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Where Did Nyota Uhura’s Name Come From?

Lt. Nyota Uhura, a fictional character in Star Trek, is a part of the USS Enterprise’s command staff. She initially serves as a Chief Communications Officer but later becomes the leader in Star Trek: The Animated Series. Portrayed by actress & singer Nichelle Nichols, she became one of the first African-American women to be depicted in a position of authority. 

Famously played by Nichelle Nichols in the Star Trek television adaptations, Nyota Uhura’s name comes from Uhuru, the Swahili term for freedom. Uhuru was the title of the book Nichols was reading when she was waiting for a meeting with Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek’s production crew. 

How Did Nichelle Nichols Become Nyota Uhura?

Actress Nichelle Nichols, most esteemed for her role as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek adaptations, had a significant role in molding Nyota Uhura’s character, having played Nyota Uhura for almost thirty years. As the first African-American woman to portray one of the massive leads in television, Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura triumphed in challenging the racist and sexist ideologies dominating the 20th century.

In Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memoirs, Nichelle Nichols’ memoir, Gene Roddenberry, an American producer and writer that would later go on to create Star Trek, met Nichelle Nichols in 1963 on the set of Roddenberry’s The Lieutenant. From there, a romantic relationship emerged, which spanned for numerous months. During their relationship, Roddenberry would repeatedly mention a science fiction idea he was in the process of creating, entitled Wagon Train to the Stars.

Years after their relationship ended, Nichols received a telegram from her agent during her tour as a singer, stating that she had an audition for Roddenberry’s Star Trek. And since she’d auditioned before Nyota Uhura came into existence, she read the lines of Spock as scenes were yet to materialize for Nyota.

As she waited for a meeting with Roddenberry and Star Trek’s production team, Nichols entertained herself by reading a book by Robert Ruark entitled Uhuru, the Swahili term for freedom. As stated by the Woman in Motion documentary, Nichols suggested the repurposing of Uhuru for the character’s surname. For Nyota Uhuru’s first name, Nyota materialized in Star Trek II: Biographies, a 1982 reference book, first used in the Star Trek 2009 movie. (Source: Looper

Lt. Nyota Uhura’s Role in Star Trek

Although Star Trek’s The Original Series failed to use Nyota Uhura effectively as a lieutenant in the USS Enterprise, Nyota carries a much more significant role than her portrayal in a typical episode. Usually, she’s making Captain Kirk’s phone calls, but her contributions to the crew go beyond that.

Nyota Uhura is the Chief Communications Officer. With that said, she is the nerve center of a 400-something crew. Not only that, but she also manages the communications staff while handling communications inside and outside their space vessel, which does not exclude issued imperatives from the crew and Kirk’s orders. Nyota Uhura takes on the role of being a network for the USS Enterprise as she manually routes information across countless work consoles. (Source: Looper)

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