— 15 May 2004 —

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.

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