real Worlder Derrick Kosinski welcomed son Derrick Titan Awesome Kosinski in 2008. (About Awesome, Derrick says, “It means the best of everything. It’s powerful.”)

595 Polyxena (March 27, 1906)
Another selection from Greek mythology, Kopff named this asteroid (pronounced paw-LEE-ksay-na) for the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy and Queen Hecuba. An oracle had told the family that the kingdom of Troy (in modern day Turkey) would not be defeated in the famed Trojan War if their young son Troilus survived to age 20, but one day Polyxena and Troilus were out to fetch water from a fountain when they were ambushed by the Greek army and Troilus was killed. She later befriended Greek warrior Achilles, who admired her intelligence and class. He grew to trust her and revealed his one weakness – his heel. Polyxena shared this information with her brothers, seeking revenge for Troilus’ death and that of the eldest and heir presumptive, Hector, as well as the slaughter of their people. The second son, Paris, shot Achilles fatally in the heel with a poisoned arrow.

The Greeks still succeeded in conquering Troy, and while some claim Polyxena committed suicide, wrecked with guilt following Achilles death, Euripides tells the story of her death a little differently. The ghost of Achilles returned to the Greeks and informed them they would get the wind they needed to sail back to the port of Hellas if Polyxena was presented as a human sacrifice to the gods. Priam and Hecuba tried to object, but Polyxena said she would rather die as a sacrifice than die as a slave to the Greeks. She refused to beg Odysseus for her life, or be treated in any other way than as a princess. She was killed at the foot of Achilles’ grave by his son Neoptolemus.

Polly and Xena are both recognizable names, but there’s nothing entirely trendy about either of them, with the possible exception, of course, of Polly’s similarity to popular Irish name Molly.

754 Malabar (August 22, 1906)
Like Croatia, Kopff looked to the map for his next name – and selected it after the beach-heavy Malabar Coast in what is now southwestern India. The region is a cosmpolitan port centre with a strong mix of cultures – Hindus with Tomas Christians, Cochin Jews, and Muslims.

1780 Kippes (September 12, 1906)
This main-belt asteroid was named after amateur German astronomer Otto Kippes, noted for his work in asteroid orbit calculations, but Kopff didn’t select it. The moniker was given to the asteroid long after Kopff’s death as a tribute to Kippes, who died in 1994. While Kippes isn’t considered a first name, there is Kip. It’s long had a reputation as a posh Upper West Side or Sloane Street nickname to something much more familial, unwearable, or out of fashion like Archibald or Harrington. American film director Todd “Kip” Williams is married to actress Gretchen Mol, and they’ve got two kids with fascinating names: son Ptolemy John, 3, and daughter Winter Morgan, born in February. 20th Century American comedian Ernie Kovacs had daughter Kip Raleigh in 1949, called Kippie and talk about naming ahead of the times! Fun fact: Kippie Kovacs went on to have a daughter called Keigh (pronounced key).

There’s always Kipling, which has stirred some interest. Grey’s Anatomy star Kim Raver had son Leo Kipling in October 2007. Rudyard Kipling created classics from The Jungle Book to Gunga Din, but he fueled racist imperialism with his work, too.

606 Brangaene (September 18, 1906)
Kopff chose the name Brangaene for a character in German composer Richard Wagner’s 19th Century opera Tristan and Isolde. Brangaene is the faithful maid of Irish princess Isolde, who keeps watch when Isolde falls in love with Tristan, a Breton nobleman and adopted son of Marke, the King of Cornwall, to whom Isolde is engaged to be married.

Brangäne is Welsh for “white raven,” from bran (raven) + gwen (white). Off the map in comparison to similar names like Bronwyn, it’s another obscure operatic reference of which Kopff seemed so fond.

607 Jenny (September 18, 1906)
This asteroid, and the next, Adolfine, were both named for Kopff’s friend, Jenny Adolfine Kessler. He named them in celebration of her recently announced engagement. In much of the English-speaking world (and Sweden), knowing a Jennifer and/or a Jenny is to be expected. It’s been a name within the Top 100 in the US, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Australia, and Sweden, only dropping out of the Top 100 in each country in the 2000s. It was a Top 10 name in the US for over 30 years from 1960.

