Growing up, my list of heroines was pretty slim. History in particular was the realm of men, so the lives and accomplishments of women were either mentioned in a line or two, a footnote, or skipped over entirely. So, in honor of International Women's Day, I thought it might be affirming to remember that, no, really, we've been here forever — kicking ass — and we're not going anywhere. So here are just a few baby names that honor badass women, because our daughters should know that the are the next step in a long line of brilliant, creative, tenacious, fierce ladies.
Turns out, picking one name per letter was actually really hard (well, except, like, X and U). Take E for example. I just as easily could have highlighted Eartha Kitt, Elizabeth I, or Emily Dickinson. Hell, I had a ton of choices for just about every letter. So I don't know why finding "sheroes" as a kid was difficult, my friends. Oh wait! Yes I do! Men in power don't want us to know our own power! LOL! ROFL! LMAO!
So whether you're looking to honor a new baby by letting her know she has a place in herstory, or you just want to learn about some more kickass women, please consider the following A-Z primer:
Ada Lovelace (b. 1815) was an English mathematician who published the first algorithm and is often considered the first computer programmer. She was able to envision, in a very tangible way, the capabilities of a "computing machine" a century before the thing was actually invented.
Queen Boudica (d. 60) was a Celtic queen in what is now England who led her people against the forces of the Roman Empire. Her revolt, which spanned the width of Britain, was ultimately unsuccessful, but her courage against the Imperialist invaders has elevated her to a heroic status in Britain.
Clelia Duel Mosher (b. 1863) came of age in an era when a woman's physical inferiority and lack of sex drive was simply a given. Thankfully, she worked throughout her career to prove that ideology wrong. Clelia wrote on women's health — including menstruation, hygiene, exercise, and birth control — and gathered some of the only data we have on women and sex in the Victorian era.
Dolores Huerta (b. 1930) is a co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (now United Farm Workers). She has been active in the causes of labor and civil rights since the 1950s. Among her many honors is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which she received in 2012.
Emma Goldman (b. 1869) was an anarchist and political writer and remains a controversial figure to this day, due in no small part to her willingness to engage in acts of violence to achieve her political ends. She promoted free love, gender equality, birth control, and spent her life traveling the world, generally because she kept getting arrested and/or deported.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (b. 1900) was an educator and anti-colonial political activist who campaigned for the rights of women in Nigeria. She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, which numbered membership in the tens of thousands, and was one of the few women to be elected to the House of Chiefs in the 1950s.
Gertrude Simmons (b. 1876) is the birth name of Zitkála-Šá, writer, musician, and political activist. Her writing explored her struggle to retain her Sioux identity in America. She is the first Native American to write an opera, and founded the National Council of American Indians, which fought for the rights, education, health care, and cultural recognition and preservation of Indigenous people.
Hypatia (b. 350-370) was a philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician who lived in Egypt. She was a celebrated intellect, educator, and political counselor even in her time. When she was murdered by an angry mob in 415, it scandalized the entire Roman Empire and she was considered a "martyr for philosophy."
Isadora Duncan (b. 1877) revolutionized dance by forgoing the highly stylized, strict forms of classical ballet for a more natural, improved style. Largely uninterested in achieving commercial success, she was dedicated to creating beautiful art and teaching.
Empress Jingū (b. 169) was the regent of Japan from 192-200. According to legend, she led an army (while pregnant) disguised as her husband (whom no one yet knew to be deceased).
Kara Walker (b. 1969) is a contemporary artist whose work explores race, gender, sexuality, and the Black experience in America. While best known for her silhouettes, she has worked across media, including painting, sculpture, prints, and film.
Lakshmi Bai (b. 1828) was the queen or rani of Jhansi, a kingdom in northern India. When the British attempted to seize control of her kingdom, Lakshmi amassed an army and led them herself on horseback. She eventually died in battle, and was remembered by one British official as "personable, clever and beautiful" and "the most dangerous of all Indian leaders."
Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997) is an education activist, especially for the education of girls and women. By age 11, Malala was blogging for the BBC about her life under the Taliban. In 2012, she and several classmates were shot by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her speaking out.
The gunman failed miserably: Malala survived and is still speaking out. In 2014, she became the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ng-Mui (b. circa 1600s) was one of the legendary Five Elders to survive the destruction of the Shaolin Temple and develop martial arts in China. A Buddhist nun, she is said to have founded several fighting styles, including Wǔ Méi Pài, Wing Chun, Dragon style, White Crane, and Five-Pattern Hung Kuen.
(Technically this is a little bit of a cheat name, since Ng is her family name, but everyone needs to know more about this awesome Wing Chun nun!)
Octavia Butler (b. 1947) was an award-winning science fiction writer. While her many Hugos and Nebulas are impressive, she was notably the first sci-fi writer to win the McArthur "genius grant." Octavia's books explore contemporary inequities, bioengineering, and survival. Her work is often associated with Afrofuturism.
Phyllis Diller (b. 1917) was an actress and comedian known for her over-the-top personality and incredible cackle. Phyllis did not begin her career as a stand-up comedian — a career almost unheard of for a women at the time — until she was 37, but made up for "lost time" by working on stage, film, and television until her death in 2012.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (b. circa 1122) was not technically named "queen." I'm cheating again. But you try finding a famous woman whose name begins with "Q." It's hard. You can't.
Over the course of her very long life, especially by Medieval standards, Eleanor was a duchess and queen of two countries (through marriage to two kings). Brilliant and ruthless, Eleanor was a fiery and indomitable force who survived imprisonment and countless political intrigues.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (b. 1959) is a K'iche' human rights activist. Ever since (and throughout) Guatemala's devastating 36-year civil war, Rigoberta has fought for the recognition of women, Indigenous people and their rights. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
Sylvia Rivera (b. 1951) a self-identified drag queen, was a champion of the underserved and oppressed and is largely seen as a founder of the modern transgender rights movement. Sylvia (whose gender identity remained fluid throughout her life) founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with friend Marsha P. Johnson, which offered services and advocacy for homeless queer youth.
Temple Grandin (b. 1947) is an advocate for animal welfare and the humane treatment of animals within the livestock industry. She's also an international speaker on the subject of autism, to which she attributes her success in her career.
Ursula Southeil (b. 1488) is better known as "Mother Shipton," a Yorkshire soothsayer and prophetess. While her work was not published until almost a century after her death, she made a name for herself in her lifetime telling fortunes and making prophesies. (Not a particularly skilled one, it would seem, since she claimed the world would end in 1881.)
Virginia Woolf (b. 1882) is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Her stream-of-consciousness style is what secures her place pantheon of great writers, but her vocal feminism, pacifism, and anti-imperialist sentiments (in an age when none of those things won you many friends) establish her as an iconic cultural figure .
Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett (b. 1861) fought for Hawaiian women's right to vote and for the passage of the 19th Amendment and founded the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association. At a meeting of local politicians to discuss suffrage, Wilhelmina did not hold back. "I can speak for my Hawaiian sisters, and I can say that in every way the woman is man's superior. She will not only cast her vote fully as intelligently — she will vote honestly. There isn't enough money in the world to buy her vote."
Xian Zhang (b. 1973) is a world-renown conductor and made her debut with the China National Opera Orchestra at just 19 years old. Since then she's worked with the New York Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and the Staatskapelle Desden, among others.
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) is a prolific, multimedia artist. Trained in traditional nihonga style, she found early success in her native Japan, but was drawn to more contemporary avant-garde art. She moved to New York just in time to become a fixture in the Pop art movement and 60s counter-culture and has been actively creating ever since.
Zelda Fichandler (b. 1924) was a director and producer who co-founded the Arena State Theater, Washington D.C.'s first integrated theater in 1950. Her commitment to casting shows "colorblind" was revolutionary at the time, when segregation was still legally enforced in parts of the United States.