It’s happened to all of us at least once. You walk in on a conversation between a couple of your fellow queer ladies while they’re discussing TV fandoms. One of them is raving about her favorite wlw character, and you agree wholeheartedly, only to realize you’re not even talking about the same person. Then you get very confused. Wait, are we talking about Supergirl or Orange is the New Black? Turns out they’re talking about Degrassi and you look like an idiot.
Let’s face it, when we meet female TV characters with certain names, we just know they’re probably going to turn out to be queer. Maybe it’s especially obvious to me because I have one of these names, but there’s a clear pattern. This past year or so of TV brought us a new queer character with at least 4 of the following 6 names, so I know I’m onto something here. Behold, my totally scientific list of names that signal your newest TV crush is probably into chicks.
Editor’s Note: As of 4/1/18, this article has been updated to include characters missed at the time of initial publication.
There haven’t actually been a ton of wlw characters named Emily (as far as I know), but they’ve all been memorable enough to make this name an easy pick for the list. The big one is Emily Fields, the Pretty Little Liars resident lesbian jock. She’s famous for her gay as hell outfits, kind and loyal personality, and having ALL the girlfriends. Emily Fields was an incredibly important character to have on screen. Though she had the obligatory coming out story, the show moved past that early and made her sexuality just one part of the character as a whole. She was allowed that angst as she figured out who she was, but also the happiness that comes with self-acceptance. We got the full journey over seven seasons with Emily. Unfortunately, the show disappointed by killing off many of its other queer female characters, including transwoman CeCe Drake.
Before Emily Fields, we had Emily Fitch of Skins. She was one of the major characters in the group the British teen drama followed in seasons 3 and 4. Her romance with Naomi Campbell was both adorable and gifable. It also brought the drama and broke our hearts. It may have been hard to watch at times, but in 2009 we still had a dearth of teen wlw characters on TV, and hey, we can all relate to angst.
The treatment of the couple by the show was controversial, however. Certainly in terms of negative tropes. They pulled the lesbian sleeping with a man trope, which was disappointing. It’s debatable whether or not that counted as cheating since Naomi was still being unclear what she wanted from Emily at that point, but in any case Naomi later cheated on Emily too. The cheating wlw trope tends to target bisexuals more, but still, this wasn’t the best. Then the show pulled the Bury Your Gays trope (barring a miracle) in Skins: Fire, but we don’t speak of that. Emily and Naomi lived happily ever after, okay? On the bright side, we got to hear Emily proudly declare that she wanted to have sex with girls and liked soft thighs and tits and fanny. So… there was good with the bad.
This past spring brought two new queer Emilys to our screens. On Supergirl, we officially met Maggie’s notorious ex-girlfriend and her name turned out to be Emily. Meanwhile, three episodes into The Handmaid’s Tale we learned that the character we knew as Ofglen was also named Emily. Though nothing in that show is sunshine and rainbows, Emily undisputably had one of the most painful storylines of season 1. After being caught with another woman, she was subjected to mutilation and forced to watch her lover hanged. Understandably, this upset some people in the community. However, I maintain that this was a good use of the Bury Your Gays and gayngst tropes and indeed a necessary one. Queer people would absolutely be targeted in a right-wing religious regime, and it’s important no one forget that. Not us, and definitely not those outside our community who think we have achieved equality.
Paige McCullers of Pretty Little Liars is basically me as a TV character, and her arc hurt so good. While Emily’s coming out was somewhat difficult for her, Paige’s story was arguably more painful. Raised in a religious family, she was deeply closeted and had to fight through a lot of self-loathing homophobia. She was also bullied deeper into the closet by Alison, who didn’t want her getting close to Emily. But after some seriously problematic behavior and scared false starts, she managed to come out and be happy with herself. Some people don’t want to see homophobia and painful queer storylines on TV, but I strongly disagree. This is important. Those of us who have gone through things like this need to see ourselves represented. And people who still are going through it need to know there’s hope on the other side.
