Hillary, Kepler and Tycho

Mrs. Bad Astronomer has a guest post on her husband’s weblog, pondering why the press typically refers to Hillary Clinton by her first name. This called to my mind a related question in astronomy, appropriately enough, which I’d like to toss out as thought-food:

Two of the greatest figures in the Scientific Revolution are Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. The former was among the greatest mathematicians of his day, and the latter had comparable prowess with astronomical observations. And, for some reason, everybody calls the first one “Kepler,” while the second is known as “Tycho.” Look on a map of the moon: there’s a crater called Tycho, where a monolith was found nine years ago, and one called Kepler (the names for these and other craters were doled out by an Italian astronomer, Giambattista Riccioli, in 1651, who was a big fan of Tycho and attached his name to the most prominent crater). Both men invented models for how the solar system worked; nowadays, historians of science speak of the “Tychonic universe,” which had the Sun going round the Earth but other stuff going around the Sun, and everybody still talks about Kepler’s Three Laws.

Is it just that “Johannes” is too generic, while “Brahe” sits roughly on the tongue?

Given their tempestuous working relationship — Kepler and Tycho were not the sort of personalities which could get along — I’m sure the celebrity magazines of their day would have blessed them with a joined name, something like “Jo-cho” (sounds like Yoko), if those magazines had only existed.

5 thoughts on “Hillary, Kepler and Tycho”

  1. Let’s not forget that there were tons of explorers and fellow-travelers known primarily by their last names (Columbus, Balboa, et al). Yet our country bears a name derived from the FIRST name of a cartographer. Is it disrespectful or belittling of Signore Vespucci that we aren’t called Vespucciana or Vespucciland rather than America? I’m just not sold on Mrs. BA’s perspective.

  2. And, of course, there are the artists, particularly those now known as turtles. I don’t think use of a first name necessarily implies disrespect, per se, although I find the argument “She uses Hillary on her own campaign materials” to be rather shallow, too. It’s a proximal explanation at best, and perhaps not even that: is the campaign leading a trend or following one, and if they’re trying to lead, what goal are they aiming for and why?

  3. But Jared, Mrs. BA said that she doesn’t want to believe that’s the explanation, but she’s compelled to! Surely that’s good enough faith for you, isn’t it?

    Blake, here’s a plausible conjecture: using a first name lends the impression of a personal touch, which (a) combats the “robot/policy wonk” stereotype, and (b) plays into the “sensitive woman candidate, unlike all those men” card which she’d be silly not to play.

    The most prominent parallel use is ignored because it doesn’t support Mrs. BA’s position. We say “Madame Speaker Pelosi” and “Senator Feinstein” all the time, and commentators I watch regularly say both “Senator Clinton” and “Barack”. You know who we never heard referred to by a family name? Saddam Hussein.

    People who want to be insulted can always find insults.

  4. Meh. The few times I’ve referred to her, I’ve used “Hillary” to disambiguate her from Bill, and because I’m too lazy to type “Hillary Clinton”. But the issue did occur to me.

    Anyways, who cares what a Canadian thinks about the US candidates?

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