Sunday, May 27, 2007

Looking To The Stars - What's in A Name?

HEROES, NBC’s surprise hit show of the season came to a close this past week and fanboys everywhere are already clamoring for the Second Season to begin. But rather than join in the general speculation on what is coming next, I’ve decided to take something of a look back.

You see, I never gotten around to testing a theory put forth that all of the main character’s names have some sort of special significance relating to their personality or destiny. In fact, I seem to recall one of the show’s writers saying this was true in an interview. But I never got around to looking all the names up in a baby name book... until now.

Claire Bennet - Directly the French word for “Famous”, the original Latin word “Claire” means “bright” or “clear”. This seems meaningless until one considers what else is bright and clear that relates to Claire’s role in the show. Considering Claire’s status as a symbol of hope – a beacon, if you will – to so many of the characters (her father, Peter, the future Hiro), it seems likely that Claire’s name is appropriate in this metaphorical context. “Bennet” is Latin for “blessed” which is also an accurate description of Claire’s ability and the circumstances of how she survived a fire as an infant. Indeed, I believe Claire’s mom used the word “blessed” when she found out about Claire’s power in the Company Man episode.

Gabriel Gray - The man who would be Sylar has a fairly obvious Biblical name, being the name of The Angel of Death. Gabriel translates literally in Hebrew as “the Might of God”, suggesting great power which is also fitting of Sylar. The color Gray is, of course, synonymous with questionable but not quite evil behavior. If one views Sylar not as a human but as an animal and his actions as those of a predator hunting prey because of a biological imperative, then one could make the case for his being in a “gray” area with his killings, which were – at first –limited only to people with powers who Sylar thought were not using them wisely. With the final episodes, however, it has become clear that Sylar DID become completely evil by any scale.

D.L. Hawkins - There has not been, in so far as I can find, anywhere in the show where the meaning of D.L.’s initials are explained. His name, on Mohinder’s list, is also listed as just “D.L. Hawkins”. I do recall reading somewhere that one of the show writers thought his first name MIGHT be Daniel. This does seem to fit as Daniel is Hebrew for “God is my judge” – a fitting sentiment for D.L., who seems willing to do anything to save his family while caring little for what others think of him. As for his last name, Hawkins means “hawk-like” which certainly does describe D.L.’s confrontational attitude when it comes to going after people he thinks have wronged him.

Hiro Nakamura - Hiro’s first name seems to have a triple meaning. First, it is an obvious homophonic pun (i.e. Hiro sounds like Hero). