Star Trek: Discovery's Sonequa Martin-Green is the first woman of color, not to mention first non-captain character, to lead a Star Trek series and — no, your ears are not deceiving you — she's got a typically male name: Michael Burnham.
That was no accident. It was former showrunner Bryan Fuller's idea, following in his long tradition of giving his female protagonists masculine names. See: Dead Like Me's George (Ellen Muth); Pushing Daisies' Chuck (Anna Friel); and Wonderfalls' unisex Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas).
"We've worked on many shows with Bryan and it's a motif. It's his signature move to name his lead women with names that would typically be associated as male," executive producer Aaron Harberts said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour last month.
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After tossing around a couple of options, the writers eventually landed on Michael for the first officer of the USS Shenzhou. "I have known of, I think, two [female] Michaels: Michael Sneed, [who] was a gossip columnist for the Chicago Sun‑Times and Michael Steele who played the bass for The Bangles. That's a deep dive on female Michaels," Harberts said. "And we talked about it in the entire room. It was just like, 'This is a really, really interesting name.' And, of course, an archangel is named Michael as well, and it just had a lot of potency for us."
And lest we forget, there are some female Michaels associated with TV: four-time Emmy winner Michael Learned of The Waltons and Michael Michele from ER.
Martin-Green was on board with the moniker twist from the beginning, which she calls a "lovely symbol," as it not only helped her understand her character's backstory — a human raised by a Vulcan (James Frain) — but is in line with the franchise's message of open-mindedness and diversity, and a future with more gender fluidity.
"I appreciated the statement it makes all on its own to have this woman with this male name, just speaking of the amelioration of how we see men and women in the future," she said at TCA. "But I also just decided for my creation and for my background and whatnot that I was named after my father. And so, we get a little bit of exploration of the father‑daughter dynamic."
Michael certainly wouldn't be the first female TV character named after a father, if that in fact becomes canon: How I Met Your Mother's Robin (Cobie Smulders) was born Robin Charles Scherbatsky Jr. because her father had wanted a son.
"I think it's a really cool name," Harberts told StarTrek.com, "and maybe we'll see some more women Michaels. Who knows?"
Star Trek: Discovery premieres Sunday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS. Episode 2 will be available on CBS All Access immediately after the CBS broadcast premiere. Future episodes will be released every Sunday on CBS All Access.
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