You've Heard That Name Before: The Name 'Noonien Singh' Explained

When the crew of the Enterprise on "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" was announced, fans might have been shocked to see the name of the ship's chief of security: La'an Noonien Singh. Played by Christina Chong, the character shares her name with one of the franchise's most infamous villains. While the exact connection between La'an Noonien Singh and Khan Noonien Singh is still a mystery, it's guaranteed that having such a controversial surname is going to cause some problems for the franchise's newest security chief. Khan was Captain Kirk's (William Shatner) greatest foe, a genetically-engineered superhuman who at one point ruled over nearly a quarter of Earth's population. 

Casual fans recognize Khan best from the 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," in which Ricardo Montalbán, who also played Khan on the original series, seeks revenge on his nemesis. Kirk infamously screams his name in rage in one of the franchises' most memeable moments, with Shatner's face contorted into an angry grimace, his fists shaking. So how, exactly, does a character who is a member of Starfleet end up with the name of one of the worst war criminals in the universe? 

Star Trek: The Original Series

It's important to realize just how big of an impact Khan had on humanity in the "Star Trek" timeline. He was part of a eugenics program that was intended to create a race of superhumans, and 1993 (remember, "Trek" was originally produced in the '60s), these genetically-engineered people took over more than 40 nations, and Khan himself became absolute ruler of about one-quarter of the planet. Despite being an authoritarian dictator, Khan's rule was relatively peaceful, though he kept his citizens on a tight leash. The superhumans, called Augments, began to fight amongst themselves before involving other nations. The Eugenics Wars ended with most of the dictators overthrown or killed, but Khan found himself and 84 of his most devout followers exiled on a ship named the SS Botany Bay, after the Australian penal colony. The escapees were put into stasis and the ship set off for an unknown destination, eventually being discovered by Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise in 2267, an event we see firsthand in the original series episode "Space Speed." Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) rescues Khan from stasis, and the crew of the Enterprise chooses to leave the remaining inhabitants undisturbed.

It doesn't take too long for Khan to take advantage of Kirk and the rest of the crew, reawakening many of his followers and taking over the Enterprise. When the crew fights back and his plan is foiled, Khan tries to explode the Enterprise's warp core ... though Kirk is able to defeat him by smacking him with a large metal rod. Kirk offers Khan and his followers two options: face the Federation's justice or try to start a new colony on the nearby planet Ceti Alpha V, which is habitable, though definitely not a paradise. Khan and the followers choose the colony and Kirk gives them some basic supplies to start their new lives. Unfortunately, there is a massive environmental disaster on the planet only six months after the Enterprise leaves, leaving only the colonists and indigenous, horrifying Ceti eels alive. Many of the Botany Bay colonists die slow, horrible deaths as the eels' young invaded their brains ... including Khan's wife.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

22 years later, the USS Reliant sends members of its crew down to the planet, which they believed to be uninhabited, as a part of a project tied to terraforming. Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), formerly of the Enterprise, and his captain, Clark Terrell (Paul Winfield) are captured by Khan, who uses some Ceti eels to take over their minds and discover Kirk's location. He sets a course for his revenge, growing more obsessive as time goes on. He seems to get his revenge, at least in part, when he maroons Kirk and his away team inside of the planetoid Regula I, much like Kirk had marooned him on Ceti Alpha V. But the Enterprise rescues Kirk and the away team, as they always do, and head off to battle with Khan and the commandeered Reliant. In a final act of desperation, Khan activates the experimental Genesis device that was intended for Ceti Alpha V, hoping to take the Enterprise out with him. Instead, the Enterprise zips off at warp, leaving Khan to die alone. 

Khan and the other Augments were considered so potentially dangerous that genetic engineering was outlawed by the Federation in the late 24th century, though scientists continued researching it in secret and it was possible to get black market genetic engineering to enhance traits, which we saw with Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." His parents had illegally paid someone to augment their son, to make him smarter and stronger, and though Bashir never demonstrated any of Khan's narcissistic or tyrannical tendencies, he did struggle with his genetically altered status for much of his life.

Who is La'an?

That's everything there really is to know about Khan Noonien Singh, but what about the woman on "Strange New Worlds" who bears his name? We know that she is related to Khan in some way, though the series' co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman was very dodgy about how, exactly: 

"She's related to Khan, for sure, and, uh, and the deal will unfold ... We don't want to bring folks into the show to be splashy. We want to dig deeply into characters that are part of our ensemble and then, obviously, we're open to getting our arms ... but right now, what you see is what you get."

Having a character that's related to Khan is an interesting way to approach the character, though I hope they don't try to actually bring him back. "Strange New Worlds" is a prequel series to the original series, which means it's possible for Khan to be woken up at some point during this show. Theoretically. Khan is just such an emotionally charged character for everyone involved, from the fans who love him in "Star Trek II" to those who would rather forget the Kelvin timeline version (where he was played by a forgettable Benedict Cumberbatch). 

As far as La'an's concerned, she will have to reconcile sharing a name with one of history's greatest villains. From what we've seen so far, she seems like a tough, no-nonsense security officer, but could that be a way to protect herself from any cruelty she might experience on account of her name and heritage? Many of the characters on "Strange New Worlds" have ties to other "Trek" characters and stories, but hers might be the most complicated, with potential to explore what it means to have the blood of a monster inside you.