Tesla Rhea Yaginuma.
Why did we name our daughter Tesla? It was a name I came up with well after our first attempts failed. A month or more later I visited my friend Michael Rei and his family. M.R. told me he briefly considered naming his daughter Ellington after the famous jazz musician Duke Ellington whom he admired. This got me thinking about people I admired.
I asked Mie how she liked the name Tesla, and she thought it sounded pretty good. This immediately shot the name to the top of our list, as we really didn't have much affection for any of the other names we'd come up with at that point. Naming a person is hard.
When we ran it by other people, reactions varied but were generally positive. This is how I would break down the initial reactions:
- 50% You mean like a tesla coil? Like Doctor Megavolt?
- 25% Wasn't there a crappy hair band with that name?
- 25% Like the scientist?
The most apt association is (C) like Nikola Tesla, the Serbian born American scientist who was a contemporary and rival of Thomas Edison. In fact I tend to describe their relationship as Tesla was the Apple to Edison's Microsoft. Although it's not the best way to put it. In some ways it's more like Tesla was the Xerox PARC to Edison's IBM.
Nikola Tesla did important research and created inventions in all manner of electromagnetic pursuits, and in his time was one of the world's most famous scientists. His name has faded from the public consciousness, in my opinion, because he was not nearly as brilliant a businessman as he was a scientist. He was also always a bit eccentric, an attribute that only increased over his long life.
Tesla did invent the Tesla Coil, a device for making artificial lightning. He invented radio, a feat erroneously attributed to Marconi, who was actually using circuitry invented by Tesla. In 1898 he publicly displayed a wireless remote control operated boat and submarine. He also was the force behind worldwide adoption of alternating current as the principle means of power grid distribution (this was after a very heated and public battle with Edison who promoted direct current for the same task. Edison's propaganda assault included paying 25 cents a head for stray dogs and cats that were electrocuted via alternating current in order to show how dangerous it was).
For these reasons and more, Nikola Tesla in one of my favorite scientists.
I liked the name 'Tesla' as a girl's name as well. It has the ending -a which denotes femininity in most romance languages. The nickname Tes is a three letter version of a common girl's name Tess (Mie and I like three letter names). It's pronounceable in Japanese (where a name like Arthur, for example, is not; it comes out as 'Assa'). I liked that the name is associated with energy and power. The general concepts of energy and power are something nice to associate with anyone, and the specific connotation of power transmission and energy production are subjects that I believe will play a central role in the era of Tesla's (my daughter's) life. In fact Nikola Tesla is often on my mind these days because the modern energy crisis is something I believe he would have tackled with relish and creativity. And finally, Mie pointed out that having a daughter associated with magnetism isn't too shabby either (a tesla is a unit of magnetic flux density equal to one weber per square meter (no, I don't really know what that means either)).
Most of the people we presented with the potential name liked it or loved it. Some thought it was pretty. Some liked that it was a strong name for a woman (this mainly came from the strong women we know). My fellow science buffs liked the connection to Nikola. I concurred with all of these assessments.
It wasn't all roses though. Most people from our parents generation thought it was too strange, or too masculine. In Japan, for example, any name that begins with 'Te' is usually a boys name. Almost uniformly anyone over the age of 50 didn't care for it.
In the end, Mie and I had to decide for ourselves what we wanted to call our daughter. We left ourselves open to last moment inspiration, or even to leaving the hospital with her still unnamed and amending the birth certificate at a later date, but after she was born and I was getting ready to call in the announcement, we simply decided to go with our gut and give her the name that had been growing on us for the past few weeks.
Funnily enough, five days after she was born, BoingBoing posted a blurb celebrating Nikola Tesla's 150th birthday anniversary. I hadn't even realized it was coming up, she missed it by five days! Also, my friend Alex pointed out that there was a british comic book super-hero named Tesla Strong, a "science hero... [who] like her father ... is possessed of a genius intellect, incredible physique, and insatiable thirst for adventure." Word.
Her middle name Rhea is the middle name of my adoptive mother. She died in 1991 of cancer. In these days where I spend more and more time with my biological maternal family, and can expect that to only increase in time as I want Tesla to have a relationship with her kin, I thought it was important to honor the mother who raised me.