In our daily life, anagrams approach us on many levels. A huge scope of application is found in fiction in general and in TV shows especially. Anagrams are often used for character names in TV shows to reveal a hidden meaning related to the person or to underline a typical quality of the character. To start off with, there are two kinds of anagrams in TV shows that we have to distinguish. Either it is an intentional anagram or it is not.
Anagrams: Intentional or Accidental?
When a character’s name appears in a TV show as an anagram with a hidden meaning, normally this was intended by the producers. An example can be seen in the TV show Lost, famous for developing a lot of mysteries within the show, where the name of the character Ethan Rom is transformed to Other Man. The anagram reveals his secret identity. Even though he is among the survivors of the plane crash, he actually belongs to a group called the “Others” settled on the island. His name hides Ethan Rom’s true origin. You can find more anagrams from the TV show Lost on the lostpedia site.
Fan-Made Anagrams in TV Shows
An anagram can also appear by chance. In this case it was not originally the intention for another letter order to reveal a certain meaning associated with it. These kinds of anagrams are often made by the fans of a TV show. The anagram doesn’t have to make sense necessarily, but it is a challenge to a lot of fans to create a new word that also fits the characterization. From the British TV show Blackadder, the name of the main character Edmund Blackadder can be rearranged to dark can be muddled or drunk cad bled mead. Another example is found on Star Trek, where James T. Kirk is made to Jet Ski Mark and the name of Doctor Leonard McCoy can be rearranged to male doc crony. More of these fan-made anagrams in TV shows (as well as from other categories) are listed on Steven Galen’s anagram page.
As you can see, an anagram like drunk cad bled mead underlines the character of Edmund Blackadder, though Jet Ski Mark for the name of James T. Kirk doesn’t have anything to do with the original character of the spaceship captain. Nevertheless, the challenge of rearranging the letters of your favourite TV shows and their fictional characters is very popular on fan sites.
Anagrams to Conceal the Real Identity
There are also anagrams of fictitious names, which merely appear as a new name – and not as a row of adjectives to describe the persons’ qualities like in the examples above. In the TV show The Lone Gunmen, which is a spinoff show of The X-Files, it seems that the mysterious character of Yves Adele Harlow is an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. By finding out that Yves’ name is just an anagram, the “three gunmen” realize that their female informant is actually lying about her identity.
So an anagram in TV shows can be used to conceal the true identity of a character like in The Lone Gunmen. Another famous rearrangement of a character’s name is shown in Harry Potter (unfortunately not a TV show, but a series of films. The function of the anagram still remains the same). In the books as well as in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets we find out that the name of early student Tom Marvolo Riddle is an anagram for I am Lord Voldemort. To ensure that the anagram would be available to everyone, the name differs from language to language. That’s why in French Je suis Voldemort (= I am Voldemort) is transferred to Tom Elvis Jedusor. Whereas the anagram of a name is used to hide the identity in The Lone Gunmen, in Harry Potter the anagram is an encryption of the real person’s name that you can decipher.
Anagrams as an Object of Discussion
It is also possible for anagrams to appear as an object of discussion in TV shows. In one episode of The Simpsons, (Lisa’s Rival, S01E17) Lisa is asked to play an “anagram game” with Professor Taylor. First he gives his daughter the name Alec Guinness, which she transforms to genuine class. Then Lisa gets the name of Jeremy Irons, but is not able to think of a complex anagram that quickly. That’s why Lisa only comes up with Jeremy’s iron. Disappointed by the answer, Professor Taylor gives Lisa a ball to suggest that she play with something less challenging.
This short scene from The Simpsons makes clear that building anagrams is no easy task. To create a totally new word from a given name can be a very sophisticated practice, especially when the new word’s meaning is supposed to have a connection to the original word.
The Title as an Anagram
Another way anagrams make themselves known to us in TV shows can be found in their titles, although this variation of (intended) anagram seems to be scarcest. The only example I have been able to find so far is the title of the spinoff TV show Torchwood, which is an anagram from the original show of Doctor Who. In this case the anagram reveals that there is a connection between both TV shows.
The Countless Productions of Alan Smithee
But what if a connection to the original subject is not intended and an anagram is used to hide the original person behind it? If a member of the production staff decides that he doesn’t want to be listed on the credits anymore for various reasons, the person of Alan Smithee comes into play. Alan Smithee – an anagram of the alias men – can be found on countless productions and films as well as TV shows released since 1955. Among them are, for example, two episodes of the TV show MacGyver that were directed by an Alan Smithee.
Have you found any anagrams, intended or accidental, in your favourite TV shows that you’d like to share with us? Then tell us in the comments.