If you name your baby “Hitler,” you can’t escape the fact that you’ve doomed him (or her, if you’re really strange) to a life of derision at best, hate or violence at worst. However, if you name it Wernher, you may be hoping they associate him with the Wernher von Braun who pioneered rocket technology for NASA, not the same Wernher von Braun who developed the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany. That may have been the idea behind NASA choosing to name a faraway, snowman-shaped, Kuiper Belt asteroid discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft Ultima Thule.
Pronounced ‘ultima thoo-lee’, the announcement press release explained that: “Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means “beyond Thule”– beyond the borders of the known world.” However, it didn’t take long for the media and neo-Nazis to point out that Thule is believed by some to be the ancient birthplace of the “Aryan race” – a concept first revealed in the Oera Linda Book, which was allegedly discovered in the 1800s and inspired the occultist and racist Thule Society and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the main architect of the Holocaust. Is it any wonder that modern Neo-Nazis adopted this Ultima Thule asteroid as their own?
“Most people don’t hear the word Ultima Thule and think Nazis, Aryan myths, and strange ghostly white people living at the pole.”
Benjamin Teitelbaum, an ethnomusicologist who researched a Scandinavian band called Ultima Thule that taps into this racially charged definition, told Newsweek after it was announced in early 2018 that the name is a “grey space” because “Most people don’t hear the word Ultima Thule and think Nazis, Aryan myths, and strange ghostly white people living at the pole.” Some do — 20th century philosopher Julius Evola, whom Steve Bannon and other alt-right leaders like to cite, used the term frequently. At the time, Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and investigator on the New Horizons mission who led the naming process, said the new name for 2014 MU69 was accepted because:
“We’re very, very tired of talking about 2014 MU69. Any name is better than 2014 MU69.”
Well, almost any name. On November 12th, NASA decided enough was enough and gave 214 MU69 a new moniker.
“In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language.
With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, NASA’s New Horizons team – whose spacecraft performed the record-breaking reconnaissance of Arrokoth four billion miles from Earth – proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planet Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects.”
To link Arrokoth to the asteroid, the announcement points out that the Hubble Space Telescope (at the Space Telescope Science Institute) and the New Horizons mission (at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) are operated out of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, region to the Powhatan people.
The team used this connection to associate the culture of the native peoples who lived in the region where the object was discovered; in this case, both the Hubble Space Telescope (at the Space Telescope Science Institute) and the New Horizons mission (at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) are operated out of Maryland — a tie to the significance of the Chesapeake Bay region where descendants of the indigenous Powhatan people still reside.
Naming an asteroid Arrokoth shouldn’t be controversial to many people, other than those who preferred the Nazi-connected name. Naming your child Arrokoth shouldn’t doom them to a life of therapy either. Naming your band Arrokoth sounds pretty cool. This looks like a good choice all around.