Because everyone knows a Jenny, everyone has a picture of this name already in their head. And if you don’t know a Jenny, you might know that Jenny was the prettiest name Forrest Gump could think of, and he named 12 shrimp boats after the love of his life and mother of his son. Jennifer is a Welsh name meaning “fair and smooth,” derived from gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), meaning “white waves.” And don’t count out this name yet – it’s still within the US Top 200, and will be popping up as a middle name-in-tribute for years to come!

608 Adolfine (September 18, 1906)
An alternative of the Germanic name Adolf, from adal (noble, honourable) + wulf (wolf), Adolfine (pronounced adul-feen) is on trend with other feminine Ad- names so popular this year (Adele, Adelaide, Addison – a Top 20 pick), but outside of French and Dutch speaking countries Adolfine/Adolphine is rare. It’s close connection to Adolf, which may suffer forever courtesy of Adolf Hitler, could also hurt it’s chances in the Western world.

Delphine, French for “dolphin” and a cousin name of Adolfine, was recently chosen by German popstar Sarah Connor for her third child, daughter Delphine Malou, and is slightly more on trend.

612 Veronika (October 8, 1906)
Kopff chose a Slavic spelling of the name Veronica, but it’s not clear what inspired him this time. This name reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s, and since has been dwindling inside the US Top 1000 to now sit just inside the Top 300. It dropped off the Top 100 in Canada in 2004, and had long since fallen elsewhere. The name could be found all over Europe thanks to its ties to Christianity: Saint Veronica was known in the age of Jesus Christ as a pious woman in Jerusalem who took pity and offered him a cloth on the way to his crucifixion. Christ is said to have wiped his face, and immediately afterward his face appeared in the cloth – Christ’s ‘true image.’ But she was called Beronike or Berenike in various texts, and Bernice is a Greek name meaning “victory bringer.” Though the Latin meaning of Veronica – which is “true image” – is from the words vera (true) + eikon (icon; image), it’s also a Latin form of Bernice, and likely why she was canonized under her Roman name.

In the 20th Century, the name Veronica became synonymous with beauty, whether in the form of movie star Veronica Lake, or Archie’s gorgeous raven-haired girlfriend Veronica Lodge, who famously fought blonde best friend, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, for his affections. In life, they’d say, you were either a Betty or you were a Veronica.

Lists like this make me think I should’ve been an astronomer; it would be like getting to name 68 children without the poop or teenage years.


§ 7 Responses to August Kopff’s 68 asteroids; anything trending today? (Part One)

  • Polly is getting “on trend” here, but Polyxena would be a very bold long form for it.

    I have seen a toddler called Titania recently. I always think of TItanias as redheads, I expect because of the painter Titian.

    Overall, apart from Jenny and Susannah, some pretty exotic baby name choices from the world of astronomy!

    • namemuststay says:

      I’m not familiar with Titian’s work, so for me the fairy does factor in. I think for me, Shakespeare picked that name as a joke, so I think of it as a character name, not a real name. Do you know if the Titania you saw had a nickname? I’m curious what it might be – Tita (tee-ta)? Tania? I know that Titania takes little effort to actually say, but it feels heavy, I guess.

      I’ve noticed there are more Polly’s in Britain and Down Under, it really isn’t entirely popular here in North America. We’re still stuck in bed with Molly or, to a much lesser extent but still viable, Holly.

      • I believe the young Titania went by Tia.

        May be inspired by the fact Tatiana has become a rather voguey name here; they may have thought Titania sounded similar enough and yet different enough.

      • namemuststay says:

        Tia is sweet, I like that; and over here, too, Tatiana isn’t trending but definitely on the list for people who like something that sounds a bit regal without being old-fashioned!

  • Eponymia says:

    These are fabulous — clearly Kopff was a namer. My favorites are Susanna, Olympia, Malabar and Veronika. I also dig Adolfine, but I am a sucker for “-ine” names. Bilkis makes me think of a name I’ve seen before — Belkis. I first came across it as a Turkish name but have seen it used in the Hispanic community, too.

  • Nory says:

    I think the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was written by Joseph Conrad rather than Rudyard Kipling. Very interesting list!

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