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WHO IS WW?: The Wonder Woman Name
October 21, 2015 By Brett Jett
“I am an Earth girl. They call me Wonder Woman.” –Wonder Woman, in 1942.
Before touting her with numerous epithets–such as The Amazon Maid, Amazon Princess, Fearless Maiden, Magic Maid–Dr. Marston gave his superheroine the official tag “Wonder Woman”. But why wasn’t she named “SuperWoman”? What’s up with the “Wonder Woman” name? Well…
The term “super woman” refers only to the facet of WW that she’s superhumanly strong. And unlike Power Girl or Supergirl, even without her super strength, there’d still be more to WW.
Dr. Marston originally named her “Suprema, the wonder woman” on the first Wonder Woman script submitted to editor Sheldon Mayer in February 1941, with family friend Marjorie Wilkes Huntley at least partly responsible for giving her the “Wonder Woman” name. Sheldon held to this superhero craze that was sweeping the nation at the time, so somehow after going through him, the ‘Wonder Woman’ superhero name was finalized in place of ‘Suprema’. And from a marketing standpoint, she could shine brighter if distinguished from Superman as an entirely different mythos–which she definitely was!–rather than coming off as a cheap ditto. Also, ‘Diana’ was a more appropriate name than ‘Suprema’ to align with Dr. Marston’s intentions for the character. And so Wonder Woman received not only her final proper name (See “Moonshadows Of…” chapter of my manuscript), but her final official tag before she was even published, which appropriately turned out to be good for her, since ‘Suprema’ is too likened as a female ‘Superman’…as Wonder Woman is a character that has an entirely separate connotation from a ‘Superman’, as we shall see…and WW herself wouldn’t have accepted that name, because it suggests that she’s superior & above the human race.
But in-story-wise: It was actually the media in Man’s World–and news editor Mr. Brown in the third retcon–that gave Princess Diana the “Wonder Woman” tag, when she first made headlines, even though beforehand it was implied on Paradise Island that Diana was a ‘wonder woman’ (in the Amazonian language’s translation). Because, like Superman’s name, “wonder woman” actually existed as a word long before Dr. Marston sculpted WW from the mental clay of his imagination and made it a name.
In the 1800’s & early 1900’s, the term ‘wonder woman’ originally came into popular use to basically mean: A woman who is remarkably blessed, gifted. It connoted that the woman was extraordinary, set apart from the typical women that society commonly knew, like a diamond amongst black sand. This could be referring to any one or more aspects of her…skills, position, beauty, etc. Any aspect of her that is especially blessed would get her touted as a wonder woman. The psychological rationale behind this is that in earlier parts of Western history, women were socially not expected to be the bread winners or hunters, anymore than children were. They were subservient, which left them stuck with its stigma. And therefore a woman with exceptional talent was seen as uncommon, something special. Whereas with men, great things were already expected from them as potential paragons of bread winner, forceful hunter and hero. And so the term ‘superman’ simply connoted a higher magnitude of those roles. Furthermore, the term ‘wonder woman’ was entirely feminine-appropriate, because its connotation was simply about having the sensational gifts, abilities, rather than inherently being about anything macho…even tho Dr. Marston endowed Wonder Woman with the masculine ability of super strength, technically making her a superwoman. In this case her super strength was [one of] her sensational gift. Its Diana’s mind and the person she is that’s at the root of what makes her truly a wonder woman.
The Wonder Child.
To further understand where the connotations of the ‘wonder woman’ term & name come from, consider also what WW’s mother called her at birth: Wonder child (tho in the second retcon it was “wonder girl”)…or miracle child…which is the English translation of ‘Wunderkind’, the German term that means ‘child prodigy’, one whose talents are recognized at an early age, and has existed in psychology as far back as 1890. And that’s what Dr. Marston designed her to be–having abilities as a child that the Amazons 1.0 only had as adults–and consequently grow up to be a wonder woman. Of course in Dr. Marston’s incarnation, of the WW mythos no less, this was due to the fact that WW was born as a child while the Amazon 1.0 were brought to life as adults. However, this was actually a fairytale fantasy-type allegory for the child prodigy concept that he was highlighting. Other successive female champion characters have also carried this concept as part of their design.
The term ‘wonder child’ was also an ancient archetype associated with redemption from darkness and the power of the new. And indeed Dr. Marston was saying that baby Princess Diana was a miracle and the first of their new hope of new beginnings in this world. Just think how much more great she is as a full-grown wonder woman, for Dr. Marston intended for her to also have a wonderful mind that helps her work miracles.
Arts & entertainment.
Back in 1800’s & early 1900’s, you could find the term in A&E such as in the 1917 storybook by Mae Van Norman, “The Wonder Woman”, and so on. In each case, the special woman in question did something astonishing that took men by surprise & filled them with feelings of wonderment, setting them apart from the usual women of society.
In the movie THE WONDER OF WOMEN, the woman in question was the wife of an unfaithful musician, who made sure her husband’s ghost-written music was publicly credited to him, before she died. The husband, having found out about his wife’s unselfish deed, decides not to pursue his mistress. So the wonder of this woman was the unconditional love she had for husband despite everything, and the effect it had on him.
