For ten or so years now, one of my TV-related guilty pleasures has been Grey’s Anatomy. “Guilty pleasure” may not be the right phrase for it, because a) I don’t feel guilty about it, and b) it’s really not all that pleasurable, since the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes keeps killing off my favorite characters and writing stories that make me want to pull my hair out. But I admit that the madness makes for good TV, or else I wouldn’t keep watching it.
Instead of guilty pleasure, let’s call it “bittersweet torture.”
A few evenings ago, I was watching my bittersweet torture when I had a couple of epiphanies. You know that one episode where Meredith is irritable and says cranky things and makes poor decisions? Just kidding – she’s that way ALL THE TIME. Anyway, while I was sitting back and judging our favorite grumpy surgeon from the comfort of my own sofa, this occurred to me:
Mere’s personality is accurately summed up by her last name – Grey
If you don’t watch the show, I’ll tell you that Meredith Grey exists in a “dark and twisty” place a lot of the time. She’s compassionate and hard-working, but she’s also a bit of a rain cloud, and she openly admits to being distrustful of any hope or light that enters the picture. She frequently talks about not seeing things as black & white, or good & bad. She sees the in-between. She thinks in grey. And that’s a mature position to take, except when it leads to her making some terrible-ass decisions.
Then, I started thinking about other characters’ last names, and I had Epiphany #2. Or really, it was Epiphany #1, Part B:
Many of the characters’ last names have meanings that represent the personalities and values of the characters themselves.
Have I been living under a rock? Has everyone else been aware of this connection the whole time? Suddenly, I’m questioning everything – including my own name. What day is it? Where am I?
These first few examples had me absolutely convinced that Shonda and the other writers knew exactly what they were doing when they named their characters. Admittedly, some of the names didn’t seem to fit with this theory at first, at least not off the top of my head. Enter Google.
The “yang” side of the yin-yang symbol is said to represent passion, logic, and strength. The yang is also technically considered the “male side” of the Tao symbol, but I still think this works for Cristina. No, I don’t consider her masculine, but her character did frequently confront stereotypical views of femininity.
Simply enough, a shepherd is a leader and protector. Sounds a bit like Derek, doesn’t it?
A “bailey” is an outer enclosure of a castle. How perfect is this? If the hospital were a castle, Bailey would most certainly be the strong, protective barrier.
I didn’t expect for this name to work with the theory, but a quick Google search taught me that it’s Gaelic for “gentle.” (If you just cooed, “Aww, George!” after reading this, you’re not alone.)
Focused like a hunter. Pursues what he wants. Dominant.
Possibly my favorite meaning on this list, Burke means “to murder by suffocation.” No, seriously! Now, did Preston literally (or even televisionally) commit homicide? No. But did Cristina’s personality and identity get suffocated in her relationship to him? Definitely.
As I kept gleefully Googling name meanings, the last-names-match-personalities concept started to lose some of its strength. These names and their meanings are a bit more of a stretch:
A robin is an energetic, lively bird, and the name also means “bright and shining.” These both fit pretty well with what we know of Arizona, but it seems a bit too… easy.
Means honorable, which does kinda work for Izzie, but is a bit vague. This meaning could have just as easily been applied to any other character.
In the UK, “sloan” is apparently a slang term for a rich person. Hmm. This is technically true of Mark, but was probably not an intentional move by Shonda.
Spanish for “towers.” Callie is sort of… mighty and… tower-like, I guess.
Yeah, okay, that last one was pushing it.
Last but not least, I’d like to give honorable mentions to the names that didn’t fit with this theory no matter how much I manipulated them:
- Karev means positivity… I know, I’m laughing too.
- Kepner means weaver of cloaks. Weird. Also, don’t confuse this with Webber, which means weaver of cloths. Big difference.
- Avery apparently means Elf Ruler. Bahahaha! You know Jackson would be PISSED about that.
- Also, since the Grey theory doesn’t work with Little Grey’s personality at all, I was hoping that maybe the name Lexie would mean, “weasels her way into Meredith’s heart and everyone else’s” or even, “photographic memory.” No such luck.
At this point, I’m thinking that the connection between name meanings and character personalities is probably more of a coincidence than a conscious plan on Shonda’s part. I’m not sure I care though. Whether it was purposeful or happenstance, it still makes for an interesting idea!