In 1930, 11-year-old Venetia Phair suggested that the newly discovered planet beyond Neptune be named Pluto. On April 30, she died in her home in Banstead, England at the age of 90.
While eating breakfast, Phair's grandfather, Falconer Madan, read in the newspaper that a new planet had been photographed for the first time, according the New York Times. "He wondered what it should be called," said Phair in the short documentary Naming Pluto, which was released last month. "We all wondered, and then I said, ‘Why not call it Pluto?' And the whole thing stemmed from that." She came up with Pluto, after the Roman god of the underworld, because it was one of the few major Roman gods that hadn't already been used in astronomy. "Whether I thought about a dark, gloomy Hades, I'm not sure," she said.
Madan passed the name on to a friend who was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society. When the astronomers who discovered the planet decided to name it Pluto, Madan gave his granddaughter a five-pound note (which would be $350 today, according to The Associated Press). Phair went on to study at Cambridge University and became an accountant. She taught economics and math at two girls' schools in London. Her husband died in 2006 and she is survived by one son.
Phair said she was indifferent to Pluto being downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006, "though I suppose I would prefer it to remain a planet." She was more disturbed by the myth that she had named the planet after the Disney character Pluto. "It has now been satisfactorily proven that the dog was named after the planet, rather than the other way around," she said "So, one is vindicated."
Venetia Phair Dies at 90; As A Girl, She Named Pluto [The New York Times]
Venetia Phair Dies At 90; As A Girl, She Named Pluto [The Associated Press]