Unless you’ve been living in a black hole, you’re probably aware that a few short months ago, the world was abuzz over the first-ever photograph of one. A black hole, that is.
That’s absolutely amazing, but what makes it even better is that there was a woman behind it: computer scientist, Dr. Katie Bouman. This is no small feat, especially in a male-dominated field, and we are soooo here for it.
So in the spirit of badass women in STEM, we’ve put together a list of baby girl names inspired by the women — past and present — who have pioneered research and made pivotal discoveries in the fields of science, tech, engineering, and math.
Caroline Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany in 1750. Her mother wanted her to learn traditional domestic duties, but her father encouraged her to pursue education in math and other subjects virtually unheard of for women at the time.
Her brother William was an astronomer, and Caroline became interested too. Her significant contributions to astronomy included the discovery of several comets, and she became the first woman to earn a salary as a scientist.
Ada Byron (whose first name was actually Augusta) was the child of poet Lord Byron — but her talents were in mathematics, not poetry. In the 1840s, she envisioned the potential of a “computing machine” that did more than just general calculation, and wrote what is considered to be the first computer program.
Credited by the BBC with “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century,” Irish astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967, which won the Nobel Prize in Physics. But unlike her male counterparts, and despite her contributions, Jocelyn wasn’t a recipient of the prize winnings.
However, after an illustrious career, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2018 — and donated the entire £2.3 million prize to help women, minorities, and refugee students become physics researchers.
Born in 1646 in Venice, Italy, Elena Piscopia was a prodigy who mastered four languages and four different musical instruments, but also had an aptitude in philosophy, theology, and math.
In 1678, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. degree, and after that, became a noted mathematics lecturer at the University of Padua.
Drop-dead gorgeous Hedy Lamarr (Hedy was actually short for Hedwig) was first known for her acting career — but it was her contributions to technology that left the most lasting legacy. During WWII, she patented a means of changing radio frequencies to keep enemies from decoding messages.
The principles of her work are used in Bluetooth technology today.
With her team, Jewel Burks Solomon founded Partpic, a startup using groundbreaking technology to streamline the purchase of maintenance and repair parts.
She sold it to Amazon in 2016, and now is an advocate for representation and access in the technology industry, working in her spare time helping startups to get off the ground.
Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky is renowned for her research in how language influences our thoughts and actions; in fact, she’s one of the main contributors to the Theory of Linguistic Relativity.
Previously serving on the faculty at MIT and Stanford, she now serves as Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at UCSD, and has garnered a ton of recognition for her achievements: She’s a Searle Scholar, a McDonnell Scholar, recipient of a National Science Foundation Career award, and an American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist.
Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling was an aeronautical engineer who, during WWII, designed a critical component of airplane engines that helped protect them from failure during combat. She bristled at any suggestion that as a woman, she might be inferior to men in science and tech fields, and was described by a fellow scientist as “a flaming pathfinder of Women’s Lib.”
She was also an award-winning motorbike racer.
Raised by a single mother in Birmingham, Alabama, Annie Easley was a mathematician, computer scientist, and rocket scientist who worked at NASA — one of the first people of color, let alone female, to do so.
Despite racial discrimination (such as being cut out of published photos of her team, and being denied financial assistance for college courses that her colleagues received easily), she was instrumental in software development, and had a long, accomplished career.
The daughter of a mathematician, Amalie Emmy Noether has been regarded as the most important woman in the history of mathematics. One of the leading mathematicians of her time (the early 20th century), she made significant contributions to math and physics.
“Noether’s theorem” explains the connection between symmetry and conservation laws, and is considered one of the fundamental principles of modern physics.
Being an engineer, physician, and a NASA astronaut? All in a lifetime of accomplishment for Mae Jemison (oh, and did we mention her stint in the Peace Corps aside from everything else?). She was the first black woman in space, and holds nine honorary doctorates.
After her retirement, she founded The Jemison Group, which researches, develops, and markets advanced technologies.
Computer scientist, systems engineer, and business owner Margaret Hamilton is credited with coining the term “software engineering.” As the Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, she helped create the flight software for the Apollo space program — and for this, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
The future of women in STEM, Tiera Guinn Fletcher is a rocket structural analysis engineer for Boeing and NASA — and she isn’t even 25 years old. She is helping to develop NASA’s Space Launch System, which will eventually be used to send people to Mars.
“Many still believe that the female mind is not capable of excelling in the sciences,” she said in a 2018 interview. “With that lingering doubt, some women fall ill to that belief and others simply are not presented with the opportunity.”
Along with her husband, fellow rocket scientist Myron Fletcher, she has plans for a nonprofit organization that will help children of all backgrounds have access to their dreams.
The New York Times referred to Ruth Rogan Benerito as “the woman who made cotton behave.” When wrinkle-resistant nylon and polyester were invented in the first half of the 20th century, it was great news for women who didn’t like to iron — but bad news for the cotton industry.
Enter Ruth, who attached organic chemicals to cotton fibers, making it not only wrinkle-resistant, but flame and stain-resistant as well. She has been credited with saving the cotton industry.
She earned her Masters degree by taking night classes while working as a high school science and math teacher by day, eventually earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry.
Because of her considerable aptitude in math and physics, Mileva Marić was allowed to attend an all-boys school as a teenager in the early 1890s. She was subsequently accepted to the Zurich Polytechnic School’s physics-mathematics program with only four other students: one being her future husband, Albert Einstein.
Despite the fact that she earned better grades than he did, only Albert was given a degree. Letters and historical accounts have suggested that they both had equal roles in Einstein’s early groundbreaking discoveries, but sadly, he was the only one given professional credit; at the time, they thought a publication co-written by a woman would lessen its impact.
These women have blazed trails in predominantly male industries, facing discrimination and ridicule (just imagine how much mansplaining they’ve all endured!) so that their successors would have a clearer path.
People name their babies after celebrities and their kids, but if you ask us, there are no better, stronger, more inspiring namesakes than these.
If you need more baby name inspiration, check out Scary Mommy’s baby name database!
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