You might know her as a passenger aboard sci fi cult classic Firefly, but this goddess name’s roots run deep.
Thanks to Fran for suggesting Inara as Baby Name of the Day.
Joss Whedon is an intrepid namer of characters. He called his vampire slayer Buffy, which didn’t catch on with parents. But her sidekicks, witch Willow and an ordinary Joe called Xander, are much in fashion a decade after the last vampire bit the dust. His cowboy western/space odyssey, Firefly, didn’t have as long a run on the small screen, but was adapted as a movie in 2005’s Serenity. The character names – Mal, Shepherd, River, Simon, Kaylee – haven’t been quite as influential, but they’ve attracted their share of attention.
Morena Baccarin played Inara Serra, a courtesan in an era when being a courtesan was among the highest, most respected professions available. In the first episode, she’s referred to as “The Ambassador.”
Whedon borrowed the name from an ancient empire. The Hittites had their day in the sun back in the 1300s BC. They owed much of their culture and custom to an even older civilization, the Hurrians, who flourished a thousand years before.
In their mythology, Inara was something like the Greek Artemis and Roman Diana. She was the goddess of wild animals and a clever strategist, too.
Somewhere between ancient history and the twenty-first century, a handful of others adopted the name. Little Feat founder Lowell George named his daughter Inara Maryland all the way back in 1974, well ahead of the fashion for both goddess names and place names. She’s a singer, too.
All the way back in the nineteenth century, we can find a handful of women named Inara in the US census records, but never enough to register in the Top 1000. That’s not necessarily about the goddess, though – there are other names from the era that suggest Inara might be an elaborated form of Ina, or even a riff on Lenora, Nora, and Norma.
So how would an ancient goddess name worn by a fictional starship geisha play on the playgrounds of today?
It’s hard to say. She’s exotic, but so are plenty of popular picks, from Ayana to Imari. If parents can take inspiration from Ancient Rome to name little Julius and Aurelia, then why not go even farther back BC? And while she’s without a convenient nickname – Ari might work – plenty of girls answer to Tabitha and Georgia and Madeline without ever needing a short form.
She’s been much neglected by parents for generations, but if you’re trying to pick out a name with some backstory, but without a lot of baggage, Inara could just be the one for you.