How To Name a Lesbian or Bisexual TV Character

The nice thing about having an internal database of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary television characters is that you can get really, truly obsessive about various patterns in the data. Like, for example, what queer characters are often named. Unfortunately, there’s no database tracking the popularity of all TV character names for me to compare our numbers to, although there is an analysis of movie character names, which determined the most popular names for female movie characters were Sarah, Mary, Lucy, Claire, Alice, Maggie, Rachel, Lisa, Kate and Anna.

There’s lists of the most popular baby names bequeathed within the last three decades in the U.S., upon which we find Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, Samantha, Amanda, Brittany, Elizabeth, Taylor, Megan, Madison, Emma, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Ava, Mia, Charlotte and Sophia.

We’ve got the most popular names of the last one hundred years: Mary, Patricia, Jennifer, Elizabeth, Linda, Barbara, Susan, Jessica, Margaret, Sarah.

So when you look at our database, you’d anticipate a selection of those same names showing up in abundance but my friends… you will not. Our characters — particularly those that are written as queer from the jump or guest characters who exist solely to be The Lesbian, rather than characters who become gay eventually but weren’t initially intended that way, often are the most deliberately named of all. Let’s get into it.


1. Call Her Franky / Frankie

Start here: Franky. Frankie. Sounds good, right? Butch but playful, like a grown-up tomboy. Like how lesbians are allowed to wear sneakers wherever they want no matter how old they are; even to host daytime talk shows or give poetry readings. That’s a classic Frankie move. Is Frankie a nickname for Francesca? Frances? Has there even been a straight Frankie/Franky on television? (Frankie in Grace & Frankie doesn’t count.) Frankies have hobbies. They are a little rebellious.

Franky/Frankie is tied as the third most popular name for TV characters in our database, but Frankie comes in at #132 on the list of most popular names for girls in the U.K and “Franky” doesn’t rank at all. If it’s short for Francesca, that’s #89. In the U.S., Frankie ranks much lower, in the 700s, but most of our Frankies on TV are from the Commonwealth: Franky Fitzgerald in Skins (UK), Franky Doyle in Wentworth (Australia) and the show Wentworth was based on, Cell Block H (Australia). Frankie Alan, aka Shane UK, from Lip Service (UK), Frankie Hollingsworth from Canada’s Degrassi, Frankie Coyne from Canadas’s Workin’ Moms. We’ve got a Frankie on UK soap Emmerdale. Just two Frankies are American — Frankie Anderson, from Rookie Blue and Frankie Stone from All My Children.

Frank, by the way, is #5 on the list of most popular names for a male movie character.

2. Give a Butch a Nickname

If you find yourself face-to-face with the subversive teen-idol potential of a grown-up masculine-of-center woman, consider a nickname. Eva “Papi” Torres. Carrie “Big Boo” Black. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson. (The Wire character shared her name with the actress who played her.)  Elizabeth “Mac” MacMillan. Christina “Chris” Alonso. LaVerne “Jukebox” Thomas. Tiana “Coop” Cooper. Caroline “Caz” Hammond. Dominga “Daddy” Duerte. Emily “A&W” Blake. Henrietta “Hen” Wilson. Zara “Drago” Dragovich. Vivienne “Scotty” Scott. Raquel “Rocky” Perez.

Maybe we don’t even need to know the full name. Maybe even their friends don’t know until the credit cards come back from splitting the bill and somebody’s like, “wait, who’s Veronica?” Instead we just have what we have: Harry, Kase, Rocky, Finn, Brit, Denny, Eddy, Kat, Shaz.

3. They Shoot Horses Don’t They

Deciding between whether or not you want your character to be a domesticated animal (e.g., horse, dog) or a human lesbian? Pick a horse name, just in case: Dusty, Bullet, Pony, Yorkie, Clementine, Crutch, Texas, Sugar, Juicy, Pippy, Poppy, Roxy, Ruby. Fleabag? Name your horse/lesbian Fleabag.

4. Try Alex

Alex Vause and Piper Chapman’s Shipper name turned out to be Vauseman, which was a relief, because we already had a Palex (Paige and Alex, Degrassi). We could’ve had two Malexes, too, if we’d wanted them (we didn’t): Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers or Marissa Cooper and Alex Kelly. There’s just a lot of Alexes, is what I’m telling you. So many Alexes that we are often at risk of repeating a shipper name!

You can catch eleven queer Alexes (and just two Alexandras) on your television box but the most Alex-overpopulated segment of the media landscape is absolutely The Lesbian Webseries. It’s a law, I think: all lesbian webseries must contain Alexes. The LezWatchTV database has at least 12 webseries with characters named Alex. The most popular “Alex” has ever been as a baby girls name in the U.S. is 539th. That was in 1995, the same year Alexandra peaked at #26. Amongst queer female TV characters, however, it rolls in at number five. And it’s #12 on the list of most popular male movie character names.

5. …or any Girl/Boy name

I’m talking about your Sams, I’m talking about your Charlies. Your Bills and your Billies. Bring me your Devons! Your Shanes and your Shays! Your Chrisses and Bos, your Chases and CJs and Robins and Jordans, your Jos and your Joeys. Your Reagans. Lord BRING ME YOUR REAGANS.

6. Susan

In the beginning, Marta Kauffman and Kevin S. Bright created Carol and Susan. And they were without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of G-d moved upon the face of the waters. And G-d said, Let there be more Susans; and there were more Susans.

There was Susan, a human-turned-vampire-turned-human who was (as so often is the case with these characters) strangled to death. Onto us came Pilar’s butch wife Susan, with the gold chain and the bowl cut. Then we beget Bizzy’s secret girlfriend Susan, who died of cancer. After forty days and forty nights there was Susan, who told someone at the Minbari Rebirth Ceremony that she loved Talia. In exile we found Susan, George’s bisexual wife who died from licking a poisonous envelope label. In the promised land we came upon Suzanne, the earthquake specialist who had one entire date and one entire kiss with Rhonda Roth before her show got entirely cancelled. From the shadows and into the light came Suzanne who got sent to Litchfield but shouldn’t have. Susie the booking agent who is gay but they haven’t made her gay yet.

Susan may not be as popular as it once was —its average ranking over the last 200 years is #361 — but it does come in at #7 on the list of the most popular names of the last 100 years. On our list, it’s 4th.

7. Nicole / Nikki / Nico

Nicole and variations therein is the #2 most represented name family in our database with 19 occurrences. It’s a popular name in general — coming in at #42 on the 50 most popular names of the last 100 years — but its over-prevalence in our database is impossible to ignore. How do we explain all the Nikkis and Nickys and Nicoles amongst us? Nicky Nichols, Nicole Haught, Nikki Stevens, Nikki Wade, Nikki Boston? Nico from Vida and Nico from Marvel’s Runaways and Nico from Charmed and so many others where those came from? I have a theory: Nick is a boy’s name, coming in at #13 on the list of most popular male movie characters, and these names remind people of that name!

8. Bury Your Nadias

In addition to the established high death rate for Susans (38%), Nadias have a very slim chance of survival. Of five queer Nadias to appear on television, four are dead. (The fifth made out with Bette Porter in her car) Of six queer Taras, three are dead and you probably remember them all.

9. The Same Names as Everyone Else….

We’ve got your Kates and Sophies and Alices and Sarahs and Emilys and Lucys and Annes and Laurens and Jessicas and Rachels and Eves. A lot of Emilys, really. So many Emilys!

10. …More or Less

We are, however, suspiciously low on Marys. (Perhaps it’s just too holy, too Virgin Mary-ish, for someone to see a lesbian and think “MARY!”)  We have more Beths than Elizabeths. More Juleses than Julias. Some minor abundances: Debs, Deborahs and Debbies. Quite a few more-than-expected Ginas, Naomis and, most oddly, Ruby. Did I mention Franky? At the end of the day, you cannot go wrong naming your character “Franky.”

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2753 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. You forgot a key early entry in the Book of Susans. The woman Ellen Morgan came out for (who turned out to be already partnered).

    “Susan…”
    *leans on airport microphone button*
    “… I’m gay.”

  2. riese did you write this article specifically for me? the name nerd queer who subscribes to parenting websites to hear about the latest trends?

    takeaways: nicknames as names are a v popular UK thing that the US is finally catching up to. as always the queers get it first.

    masculine/neutral coded names are obviously only for lesbians.

    did you know there’s a list of most popular pet names? https://www.travelandleisure.com/animals/most-popular-dog-names-2019 there is! just perusing, we have maggie (sawyer), luna (lovegood), cooper (coop), piper (chapman), and toby (which just feels gay) in the top fifty!

    coming soon to a silver screen near you, Moose, the butch bartender with sleeve tats, a scowl, and a heart of gold!

  3. I was not aware that there was a whole entire character named Alex Kelly in something, and I don’t know how you mentioned her in the same sentence as Alex Danvers without saying anything about Kelly Olsen.

  4. If memory serves, Nadia Miertschin (or however you spell it) was the first Nadia in TLW universe who was the vapid, lesbifriend of Gabby Deveaux and who allegedly hit on Tina in a drunken haze. 2/3 odds of death?

  5. My D&D character’s name is Reagan and she’s def queer. Wonder if I picked something up from the cultural zeitgeist.

    (Her name is actually spelled Raeg’n because everyone else’s names were more… fantastical but I liked mine and wasn’t ready to change it. (Also my my name is Kate so maybe there’s no escaping queer names for me. Can’t complain, my fav superhero is my namesake, Kate Kane.))

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