'Star Trek: Discovery' Casts Main Character With A Mysterious Name

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The Discovery, designation NCC-1031. CBS Television Studios

The bubble of secrecy around Star Trek: Discovery has left us with a very strange, but likely eminently explicable, new piece of casting news. Though we’ve long known that Sonequa Martin-Green of The Walking Dead would play the new Trek’s main character, the first officer aboard USS Discovery NCC-1031, the official announcement adds a strange new wrinkle: the character is named Michael Burnham.

This is odd for two reasons. The first is obvious: Michael isn’t exactly known as a gender-neutral name. But what’s even weirder is that the name Michael Burnham doesn’t seem to be a trait baked in from the beginning. For months the character has been known as Commander Rainsford, suggesting whatever mystery is attached to the “Michael” appellation was developed relatively recently.

The official announcement gives no indication of what’s going on here, reading simply “her character’s name is First Officer Michael Burnham.”

While there are all sorts of possibilities, such as a transgender character, the most likely explanation is that Michael Burnham is part of the long Star Trek tradition of breaking apart traditional categorical norms. In Star Trek: The Next Generation the USS Enterprise is captained by a French captain with a neutral, even slightly British, accent. Male background characters on TNG can occasionally be spotted in miniskirts (though they never had the guts to put Riker in one). Michelle Yeoh’s character in Star Trek: Discovery captains a ship with a Chinese name, the Shenzhou, but she bears a Greek surname: Captain Georgiou.

We don’t know what’s going on with the rechristened Star Trek: Discovery lead, Michael Burnham, but it can probably be chalked up to Star Trek ’s internationalist future, where the erasure of national boundaries has also meant the intermingling of labels and cultural signifiers.

Star Trek: Discovery still doesn’t have a premiere date.

Summary: Sonequa Martin-Green ('The Walking Dead') has officially been cast in 'Star Trek: Discovery,' but the new first commander has a name that evokes more questions than answers.

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