How 'Star Trek' Made One Strange Baby Name Incredibly Popular

The 1960s TV series Star Trek has launched movies, sequels, catchphrases and fan conventions. But baby name trends? Let's take a trip back in the Baby Name Time Machine back to meet the name Nichelle.


The year 1967 is remembered as a cultural powder keg in the United States. The youth counterculture bloomed into the "Summer of Love." The number of U.S. troops in Vietnam increased, and so did homefront protests against the war. Cities like Detroit and Newark erupted in deadly rioting. Stokely Carmichael published the book Black Power.

Yet even in turbulent times, everyday life can remain surprisingly everyday. The top television series of the year were Bonanza, The Red Skelton Hour and The Andy Griffith Show. The top baby names of the year were Michael and Lisa, for the sixth straight year. But among the fastest-rising names of the year are hints of change.

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The biggest TV-driven name phenomenon of 1967 was Nichelle, sparked by a lightly watched new science fiction show called "Star Trek." Actress Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura, chief communications officer of the 23rd-century starship Enterprise. Star Trek's creators wanted to portray an inclusive future society, and no character represented that vision more boldly than the African-American Lt. Uhura.

From today's perspective, Star Trek's '60s vision of diversity may not look so bold. The bridge of the Starship Enterprise typically held four or five white men, one Asian man, and one black woman -- the sole representative not only of her race, but of the entire female half of humanity. Unlike her male colleagues, Lt. Uhura wore a regulation Starfleet minidress and sheer stockings. Nor was Uhura one of the series' most central characters. She's not immortalized by any catch phrases like "Live long and prosper" or even "He's dead, Jim!" In fact, in the original series she didn't even have a first name.

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Fifty years ago, though, Uhura's very presence on the bridge resounded as a symbol of hope and progress. Nichelle Nichols has told the story of how she had planned to quit Star Trek until Martin Luther King Jr. personally approached her and told her how important her role was. Previously, African-American women on scripted television had been relegated to roles as servants. Uhura was nothing like that. Even in a minidress, the Enterprise's chief communications officer radiated professional pride and dignity.

That image struck a powerful chord. Nichelle was an all-but-unknown name that Ms. Nichols (born Grace) had adopted as her stage name. As soon as she appeared on Star Trek, Nichelle soared into the top 500 girls' names in the United States. That's as heartfelt a tribute as you can find. Nichelle remained popular for the rest of the series' run, and ushered in an era where boys' and girls' names alike were chosen as emblems of ethnic and racial pride.

Have you ever considered Nichelle as a baby name?


For more great baby name ideas, visit BabyNameWizard

Image via Getty Images

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