Naming in Orphan Black

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

No offense to other shows, but when it comes to symbolically naming characters, Orphan Black kicks major ass. I first noticed something was up when Dr. Aldous Leekie was introduced. Then I started thinking about Beth CHILDS and Sarah MANNING and things just sort of spiraled from there. You will definitely be spoiled if you haven’t finished season one, so beware!

Spoilers below the kitten!
The Clones

“Sarah” means princess. While she starts off the series in the dark as to her clonedom, Sarah eventually becomes the default leader of Clone Club.

“Manning” can be seen as referring to man (as in mankind).

“Elizabeth” means “God is my oath.” Perhaps a reference to the oath she took as a police officer?

“Childs” might refer to Beth’s inability to deal with her identity as a clone and Paul’s role as her watcher. Sarah Manning is more able to process the situation. Sarah’s last name might indicate her relative maturity over Beth.

“Katja” is a form of Katherine, which means pure. Not sure you can make much out of that.

“Obinger,” on the other hand, is reminiscent of the word “harbinger.” Katja is the first clone Sarah meets (as in speaks to). She dies almost immediately after, foretelling Sarah’s grim and complicated future.

“Cosima” means “order.” Cosima is the one who brings order (in terms of information) into the group. She is the one who explains things, who figures things out.

“Niehaus” suggests “new house.” I’m rather stumped on this one. Any suggestions?

“Alison” means “the noble one.” She is the most gentrified (read: richest) of our clones.

“Hendrix” is reminiscent of the word “helix.” As in double helix. As in DNA.

“Helena” literally means “light.” Appropriate for an angry angel, don’t you think? Tomas also tells Helena “You are the light.” Yeah. Bravo, writers. BRAVO.

“Rachel” means...wait for it...“ewe.” As in sheep. As in what Helena keeps calling the other clones. Also worth noting that only mammal ever successfully cloned was a sheep. Who was euthanized because she developed a progressive lung disease. Like the clones seem to be getting. Yup.

“Duncan” means “dark skinned warrior.” Not sure about the ‘dark skin’ part (if anything, Rachel’s slightly paler than the other clones), but she’s definitely a warrior for neolution.

Sarah’s People

“Felix” means “happy and prosperous.” The latter part doesn’t really apply, but Felix always seems pretty happy. Like “Hendrix,” “Felix” brings the word “helix” to mind. Sarah calls him “Fe” for short. “Fe” is the chemical symbol of iron. Maybe because Felix is what keeps Sarah strong?

“Dawkins” is Felix’s last name and suggests the name “Darwin,” as in Charles Darwin.
EDIT: A couple of commenters have reminded me of Dr. Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist. Thanks guys!

“Mrs. S” Her name is given as Siobhan Sadler, but Felix and Sarah almost always refer to her as “Mrs. S.” Perhaps this is meant to convey a sense of mystery. What does the S stand for? Do we really know everything we should about her? (Answer: no.)

“Kira” means “black.” Is she supposed to be the titular Orphan Black? Also worth noting is that Sarah and Mrs. S call her “monkey.” Before science people start yelling at me, I know men didn’t literally evolve from modern monkeys, but it’s a common enough misconception. Another callback to evolution and science. Cosima also refers to herself as a “science monkey.”

Beth’s People

“Paul” means small, but might also refer to St. Paul. One of the most well known stories about St. Paul is his dramatic conversion from “evil” Pharisee to “good” Christian. Maybe it refers to Paul’s conversion from being on Olivier’s side to being on Sarah’s side.

“Dierden” is Paul’s last name. I have no idea what this means. “Deirdre” means “she who chatters,” but that doesn’t seem to apply. I’m reaching here, but maybe it involves him spying on Beth and later Sarah and telling (chattering to) Olivier about it.

“Art” is a short form of “Arthur” which might be a reference to King Arthur. By naming Art after a knight, are the writers perhaps trying to suggest that he is on a quest, like the legendary British king? Of course, Art is questing for the truth and not the Holy Grail. Unless that’s a plot twist for season two...

“Bell” means “beautiful.” It keeps in theme with the knight thing.

Alison’s People

“Donnie” is a shortened form of “Donald,” which means “world leader.” No telling how that fits in. Maybe we’ll learn more about him next season?

Neither “Chad” or “Ainsley” seem to mean anything important, which makes me sad.

The Dyad Institute

“Dyad” literally means “something that consists of two elements or parts.” It could refer to the Dyad’s dual image. The completely legal, well publicized institute and the illegal human cloning neolution place.

“Aldous” is the first name of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. “Aldis” means “old house.” Maybe that’s meant to contrast with Cosima Niehaus?

“Leekie” brings to mind “Leakey,” as in Dr. Louis Leakey, the famous paleoanthropologist who pioneered studies of human evolution. I’m just saying, there’s no way “Aldous Leekie” is this guy’s real name.

“Delphine” means “from Delphi, Greece.” Delphi was the seat of the Delphic Oracle. Not 100% sure what to make of this, but it seems important.

“Cormier” means “sorb tree.” This is a kind of tree, apparently. I’d never heard of it; we don’t have them in the U.S. I don’t know if there’s any significance here or if it’s just a sciencey name.

“BĂ©raud” (Delphine’s alias) is the name of a famous French surgeon.

“Olivier” means “olive tree.” Is this a theme? It’s French, like “Delphine.” Do neolutionists have a thing for French names? Delphine’s French so it makes sense, but Olivier is not. Just a thought.

“Duval” is also French. It means “from the valley.”

“Kevin” is Olivier’s real name. It means “handsome.” I’m pretty sure it’s meaningless and is just meant to contrast humorously with “Olivier.”

Proleatheans

“Tomas” is a form of “Thomas” and means “twin.” I’m thinking that’s not a coincidence.

“Margaret” means “pearl.”

“Chen” means “dawn.” I’m not entirely sure either of these are important.

19 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I can't read this article, since I haven't seen Orphan Black and don't want to get spoiled, so I'll just say:

Kitten! Spoiler kitten!

Mark Greig said...

Great article, sunbunny.

Paul Kelly said...

I thought Paul meant small. Obviously St. Paul was a disciple, but is that actually what Paulus means? (Asking for a friend.)

sunbunny said...

Ahh! You're right Paul I misread my infallible source (babynames.com). I'll correct it now. :)

Jess Lynde said...

Fun article, sunbunny. I'm guessing not every name means something, but your breakdown of the clone names is very interesting. I love "Aldous Leekie" as a name. It definitely caught my ear as unusually apt when I was plowing through the series. But I never gave much thought to the other names.

Paul Kelly said...

Damn! I was hoping you were right, sunbunny. Small isn't much of a name meaning. I wouldn't have preferred disciple... as long as I was a disciple of something cool. Abstract. Like disciple of funkaliciousness.

Virginia Pickens said...

So much attention to detail, I love it !
Concerning Aldous Huxley and Brave New World references, isn't Huxley also the name of the train station where Beth killed herself ? I think it's the first word we actually hear in the series :)
And on another level,I dunno, but Siobhan happens to be the name of the twin in the Ringer series, the which starts in the same fashion than Orphan Black : Siobhan kills herself allowing her twin sister, Bridget to take her place. Not : I could be over-interpretating though. ^^

sunbunny said...

Virginia - Nice catch! I had totally forgotten about Huxley station. The Ringer connection seems a little questionable though. The shows definitely have a few similarities, but Orphan Black is less of a guilty pleasure than Ringer. Also, it has less Buffy. :)

sunbunny said...

Paul - Yeah, my name means something less than awesome too. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

Without having seen the series i can say..Dawkins makes me think of the famous biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, also a fan of Darwin and Doctor Who cameo star. Off to watch this soon.
Anna

kikishua said...

Rather than Felix's surname of Dawkins being a call-out to Darwin, I immediately thought of Richard Dawkins - the evolutionary biologist.

milostanfield said...

Sorry to be so late to the parade. Like many I only heard about OB by word of mouth recently. Once I got hold of the episodes the obsession began. I've binge watched four times already. Really crack cocaine TV. Much like Alias was.

Thanks for your thoughts on the names. Will keep that in mind next time I succumb to another binge watch.

Colors also seem to be important in OB. Particularly two: turquoise and pink/magenta. Turquoise is in not just every scene but almost every frame. Magenta (or pink if you prefer) is much more specific: the phones, many specific objects in scenes, especially Alison's McMansion. Kira wears a magenta jacket when she takes that little walk with Helena. Even the blood wine color of part of the credits (the rest being turquoise) are in the magenta ball park. You'll spot many more examples.

Not sure if this means anything, but the scheme is very consistent. My tentative take is figure/ground. Turquoise is the ground from which magenta emerges. When these two colors are inverted, they come close to turning into each other. Perhaps turquoise represents the world from which the clones (magenta) are emerging? Or have I been reading too much post-human scifi?

Anonymous said...

Interesting!

What struck me, is that Sarah in the bible was barren, and she has her child when she was old through a miracle of god; and Sarah felt the pressures to conceive sufficiently to arrange her maid to have the child for her; and Rachel in the bible also had trouble conceiving, and also arranged for a maid to have children for her, and also finally conceived through god. These stories feature surrogate mothers, and infertility, themes close to OB! Surely this can't be coincidence.

Anonymous said...

Elisabeth was another lady in the bible whose primary story involves getting pregnant because of god...

Also, Helena (=Helen of Troy) is the daughter of Leda (which would make Sarah Klytemnestra....?)

Really interesting topic!

sunbunny said...

Recent Anon(s) - awesome contributions! My old testament is clearly rusty. :)

Louis E. said...

Could Kira also relate to "Kyrie",as in "Kyrie eleison",the Greek prayer "Lord have mercy"?(It's Sarah who's the orphan "in the black").

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Aldous Leekie name. In fact, it's what brought me here.

I'm doubtful about the names for the various clones.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned "Art Bell", the name of Beth's partner, is also the name of a talk radio host known for giving airtime to various conspiracy theories.

Anonymous said...

Also, the project in the program is "Project Leda". In Greek mythology, Helena is the daughter of Zeus (in the form of a swan) via Nemesis. The egg is given to Leda to raise. Nemesis is the goddess who punished humans for being too arrogant (presuming to be too much like the gods).

Meghan Lansford said...

Saint Margaret ( Maggie chen) is the patron saint of pregnant women. Another Saint Margaret is the patron saint of homelessness.
In the context of the show this next one is kind of funny, Saint Victor (Vic!!) is the patron saint of torture victims.