Degrassi: The Next Generation also had a wlw by this name, the bisexual Paige Michalchuk. One of the main characters, she got involved with bad girl Alex Nuñez midway through her run on the series. The two dated for a couple of seasons, and after they broke up Paige hooked up with a guy again during season 7. And no, this did not somehow invalidate her queerness. I don’t want to hear any of that nonsense around here. Bisexual women are still bisexual when they’re dating men, period.
On that note, beloved bi/pan icon Kristanna Loken played a character named Paige on The L Word for a season. Well, she was in one episode in season 5, but Paige promptly left the show when she found Shane doing the realtor while they were searching for an apartment together. It was then implied that she may have burned down Wax, the skateboard/barber shop where Shane worked. This looked like a rather lovely instance of the crazy bi ex-girlfriend stereotype until Shane confessed to burning it down herself in the post-finale interrogation tapes.
There’s a couple more examples. Paige of Mary + Jane seemed to exhibit bisexual (or at the very least heteroflexible) tendencies. She had a weirdly hilarious queer sex dream, perhaps influenced by marijuana and her business partner’s sexual fluidity. Also, Community had a guest character named Page in one episode, who wasn’t actually a lesbian but was mistaken for one. Perhaps the name had something to do with it.
Lisa Simpson has got to be the most famous queer Lisa on television. The fact that she’s both polyamorous and bisexual is not necessarily common knowledge, but a series of family photos in The Simpsons 23×09 “Holidays of Future Passed” revealed she had two girlfriends (at once) in college before marrying Millhouse.
Arguably the most notorious queer character named Lisa, however, fittingly comes from the most notorious wlw show. The L Word’s Lisa the lesbian man is not a wlw, but still, he identified as a lesbian. That entire storyline made little sense and seemed to be an off-color joke. It hasn’t aged well either, as in retrospect it appears to be mocking a nonbinary character. Of course, The L Word rarely handled any trans or genderqueer issues with anything resembling tact. Additionally, there was at least one more queer Lisa on The L Word, possibly two. Then there was Tasha’s straight dead friend from the army who was also named Lisa. It’s by far the most common name on the show.
This is not just an L Word thing, though. House of Cards regular Rachel Posner developed a relationship with a woman named Lisa Williams during season 2 of that show. Theirs was a particularly beautiful and cathartic relationship to watch: two damaged women finding solace, comfort, and trust in each other. It was great and all until Rachel’s handler stalker Stamper forced her to break things off with Lisa because he was obsessed with her (and eventually ended up murdering her. Yikes.)
Shameless added to the Lisa trend in 2015 when it introduced a lesbian couple to the Gallaghers’ neighborhood. Not just one, but both of them were named Lisa. The Lisas were part of the gentrification storyline that took off in season 5 and has dominated the show since. That explains part of why they are not generally liked, but homophobia seems to come into play too. The couple is referred to by lesbophobic slurs as much as their name(s). I don’t like them either, since they are your typical overbearing and judgmental suburbanites, but some of the slurs and threats they were subject to were a bit much. We haven’t seen the Lisas since season 6, but at last sighting they were pregnant. At the same time. Stereotypical and hilarious.
The appearance of Nicole’s surprise wife Shae in Wynonna Earp this year cemented that name’s place on this list. She came on the heels of Orphan Black’s Shay Davydov. I think fans of Lost Girl were ecstatic to hear Ksenia Solo was going to play a queer woman until they heard the character was an alternative love interest for Cosima. Then boy, did she get internet hate. It was really too bad, because Shay was an interesting character who seemed to be really good for Cosima. She was caring and a good listener and overall a terrific catch, and I was sad she didn’t stay on the show in some capacity.
Though it was her last name, I also count Chicago Fire’s Leslie Shay in this tally. No one called her by her first name, anyway. Leslie the lesbian was probably a little too on the nose. The sassy paramedic had off the charts chemistry with her partner, Gabby Dawson. When Dawson moved on to firefighting, she also had some serious sexual tension with Allison Rafferty, her (probably self-loathing) homophobic new partner. She had a sketchy girlfriend named Devon for a while, too, probably because they needed a lesbian with an even gayer name than Shay.
Sadly, Shay was lost to a convenient pipe hitting her head, one of the more dramatically underwhelming instances of Bury Your Gays in the last few years. She was pretty much fridged for the development of her best friends on the show. One was a guy, and the other was Dawson, the woman we all wanted her to hook up with. Yeah, that was a tear fest.
Does Shane McCutcheon from The L Word count, since the names are so similar? Close enough, I say. Do I even need to get into her story and impact on the community? Probably not a good idea. It gets me riled up, and we could be here for hours.
Being Canadian, Alex Nuñez was the first queer Alex I became aware of on TV. She came out in 2005 during Season 5 of Degrassi: The Next Generation. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I didn’t watch the show. Because of my nationality, that is, not necessarily because it’s good (my friends’ reviews are mixed). But I remember hearing about it when Alex came out, because at the time it felt like a huge deal. And it was. We had so little representation at the time outside of The L Word, which was full of characters I couldn’t relate to. To be fair, fellow Canadian teen drama Edgemont also had a lesbian character. And I really related to Shannon’s story, as I was also a gay Christian. But Degrassi is a much more well-known show, which made Alex’s coming out and her relationship with Paige extra important.
Around the same time, The OC’s protagonist Marissa Cooper had a fling with Alex Kelly, the bisexual manager of local music venue The Bait Shop. This was, again, a big deal. The OC was more mainstream in the USA and this storyline turned some heads (as well as the tide). This may have been the character who cemented the queer Alex trope. A few years later, a lesbian named Alex dated a main character on the original UK version of Mistresses. When the series was adapted for US audiences, most characters who filled similar roles had their names changed. Not Alex, though. I wonder why…
Then Alex Vause came along and stole our collective hearts. The Orange is the New Black co-lead is easily one of the most crushable characters on the show. Between the glasses and sultry voice and assertiveness, it’s no wonder Piper fell for her. That and, you know, she’s played by Laura Prepon. The community likes to argue about to what extent the Pipex relationship is toxic and if it’s good representation. I’m not gonna dip my toe in that cesspool, but in any case I am very glad Alex is around. The identity intersection of poor queer women is one that does not get nearly enough attention. I strongly related to young Alex being teased about wearing Bobos instead of Adidas and how her mom worked multiple jobs. That and her depression storyline, and pragmatism, and the way Piper’s antics never fail to make her roll her eyes.
The real life person she’s based on is actually named Catherine, which could have been shortened to the gay-ish Cat/Kat. But her name was already changed to Nora in the original memoir to protect her anonymity. And I guess Nora just wasn’t gay enough for Jenji Kohan and company.
We can count The 100’s Commander Lexa here too, because her name is shortened from Alexandria. Like Shane McCutcheon, for the sake of brevity it’s best not to get into this one, but suffice it to say everyone knows who I’m talking about and what her impact was. RIP, Heda. You deserved better.
Supergirl’s Alex Danvers is the latest in this long line of wlw characters by that name. She wasn’t originally conceived as a gay character, but they felt it fit for her, and she already had the name. Coincidence? Or is every Alex destined to be queer? To be honest, I’m pretty sure every female Alex I’ve known in real life has turned out not to be straight. But I digress.
Coming out stories for women in their late twenties and older aren’t common on TV, so Alex Danvers is a novelty in her own way, despite the common name. Her coming out story was done incredibly well and respectfully. It was both earnest and honest. Though I can’t relate to her coming out process in particular, she’s an amazing character, and the show has done a great job with her arc. The backstory and arc of her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, was more relatable to me. Honestly, it made me cry. Especially the scenes this season with her father, because I grew up in a similarly unsupportive environment. In short, Supergirl is doing amazing. This is the kind of queer representation I want to see on TV.
There aren’t as many examples of this name because it’s not a common one, but the percentage is still high. Rest assured, if you meet a woman on TV named Frankie, chances are she’s a fanny bandit. Frankie Dart, the absurdly boring efficiency consultant hired by Greendale College in season 6 of Community was outed as a lesbian when a bunch of faculty emails were leaked. Frankie Stone was a wlw character on All My Children for a few months in the fall of 2001. You know, until they killed her, as you’d expect. The actress later came back and played Frankie’s twin sister, Maggie, who ended up involved with the character everyone had previously shipped Frankie with. (The name Maggie borders on deserving a spot on this list too. More on that below.)
Despite a close call with a blowtorch and lots of prison power struggles, Franky Doyle is somehow still alive on the sh*tshow that is Wentworth. (I mean that in the best possible way. The show got too intense for me and I had to quit watching it, but it’s fantastic.) Franky has been in and out of prison a couple times and been involved with several ladies over the course of the show. You know, as fanny bandits do. She has a special place in my heart because she, much like Vause and Nuñez, is reflective of my underprivileged upbringing. I love seeing those girls succeed. Even if it’s just succeeding at seducing the HBIC or escaping from prison.
Let’s not forget about Frankie Alan of Lip Service, the iconic British wlw-themed show that came on the air shortly after The L Word ended. Frankie was somewhat of an analogue to Shane McCutcheon, only bisexual. She had similarly terrible emotional and family issues and, just like Shane, had a tendency to self-sabotage. Another thing she shared with Shane was the sex appeal and fandom following, for good reason. That attractive androgynous wounded woman thing just pulls us right in, doesn’t it? I blame Graham Eaton.
Stef and Lena Adams-Foster at one point had a bun in the oven whom they pre-emptively named Frankie. Because of course the lesbians would give their child a totally gay name. (Yes, I know she was named after Stef’s recently dead father, shhhh.) Tragically, Frankie had to be aborted for medical reasons. But if she had been born, she probably would have turned out to be a wlw too. If not for the name, because of the show she was a part of. The Fosters loves its queer characters, after all. And we love them too.
As those last three names illustrate, wlws are often given gender-neutral names on TV. It’s par for the course, seeing as wlw content creators tend to favor those names as well. (I myself have often wished I had a gender-neutral name, not a boring straight-sounding one. At least that second part is changing, on TV anyway.) I have a feeling we started it and the trend was picked up by the mainstream media. Either that or everyone just assumes queer women are going to be gender atypical and they give us names to reflect that. So really, any gender-neutral name can be considered an honorable mention here.
One notable example is Nicky. Aside from the obvious Nicky Nichols of Orange is the New Black, there’s Nikki from Nikki and Nora, the unfortunately aborted cop show about a couple of detectives who were partners in more than one sense of the word. Thanks to those two and Wynonna Earp’s Officer Haught, Nicole is starting to creep up this list.
There are a couple less gender neutral names that seem to be associated with wlws on a smaller scale. Lesbian witch Tara Maclay and bisexual human-turned-vampire Tara Thornton were on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood, respectively, and both met unfortunate violent ends. Also, Thornton and the aforementioned Emily Fitch both had girlfriends named Naomi.
Finally, I would be remiss to leave without tipping my hat to Maggie, seeing as I’ve already mentioned two of them in this article. Maggie Sawyer was already canonically a lesbian in the DC comics, but hey, that’s still a form of media. While this analysis focused on TV characters, the pattern extends across mediums into books and movies, comics and video games. (See Emily Kaldwin of Dishonored, for example.) Maggie Sawyer has been in multiple TV shows and video games, so she’s almost pushing that name up the list all by herself.
So, what do you think? Are there any other trending names I missed? Any examples of these names I don’t know about? Hit me up in the comments.