Great TV names that “evoke an image”

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!! I remain ever so grateful for all of you!! ❤

Something fun today — a reader emailed me with the following question:

[M]y husband and I watch the TV show The Blacklist, in which the main character Elizabeth named her daughter Agnes at the end of the last season. I also noticed that in Gray’s Anatomy one of the couples (can’t remember their names, I just get glimpses of this show when hubs watches) named their baby Harriett. I wondered if you had any thoughts about TV show baby names/”bringing back old lady names”, whether Catholicky or not. It may not be a trend at all, if I just happen to have noticed the two times it happened in recent TV…I haven’t looked further into it, because the amount of TV is too overwhelming!

Ohhh goodness, I feel that way too: “the amount of TV is too overwhelming!” My parents and my hubs and I are always on the lookout for a good show, and I personally find myself often overwhelmed at the number of options and the number of suggestions by family and friends. Not a terrible problem to have!

Anyway, back to this lovely reader’s question, I responded:

[O]n the one hand, I feel like TV writers try to get a feel for how the trends are going and maybe get ahead of the next big trend if they can? And maybe them introducing the names that might have been the next big ones anyway (based on the fact that I think it takes two generations for names to stop feeling dated and start feeling vintage or something like that) cements them, or really gets it started?

And then I took to Twitter, tagging Duana because she’s an actual TV writer!

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And she said:

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So fun to get inside TV naming a little, right? That phrase — “a name that evokes an image” — has been going around in my head the last couple days, and I kept thinking of TV names that I thought were bang-on (at least for me):

Frasier and Niles Crane and Lilith from Frasier (and Frasier and Lilith were originally on Cheers)

Both the first names and the last name of the Crane brothers say to me “pretentious, meticulous, Ivy League.” I have long been in love with these characters’ names, they’re so perfect! And could Lilith — the name of a scary demon in Jewish tradition — be the perfect name for a hated ex-wife character? Um, yes! (My husband thought I should include Daphne Moon, but I’ve never felt the name was quite right for her. I mean yes, they attempted to show her as a little flaky and with the whole “third eye” thing, which the name Daphne Moon does fit, but I never felt like they were successful with portraying her that way — I always thought she was wiser and more serious/grounded than her name suggests.)

Chandler Bing, Rachel Green, Phoebe, Joey from Friends

For both Chandler and Rachel, it’s the last names that do it for me — Bing is just kind of goofy; Green is “inexperienced” — both seem perfect for their characters, with Green being especially good for how Rachel joined the group. Phoebe is both nature-y, being the name of a bird and the sound of its call, and goddess-y, being the name of a Titan goddess, and therefore is really great for a hippie-type character (though I don’t like that I know some people who won’t consider it for their own daughters because of the name being so connected to that character. But it is biblical and Grace’s Phoebe is doing wonders for the name and Friends ended over ten years ago [and aired over twenty years ago — wha??]). And Joey. Is there a better name for a good-guy buddy with simple tastes?

Steve Urkel on Family Matters and Topanga on Boy Meets World

These two are listed together of course because both shows were on the TGIF lineup when I was a teen and though my parents rarely let us watch anything other than the G-est of G-rated shows, we did all gather for these Friday night shows and we loooooved them (if you know my brothers, don’t let them tell you differently!). Urkel is just the best last name for this nerdy character with the nasally voice! And Topanga was perfect for the child of hippy dippy parents.

Michael and Linc on Prison Break

Michael — not Mike — is serious like his name and a good/wholesome protective defender like St. Michael; Linc (in the context of the show) makes me think of chain-link fences and prison. Though I don’t love Lincoln and Michael as brother names, just because they have different feels, I do love Linc and Michael as these two jail-bird (but good-guy) brothers.

Jim, Michael Gary Scott, Dwight Kurt Schrute from The Office

Jim is a great name for his character I think — just your normal guy in a normal, not-exciting job (contrarily, I’ve always HATED Pam’s name — not the name, just the name for her — it just always struck me as inappropriate for her age and without the appropriate image to make up for it. Pamela went from barely top 1000 in 1925 to #10 in 1953 and then slid slowly down again, though it didn’t drop out of the top 100 until 1984. So yes, it’s conceivable that Pam could have been named Pam, but it just always felt too 1953 to me, and what does 1953 hope to convey? But then the girl in The Fockers was Pam, so maybe I’m all off). Michael is such a versatile name, but I love that he was always Michael (unless he was Prison Mike 😂), which was really good for a boss that tried hard to be the boss, and I love that his middle name was Gary — the whole thing first+middle+last combo was just so him. And Dwight strikes me as kind of nerdy (no offense to any non-nerdy Dwights!), but also the staccato cadence of the full Dwight Kurt Schrute (as well as the Germanness of Kurt and Schrute) is very militaristic and goose-steppy, so perfect for him.

Leonard, Sheldon, Howard on Big Bang Theory

They’re three geeky, socially awkward twenty-something scientists, and I think these names convey that immediately! (Not if they were on older men, mind you, just on young men.)

Lorelai on Gilmore Girls

This one is iffy. I do find it hard to believe that her parents would name a daughter Lorelai — it’s so perfect for her — kind of creative and funky — but not perfect for those parents to have chosen. However, I do appreciate that they explained Lorelai was her dad’s mom’s name — that does strike me as very them, to choose an old family name.

Those are just the ones that came to me over the last few days as particularly good — I’d love to know what TV character names you think perfectly evoke the image the character embodies! I’m being pretty strict here — I want *just* TV character names, not movie or book character names — I think (tell me if you disagree!) there is/can be a difference between how characters on TV/in movies/in books are named (I’ll do other posts on those later).

(Don’t forget to check out the Sancta Nomina marketplace for any of your Black Friday shopping! 🙂 )

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16 thoughts on “Great TV names that “evoke an image”

  1. TV shows tend to pick everyman names for characters. Leading men/action heroes are often Jacks. The equivalent for women is Kate (or maybe Claire or Olivia.) 24 and Lost both had Jacks (as did Law and Order.) Castle’s lead was a Kate; Fringe and Scandal and Law and Order have Olivias. I think those names have consonants that convey strength and action.

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  2. I used to have a baby name book that categorized names by “image”. (Cool, nerdy, etc.) I loved it, but misplaced it and can’t remember the title. It is probably out of date by now though.

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  3. I don’t know if you have been watching the new show”This Is Us” (but you should be!), but one of the episodes has a plot about changing a baby’s name after he was born and named. You really need to start at Episode 1 with this show, but the one about the name is somewhere in the first 3. There’s also a Jack and a Kate in this show…

    On Big Bang, I think the boys were named after real-life scientist Sheldon Leonard. I’ve always loved the girls’ names on that one, too. Bernadette’s family is Catholic, and I think Penny is an outstanding name for her character.

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    • I’ve heard good things about “This Is Us” — I’ll have to look into it! Yes, I discovered that Sheldon and Leonard were named after Sheldon Leonard, I hadn’t known that! And I love Bernadette as the daughter of Catholic parents (I didn’t feel like it really fit *her* though, do you?), and I’ve not ever been really sure what I think of Penny … probably because I’m not sure what image the name Penny evokes (for me anyway), but I definitely don’t see Penelope as fitting her — do we ever find out if Penelope’s her full given name, or is it just Penny?

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      • There’s an episode of BBT where Penny gets heavily into playing a video game and her screen name has Penelope in it. So I think it is supposed to be her given name, but I do think it’s a bit weird for her.

        I also think Bernadette is soooo fitting for her character as a geeky girl from a Polish family. Maybe notsomuch for this next generation of Bernadettes (all the ones being born now), but for a name for a 30-year-old, yes.

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      • Oh yes! I saw that episode, you’re totally right about Penelope. And I also totally agree that Bernadette really fits for the family she came from! Just not so much for *her* (being nonreligious and all, at least in the episodes I’ve seen … we watched the first few seasons a million times when they were on repeat on TBS but haven’t watched any in a while and none of the new seasons — I only know Penny and Leonard are married from articles/social media) … I feel like TV characters’ names sometimes walk a fine line between what their parents would have believably named them, and what actually fits their characters … Lorelai from Gilmore Girls is a good example (but the total opposite of the Bernadette example) because I just don’t see her parents naming her that, though it’s perfect for her … I always find it jarring when the two don’t match up (since TV characters’ names often tell us something about them, which is different from real babies, whose names only tell us something about their parents). I think about character names way too much! I feel like it’s not something I do well in my own fiction efforts. And I’m delighted to hear others’ arguments for why they like/don’t like certain character names!

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  4. I think that TV writers might be good at picking up on soon-to-be trends riiight before they become known as trends. I don’t know if that makes sense haha. But Grey’s Anatomy has Harriet right now – it’s an “old lady” name, which are becoming popular, but it’s not one that we’re hearing a LOT yet. It’s like they picked it right before it starts to really rise. They picked Sophia a few years back – I think Sophia/Sofia was already picking up steam, but it wasn’t QUITE as popular as it’s known to be now?? So maybe that’s how they go about it? Figuring out a trend (like old lady names) and picking a name that fits into that category but isn’t widely used yet (Harriet, Agnes). Not sure!

    Another good set of names on This Is Us (which you should totally watch! It’s amazing!) is Randall and Beth’s daughters – Annie and Tess. (I know you love Tess!)

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    • Yes! I do think they’re sometimes quite good at that — getting in on a trend before it’s a trend. And I LOVE sisters Annie and Tess! I might have imagined having daughters with those names once or twice 🙂

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