MARTY RUSSELL: Thinking up a name’s vexing

By Marty Russell

So much happening in the world this week. The State of Dis Union speech, that spend-money-or-sleep-on-the-couch holiday – Valentine’s Day – North Korea, the Mississippi of nations, keeps nuking itself, and the resignation of the pope, no word yet on whether he gets to keep the Popemobile and his funny hat.
So much happening in the world that maybe it’s a good time to get out of it. I had a friend once (really, I did) who thought he’d give his wife an out-of-this-world Valentine’s Day gift and have a star named after her. He’d found a company in a magazine or somewhere that said, for a measly $25, you could name one of the billions and billions of stars out there (sorry, channeling Carl Sagan there for a moment).
Problem is, there’s only one group that can officially recognize a heavenly body and assign a name to it and, no, it’s not Sports Illustrated, it’s the International Astronomical Union. Sky and Telescope magazine is reporting that, following the recent discovery of two new moons orbiting Pluto, that disgraced ex-planet, the IAU, either in a rare magnanimous gesture or because they were just tired of doing it themselves, has decided to let the public weigh in on names for the new moons.
Now as any parent can tell you, coming up with a name for a new arrival can be a nerve-wracking and contentious task. One parent wants one name, the other wants something else, the in-laws want to be immortalized and the poor kid is going to be stuck with it for life.
I once sought nominations for a name for our own moon, because it doesn’t have one, and the winner was Fred. I only got one nomination and, you guessed it, it was from someone named Fred.
But the IAU has made it a little easier to come up with names for Pluto’s new moons. Most of the planets and moons in our solar system are named for mythological characters including Pluto, which was the Roman god of the underworld known to the Greeks as Hades and the Baptists as Hell (and you thought it was named for a cartoon dog).
So the IAU is seeking nominations of names associated with hell to match the other three moons around Pluto, Charon, Nix and Hydra. Some of the suggestions so far include Cerberus, the three-headed dog said to guard the gates, Orpheus, the only mortal ever to escape from hell, and Styx, which I think was an ’80s rock band. You can view the suggestions and see how the voting is going at plutorocks.seti.org
You can also offer your own suggestions for names on the site and put them up for a vote. Go ahead, give it a try. You could be remembered throughout history as the person who named a moon. But just remember, as much as you might associate her with, you know, you can’t nominate your mother-in-law.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at marty.russell56@gmail.com.