Other media media portrayals of wonder women came from black-&-white films, such as the 1914 “Perils Of Pauline” or “Hazards Of Helen” serials, whose exploits showcase how, despite women’s damsel-in-distress status, they have minds that can work wonders on their own to get out of jeopardy, catch the badguy and solve the mystery.
Real world references.
In 1905, the media touts Princess Nur Mahal as a ‘wonder woman’. They were referring to her multi-faceted gifts. Helen Keller was also once called a ‘wonder woman’, as was Florence Nightingale. So in these cases, the term referred to their seemingly miraculous abilities to cure people. And with those trends, the term was less connected to anything that could be interpreted as “masculine” such as athleticism & strength, and more to things of finesse, magic coming from within.
Today, even though society’s general view of women has evolved onward toward recognizing their true capabilities, the term retains its original meaning, albeit with some new variations. Because even today, anyone who is extraordinary is rare, therefore any woman who stands out from the crowd with an extraordinary effect or ability could possibly be called a wonder woman. Modern music recording artist Aaliyah was called ‘wonder woman’. Though its not to say that “regular” women couldn’t reach within themselves and develop exceptional qualities and become wonder women. And in modern slang terms, ‘wonder woman’ has come to mean ‘a successful woman who can have a good career and a family at the same time’, which earlier in our history was seen as nearly impossible.
But thanks to the popularity Marston’s fictional superheroine over the years, the term ‘wonder woman’ has gained yet another definition to append to the original: Multi-faceted women who are strong, and ingenious, and dauntless…just as Princess Diana is.
Wonder woman versus superman.
Now, the compound word ‘wonder woman’ by itself (without social contexts), broken down word by word, connotes a woman that is a creation regarded with awe, that astonishes you by surprise, a marvelous woman, miraculous. And considering the worldwide reception given to her, WMM’s fictional creation could very well be considered the 8th (or 9th) Wonder of the world. Compare this with the word ‘super man’, word by word, which (esp. in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche) connotes a superior man who’s ahead in human evolution, beyond what regular men are, and seemingly god-like. But for the term ‘wonder woman’, it is not saying that the woman has highly evolved into a superior being, something beyond human. She’s still a regular human being…imperfect, mortal, but one that possesses an amazing ability/effect, doing things that you thought only a goddess could do; things that outshine her imperfections; that boggle the mind & fill your spirits with an energized pleasantness, like a miracle or magic; all of which is more about her mind & heart than her genetics. Which makes you wonder about the real potentials deep within us regular mortals.
Modern interpretations of the term ‘superman’ include influences by Zarathustra who presented Nietzsche’s Übermensch as the creator of new values within the moral vacuum of nihilism. And surely, due to Dr. Marston’s influence, modern interpretations of the term ‘wonder woman’ would carry that same implication of new values, particularly of the Venusian persuasion.
The Nietzsche-ian term ‘super man’ also carries with it oppressive connotations of rulership. Ditto with the female versions of that term. Whereas, ‘wonder woman’ has no such haughty attachments. Had WW lost control of her appetitive ego & fell to the side of Ares, then her consequent actions & attitude would truly earn her the name ‘Suprema’ & its dictator connotation.
By now you can already see that ‘wonder woman’ has a notably different connotation from ‘superman’, ‘supergirl’, ‘superwoman’, or ‘suprema’. But there’s one other connotation that hermetically illustrates how more apt the term ‘wonder woman’ is for Princess Diana than ‘super’ anything; one that both terms share yet separates them.
Especially since the dawn of the comicbook superhero, the term ‘super man’ (or ‘super’ anyone) has been predominantly further interpreted to refer to someone with invincible, dominant force of strength. So while ‘superwoman’ is limited to implying that the woman in question is a powerhouse, the term ‘wonder woman’ implies any number of blessings, which could include super strength but isn’t limited to it. And indeed, the wonder woman that is Princess Diana is not just a powerhouse. She’s also a very sharp thinker (when she’s not emotionally rattled), a skilled warrior, and most of all, a compassionate being. She’s multi faceted, and such a person would be ideally suited to traverse the heroine’s journey, survive it, and succeed. All of which requires more than mere physical might.
But overall, you could say that ‘wonder woman’ connotes magic coming from a woman…a miracle worker able to work magic never conceived before as possible, and for the good of all people. It is a multi faceted term. And in all cases, it has the woman as the centerpiece, the shining star of the show, with metaphoric sparkles glittering from her.
And so…what an appropriate tag “Wonder Woman” is for Dr. Marston’s superhero! For most of the above points are what Dr. Marston intended his WW to be. Although WW is the lead, all of his Amazons are wonder women…or at least in training to be. And what an appropriate mythology he created that is at least one way to explain where wonder women come from.
Though, one other reason why the name ‘Wonder Woman’ is so appropriate for Dr. Marston’s character is that the confusion over his theories & intentions for WW and the fact that he never left behind a concise and complete explanation of WW’s entire design has kept people “wondering” all these decades, yearning for Marstonian scholars to come forth to fill that void. 😉