A Sagan by Any Other Name

We went to a school board meeting on Thursday. That meeting was pretty short as the only agenda item was to elect a new president and secretary. Then there was an enrollment marketing meeting directly after.

We were there for about 2 hours and it was the first time we have done anything at Sagan’s school without Sagan being there. And we actually got to pay attention and be involved! Wow!

But in the course of the evening, two people asked about Sagan’s name. “Is that after Carl Sagan?” Yes. “Really…” Both people thought it was cool and mentioned something about her name being unique. Which it is, and we didn’t even get into her other two names.

So, since we are asked quite a bit about her name(s), here is why Sagan is named Sagan Aurora Kilauea Oliphant. Though I bet you can guess the “why” behind the Oliphant part.


From my point-of-view, Sagan came in as a possibility whilst I was reading an article in The New Scientist (the print version) that talked about Carl Sagan. They mentioned his name multiple times in the article, and when I finished reading I looked up at Claire and said, “What about, Sagan?”

Claire had read the same article earlier in the day and said, “I was thinking that, too!” And honestly it was that easy. We had been struggling to think of a good first name for her from the moment we found out Claire was pregnant. And there we had it. Someone remarked around the time, “Why would you do something like that to that poor child?” Um, to help her stand out? To make her name memorable? To tie her to a very cool person? Shut up?


Sagan’s second name has always been a name we new we would call our daughter (if we had one). Aurora is somewhat from me (being from Alaska and all that), but Claire took an instant liking to it. We came up with it during that phase in the new relationship, when you just know you will be together forever. That time before you even understand what living together forever means and you start naming your non-existent children.

Neither of us felt it worked as a first name. It was something to trot out when she becomes and author, or if for some reason there is another ‘Sagan’ on the soccer team (but we’ve since decided the other kid will make the name change). It was a strong name, but just not first name material.


Not long after we had decided on Sagan Aurora Oliphant, we were watching the Discovery channel for an afternoon-long special on volcanoes. Strangely it wasn’t about sharks, which is probably why we were watching. One special focused on Hawai’i. The narrator said ‘Kilauea’ a bazillion times in the span of that hour (or 44 minutes without commercials). As the show was ending I yelled out to Claire, “What about, Kilauea?” Silence.


Then Claire came into the living room with a quirky smile on her face. “I like her names now,” she said. “Well then, she can have four names and really stand out,” I replied. Sagan Aurora Kilauea Oliphant. It sounded great and that was that. But four names was enough.


Sagan’s first three names also have meaning, separately and together. Aurora is all about sky; bright, shiny, beautiful. Kilauea is all about earth; bright, fiery, explosive. Sagan was someone who made the stars accessible to the earth, bringing the sky and the ground together.

So Sagan is the balance between Aurora and Kilauea. Both Aurora and Kilauea are names that Sagan (our Sagan) lives up to. She loves shiny things, loves looking at the stars, is fiery, can be explosive, and is always moving.

Then, even further, her initials in the middle “AK” are the abbreviation for Alaska, where I am from. All of this, of course, is meaning applied after the fact. In a way, her names chose her, but she is also living up to her names.

And just yesterday she told out across-the-street neighbors that her name is Aurora Kilauea Sagan Oliphant. Wrong order, but she is beginning to see herself as more than just Sagan.


  1. i found your site a few years ago. i can’t remember what i was looking for when i stumbled across it, but i do remember falling in love with sagan’s name. since then, i’ve occasionally come back to read about her names. i guess i sort of collect names, and hers has always fascinated me. :) i just wanted to tell you that i love her names, and that i think it’s great you went for creative, unique names rather than “ashley” or “bethany” or “britney”. these days it seems like a lot of parents choose names based on the popularity of the names, thus making their children one of many ashleys or matthews in a class. sagan is lucky to have clever parents! :)

  2. I guess there is at least one other Sagan in the world! My son is named Sagan William Carroll, also after Carl Sagan, a man who had a profound effect on my life. My Sagan is exactly 1 month and 1 day younger than your daughter. But did you know that Sagan (of Zagan) is a town in Poland near the German-Polish border. It is famous for being the site of the train station in the movie The Great Escape. It is also the last place that Johanes Kepler lived and taught before he died. As far as I can tell, we have the only two children so named. Anyways… happy birthday Sagan.

  3. Yes, as far as you can tell Kevin (not meaning to sound rude), I am also named Sagan, I also believe that I was named Sagan before anyone else after Carl Sagan. (I am 14 years old.) Again I don’t mean to sound rude throughout any of this.

  4. well my name is also sagan and i am 20 years old. I to was named after carl sagan but my mother had a second meaning it also has a french meaning which is noisy…but there are alot of us with the name ive still yet to find anyone older than me with it yet.i must also admit that i grew to love my name its never forgotten and always complimented

  5. Of all the Sagans that I know, I would have to say I know myself the best. It is amazing to see a little community of Sagans forming on this rather obscure blogpost (although not obscure, I suppose, if one is prone to googling one’s name). I think that you, sir, have chosen a marvelous catalogue of names for your child. I, unlike the other Sagans here, was not named after Carl Sagan (although I get that all the time in the States). Indeed I was named after a doctor on the soap opera St. Elsewhere, her name was Sagan Lewis.

  6. Responding to Sagan Victoria . . I too am named after Sagan Lewis. Strange how our parents think alike – yet think they are being original all at the same time. I have never met another Sagan, but clearly there are a handful of us our there that share the same name. And in response to the blog: all outstanding names. I’m sure your daughter will grow to stand out in this world of clones. Best of luck!

  7. I am also 21 (which I assume you are now too since you posted a year ago). . and I am also guessing Miss. Victoria is around the same age as well . . . so, there! We are all about the same age with the same name. Crazy.

  8. My Daughter is also named Sagan, originally after the actress Sagan Lewis, however when I looked the name up (in England) I found that it was a 14th Century English name meaning Victorious Person

  9. In the 1980s there was an actress on the NBC hit show St. Elsewhere. She played the role of Dr Jackie Wade. Her name was Sagan Lewis. She was me…. On St. Elsewhere I got fanmail from at least 9 couples who named their newborns Sagan… ironically one of the Sagans was in the audience one night in Omaha Nebraska where I was giving a lecture on acting!…. I also met a Sagan in a Chinese restaurant once in Chicago and a Sagan in Texas they both said they were named after an actress on St. Elsewhere….So there may be more Sagans out there than we know thanks to St. Elsewhere. I’m in my 50s now. I always thought I was the first with the first name… Sagan. I love the name.

  10. I too have the first name Sagan, and I too was named after Sagan Lewis from St. Elsewhere. I am slightly younger than the other Sagans who have posted as I will be turning 20 later this year. I have never ran into another Sagan, and I absolutely love the name as I have never met another Sagan yet, until I came across this site. It is really neat to see how many there are and yet know that our name is still so rare that we still hear comments like “I’ve never heard that name before.”
    Thank you so much for the name.

  11. Hi, this is really cool. I spell my name slightly different (there’s actually an accent over the e) but it has the same pronunciation as Sagan. There are so many variations of the name and people with them in the world. Who knew!!
    I am a 23 year old female from NYC and this just brought a random smile to my face.
    I wanted to ask where did you find the meaning for the name, this one is new, but I love it.

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