Roddenberry had intended his new female communications officer to be called Lieutenant Sulu. Solow pointed out how similar this was to "Zulu" and thought it might act against the plan for racial diversity in the show, so the name Sulu remained with George Takei's character.  "Uhura" comes from the Swahili word uhuru, which means "freedom". Nichols states in her book Beyond Uhura that the name was inspired by her having had with her a copy of the book Black Uhuru on the day she read for the part. When Justman explained to Roddenberry what the word "uhuru" meant, he changed it to Uhura and adopted that as the character's name.
Uhura's first name was not used in Star Trek canon until Abrams' 2009 film, in a scene where the young Spock calls her "Nyota" in a moment of intimacy. Although other names had been suggested, "Nyota" has been the most common:
* In appearances at Star Trek conventions, Nichols had indicated that the character is "Nyota (U)penda Uhura".; perhaps coincidentally, in Nichols' 1996 novel Saturn's Child she named the mother of the titular character "Nyota".
* When writing the licensed tie-in, Star Trek II Biographies for Pocket Books, author William Rotsler contacted Nichelle Nichols and sought her approval for using the name "Nyota", and this name started appearing in original Star Trek novels, such as Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan.
* That "Nyota" is the Swahili word for "star" is mentioned by William Shatner in his book, Star Trek Memories.
* Startrek.com uses the name Nyota on their character biography page for the Animated Series but not on the TOS biography page.
* "Nyota" was also used as Uhura's first name when Nichols reprised the character in the fan film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.
Until the 2009 film became part of the franchise's canon, "Nyota" was one of three possibilities; the other two are "Penda" and "Samara":
* According to FASA's deprecated Star Trek RPG, Uhura's first name is "Samara".
* The non-canon book The Best of Trek suggests that Uhura's first name is "Penda", coined when a group of fanzine authors suggested it to her at an early convention.
In the 2009 film, the mystery regarding Uhura's first name is the subject of a running joke as Kirk repeatedly tries to find out what it is, before finally hearing Spock utter it.
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Uhura's name is misspelled as "Uhuru" in the credits.