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Names Letters

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Moon Names

From William Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut

I am pleased that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has pledged to pay heed to public opinion when naming celestial bodies (24 August, p 7). I only wish it had done so sooner.

I was a member of the first crewed flight around the moon. In training, I chose names for a few of the unnamed craters along our orbital track. These included America, Kennedy and Houston, as well as the names of crew (Borman, Lovell and Anders) and NASA colleagues and leaders.

These were recorded on our lunar orbital map and used during the mission. I had picked a small but well-formed crater just over the lunar horizon to be "Anders", since it could not be seen from Earth and thus had not been named by early moon gazers. However, a spacecraft directly above the crater could see Earth and thus communicate with mission control.

I thought these names would have some priority, but when the IAU honoured our crew with crater names, it picked three craters that were not only well out of sight of our orbital track, but also in darkness at the time of our mission. I wrote to the IAU to try to correct this and even included the flight map. I got brushed off by its bureaucracy – and never got my map back.

From Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 astronaut

I agree with the views of my fellow Apollo 8 crew member William Anders on the naming of lunar landmarks (14 September, p 30). The International Astronomical Union (IAU) disregarded his suggestion, even though we discovered them on the far side of the moon.

On the near side of the moon, on the shore of the lunar plain known as the Sea of Tranquility, there is a small triangular mountain that had no name. I first observed it on Apollo 8 and called it Mount Marilyn, after my wife. It was used as the starting point for the descents of Apollo 10 and 11.

Although the IAU does not officially recognise the name, it is embedded in spaceflight history.

Second half of the Alphabet

Philip Venning from Docking in Norfolk has raised a subject of particular importance — to me at least. “The list of birthdays in The Times,” he writes, “makes interesting reading but does suggest an unwitting bias towards those whose surnames feature in the first half of the alphabet.”

He may have a personal axe to grind here, but Mr Venning seems to be right. Of this week’s entries, 13 of Monday’s 20 had initials from A-L; on Tuesday it was 16 out of 21; Wednesday, 16 out of 21; Thursday, 17 out of 22, and yesterday 15 of 19.

“Is this because fewer surnames in the population are to be found in the second half of the alphabet?” he wonders, “Or perhaps this group are simply less distinguished? Or is it, as I suspect, that with limited space you work from the bottom in culling those who already suffer by having names at the lower end?”

I took these weighty questions to the custodian of the birthday database who, to protect him from unsolicited lobbying by aspiring candidates, must remain anonymous. No, he says, the list is certainly not chopped off at the knees for space reasons; the bias really does reflect the incidence of early alphabetters among the great and good.

How depressing. In fact there is ample scholarship to back him up. People with names in the first half of the alphabet are consistently found in academic studies to be happier, more confident, successful, famous, you name it. They’re even more likely to win Nobel prizes. We tail-enders, on the other hand, are only notable for our expertise at impulse shopping — which we learn from the necessity to grab any opportunity as soon as it’s offered.

It’s not all bad, though. A 2008 study by Cambridge University found that you are more likely to receive spam the earlier your name appears in the alphabet. And, as Mr Venning concludes: “I always reassure my daughters that at least they will be among the last to be guillotined, should the situation arise.”