On August 24th, 2006 The International Astronomical Union convened at Prague, in the Czech Republic and voted to redefine the term “planet“, demoting Pluto to the status of a “dwarf planet“, and leaving the solar system with eight planets.
In light of this momentous decison I decided to re-trace a seemingly unassuming article I had glanced over about the origins of the name Pluto.
Venetia Burney (born 1919) or Venetia Phair (married name) was the first person to suggest the name Pluto for the planet discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930. She lived in Oxford, England, and was 11 years old at the time.
Burney was the great-niece of Henry Madan Science Master of Eton, who in 1878 had suggested the names Phobos and Deimos for the moons of Mars. Her grandfather Falconer Madan , Librarian of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, was the brother of Henry Madan.
On March 14, 1930, Falconer Madan read the story of the new planet’s discovery in The Times of London, and mentioned it to his granddaughter Venetia. She suggested the name Pluto, and Falconer Madan forwarded the suggestion to astronomer Herbert Hall Turner, who cabled his American colleagues at Lowell Observatory.
Venetia grew up to be a teacher and married a man named Maxwell Phair. As of 2006, she is 87 years old and living in Epsom.