Take a cue from these strong, notable women throughout modern history. From Ada to Zora, each name reflects confidence and wisdom.
When Augusta Ada Byron was born, her mother was so concerned that the child would take after her father, Lord Byron, that she briskly steered her daughter away from Romanticism and poetry to the logical and saner realms of mathematics and science. In the shadow of Dad's poetic genius (and madness), Ada led a respectable and privileged life, was tutored at home by esteemed teachers, married Count Lovelace, and had three children.
She also socialized and corresponded with many mathematicians and inventors of the day, including Charles Babbage. Her notes for Babbage's "Analytical Engine" show accurate precision, mathematical skill—and yes, imagination and whimsy. In them, Lovelace wrote a mathematical program for calculating Bernoulli numbers for a futuristic machine that she envisioned could calculate and perform a multitude of functions. For this, she is often recognized as the first computer programmer. In 1980, the US Department of Defense named its computer language Ada in her honor. Ada's contributions to technology are celebrated on March 24th, honored by bloggers as Ada Lovelace Day.
Similar Names: Replace the middle consonant in Ada to produce Ava, Ama, Ana, Asa, Aja, Ara, and Aya.
Other Logical Ladies: Sophie Germain, Annie Jump Cannon, Marie Curie, Margaret Mead, Grace Hopper, Rosalind Franklin, Mae Jemison
She flew into our consciousness as an adventurous aviatrix flying in the face of convention. To save up for her first flying lessons, Amelia Earhart worked as a photographer, stenographer, and truck driver. She wasn't grounded for long: The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic set several women's speed and distance records in aviation, sometimes in a red single-engine Lockheed Vega dubbed "old Bessie, the fire horse."
A trendsetting celebrity and author of two books, Earhart also supported the wings of others as a charter member (and later president) of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for the advancement of female flyers. During a historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart disappeared in the Pacific, forever shrouding her in a cloud of mystery.
Similar Names: For monikers trailing in –ia, try Cordelia, Anastasia, Olivia, Celia, Julia, Lucia, Maria, Natalia, Amalia, Sonia, Thalia, Tania, Virginia, Valeria, Yesenia, and Zaria. (Want it shorter? Try Kia, Lia, Mia, Tia, or Ria. Or sub the i for a y, as in Rya.)
More Sky Sisters: Maria Mitchell, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Quimby, Sally K. Ride, Ellen Ochoa
As Harvard University's 28th president—and the first female on the job in 371 years—Drew Gilpin Faust has to balance a delicate ecosystem, planning for the institution's future while addressing the educational needs of its student population and the career demands of a notoriously brilliant and ambitious faculty. It's all in a day's work for this self-described "rebellious daughter," who attended Bryn Mawr and the University of Pennsylvania before becoming a civil rights scholar, distinguished author, and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Born Catherine Drew Gilpin, she was always known as "Drew," making us wonder: Did having a male name play a part in her success?
Similar Names: Consider these ones with tomboyish appeal: Charlotte (Charlie), Frances (Frankie), Janet (Jay), Joanna (Jo), Natalie (Nat, Nate), Samantha (Sam), and Sydney (Syd). Surnames, too, are a popular bet.
Other Powerful Pedagogues: Mary Maples Dunn, Sarah Gibson Blanding, Lorene Rogers
Passionate, fiery, impulsive, and revolutionary, Isadora Duncan rejected the rigid and artificial rigors of traditional ballet. Instead the mother of modern dance reveled in the purity and nature of the human body and its spontaneous forms and movements. Restless in her zeal to establish dance as the highest expression of the divine self, her art was full of emotion, truth, rapture, pathos, and myth. To her, dancing was a form of communion, manifesting universal and spiritual truths, achieving social protest, and becoming one with nature, humanity, and the universe.
Similar Names: Tell it like it Is with Isa, Isabel, Isabella, Isobel, Isis.
Other Dancing Divas: Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, Twyla Tharp, Judith Jamison
Centuries before the Brontë sisters, Emily and Charlotte, would pen their masterpieces, Murasaki Shikibu was chronicling life as a lady in waiting to Empress Shoshi at the imperial court. (Murasaki, her pseudonym, means "purple wisteria blossom.")
Her work, The Tale of Genji, is considered by some to be the world's first modern novel. Lady Murasaki had an unconventional upbringing: She was raised by her widowed father, a scholar and official in the court, and received a male's education. One of her palace rivals was Sei Sh?nagon, who wrote her own account of courtly life in The Pillow Book.
Naming Tip: If you had to choose a nom de plume for your writer-to-be, what would you choose?
More Notable Novelists: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Pearl Buck, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, Gabriela Mistral, Julia Alvarez
The daughter of a con artist and snake oil salesman from Ohio, Victoria Claflin hit the road early as a psychic healer and medium. Together with her younger sister, Tennessee, the girls traveled to cities and towns, filling concert halls and auditoriums with audiences desperate to communicate with the spirits of loved ones.
The tales of suffering she heard during her travels eventually inspired her to become a champion of women's rights, labor reforms, and sweeping social change. In New York, the sisters made a fortune on Wall Street (with the help of Cornelius Vanderbilt), established the first female-owned brokerage house, and published a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly. In 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull became the first woman to run for president (with Frederick Douglass nominated as her running mate), but she wouldn't be the last.
Naming Tip: What kind of name would you choose for your daughter if you knew she was destined to run for president one day?
More Political Trailblazers: Lucretia Mott, Shirley Chisolm, Geraldine Ferraro, Lenora Fulani, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin
She was supposed to be named Orpah, after Naomi's daughter-in-law in the Book of Ruth in the Bible, but a mistake at the registrar's office led to the newly coined Oprah. It was a defining moment for her—one that she would carry proudly throughout her career as a broadcast journalist.
Encouraged by station executives to change her name to the more audience-friendly "Susie," Oprah kept her unique name and forged a trailblazing path both on TV and off by embracing—and celebrating—a core audience of women. (She reversed the letters of her name to form the name of her production company: H-a-r-p-o.)
Naming Tip: Try switching any two letters in a name you like. Does Micheala strike you more than Michaela?
Other Broadcast Trailblazers: Barbara Walters, Susan Stamberg, Diane Sawyer, Lesley Visser, Katie Couric, Arianna Huffington
Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black town to be incorporated in the United States. A scholarship to Barnard College brought her to New York and the Harlem Renaissance—where she flowered as a novelist, playwright, and writer alongside literary talents such as Langston Hughes.
After graduation, Hurston traveled in the Caribbean and the American South as an anthropologist, documenting African American folklore and dialects. Still her contributions might have been forgotten, if not for a 1975 article by Alice Walker in Ms. magazine entitled "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston." What followed was a renewed interest in and rediscovery of Hurston's work, including the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and the story collection Mules and Men. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey adapted Eyes as a television movie.
Similar Names: The Z's are anything but snoozy: Zaharah, Zena, Zelda, Zara, Zoe, Zorah, Zipporah, Zion, Zinnia, Zamora, Zaina, Zola.
Additional Literary Ladies: Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carson McCullers, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison