A Legal Problem Forced Star Trek: Voyager To Change Captain Janeway's Name

Few fictional characters conjure up as strong a mental image with just a mention of their name as the captains of the beloved "Star Trek" universe. Mention the word "Picard," and it's impossible not to think of Patrick Stewart's cerebral, near-Shakespearean leader, who oversaw years' worth of chaos and adventure in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its sequel series. The name "Captain Kirk" conjures up images of William Shatner in full hammy hero mode, sitting in his captain's chair or in the middle of the action — wearing an artfully torn uniform.

Every "Trek" captain conjures up these strong associations, but "Star Trek: Voyager" nearly ran into a problem with its captain's name when it turned out the original option was already taken. According to the book "Captains' Logs Supplemental" by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, which was published during that show's '90s run, Kathryn Janeway almost had a different name: Elizabeth. Before the series was shot or the main role cast, the commander of the U.S.S. Voyager was initially called Elizabeth Janeway, but that plan ran into a snag when someone realized it was the same name as a famous real-life feminist author and critic.

The character's original first name was already taken by a feminist author

"There is a prominent Elizabeth Janeway, and we're not allowed to use names of prominent people because it can be sticky," longtime "Trek" writer and eventual "Star Trek: Voyager" showrunner Jeri Taylor said in an interview. The real Elizabeth Janeway would've been a great inspiration for a strong character like the one Kate Mulgrew would end up playing: in the 20th century, she penned several novels and books about second wave feminism and the lives of women, and also aided in major movements of the time including a 1940s General Motors strike and the fight for abortion rights. According to The Guardian, Janeway was a friend of prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and she also served as president of the Authors Guild, where she fought to protect the work of writers.

Janeway died in 2005, but according to Taylor, she may have heard through the grapevine about the "Trek" character who almost had her name. "We heard sort of secondhand that Elizabeth Janeway was flattered about it," Taylor shared at the time. After the "Trek" team decided to change the name to avoid any legal snafus, Kathryn wasn't actually their second pick. That was Nicole, a name chosen by actress Genevieve Bujold, who played Janeway for just two days before apparently quitting the show. "A Federation vessel is lost in space at the edge of the galaxy, without its captain, who has abruptly abandoned ship," a New York Times piece said at the time.

Janeway was also nearly called Nicole

According to Taylor, the name "changed again to Nicole at Genevieve Bujold's request, because that is in fact her given name and she wanted that." That change didn't last; Bujold left the show after two days of filming, with Gross and Altman's book citing two different reasons for her departure. While the authors note that the official reason for her exit was due to her discomfort with "the rigors of episodic television" (Bujold was a film actress first and foremost, starring in movies like "Dead Ringers" and "Anne of A Thousand Days"), another source from the show called her dailies "terrible." Either way, the name Nicole went out the door with Bujold.

"For two days it was Nicole Janeway and then when Kate came on board, it was Kathryn," Taylor said, though she noted that writers didn't actually pick that name with Mulgrew in mind. "In fact, [Kathryn was] the name we'd already chosen even before Kate was cast in the role," she explained. It's probably a good thing that Janeway ended up with the name she did; "Voyager" remains one of the most underrated "Trek" shows to date, and as it aired during the early internet age, it would've been tough for fans to talk about her online without plenty of search term confusion. Plus, I just can't picture latter-season Janeway letting anyone call her "Liz."