NASA also solicited recommendations from the public and from project leaders, and there was no guarantee that the winning student entry would be selected as the name of the rover.
But 12-year old Clara Ma's suggestion of Curiosity won the day. Ma is a student at Sunflower Elementary School in Kansas.
"Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day," she wrote in the essay.
"Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder."
And that seems a pretty cool sentiment given the rover mission's goal of finding out more about one of our neighbouring planets.
What did people working on the project think? See page 2, where you can also find out how your name can travel to Mars on Curiosity.
NASA mission program executive Mark Dahl seems to agree. "Many of the nominating essays were excellent and several of the names would have fit well," he said.
The name was also endorsed by Pete Theisinger, manager of the JPL team building and testing Curiosity. "Giving it a name worthy of this mission's quest means a lot to the people working on it," he said.
Ma has won a trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she will get the chance to sign her name on the rover.
Nine finalists have won the opportunity to write messages that will be stored on a chip attached to Curiosity. You can still have your name included on the chip if you register at the JPL web site.
The contest was run in conjunction with the WALL-E movie, and other prizes - including WALL-E robots, posters and t-shirts - were donated by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Curiosity's mission is to look for evidence of previous life, and to search for chemical building blocks of life and minerals that formed in the presence of water.