14 October 2016

Giotto, Rahda, and Singh: Diversity of Names in the Original Star Trek

Recently, a group of fans created a list of the names ascribed to Star Trek television characters in non-television sources. Like, say, Commander Giotto, security chief on the original Enterprise (from "The Devil in the Dark"), who has received the first names Barry, Antonio, and Salvatore in various novels. Or, even, characters with no on-screen name, like the original chief medical officer on Voyager, whom the novelization named Fitzgerald and another book named Bist.

My theory: Giotto was always changing his name to make it harder for Captain Kirk to assign him landing party duty. That's how he got to be the oldest redshirt and thus security chief.

It got me thinking about the naming practices of the original Star Trek (not for the first time). Something that I don't like in the original series novels is when authors give characters the first names of the actors who play them. Not only is it unimaginative, it is often contra the spirit of the original series, which had a commitment to diversity, including in naming: a lot of background characters in the original show have markedly "ethnic," non-Anglo names, like Esteban Rodriguez and Karl Jaeger, but many of the actual actors did not. Rodriguez was played by Perry Lopez, but Jaeger by a guy named Richard Carlyle. So giving Ensign Rahda (evidently a misspelling of the Indian surname "Radha") the first name Naomi because she was played by an actress named Naomi Pollack doesn't seem quite in the proper spirit, given that Naomi is a Hebrew name.

Rahda has even more first names than Giotto: Manjula, Naomi, Sitara, and Tora. Weirdly, two of them come from different novels by the same writer.

One should note that despite its commitment to diversity in character naming, the original Star Trek didn't always cast members of the relevant ethnicity. Naomi Pollack, for example, played Rahda in one episode and a Native American character in another, but the actress was the founder of a San Francisco-based Jewish theatre group, and Pollack is a Polish surname, so she was probably a Polish Jew. Blaisdell Makee, a Hawai'ian actor, appeared as two different Enterprise crew members in his time: one named Singh and one named Spinelli!

Hawai'ian, Indian, or Italian? Up to you, apparently.

The website Ex Astris Scientia has a good article about the predominance of British names in Star Trek; the writer listed all human last names from Star Trek and classified them as either "British/Irish," "Rest of the world," and "Uncertain or multiple possibilities." If you take a look, you will see that the names are overwhelmingly British/Irish. What I kind of suspect, though, is that the ratio is actually better in the original Star Trek than in the later series. I'd be curious to see if that's true, but I don't have the time right now to crunch the data. To Be Continued...?

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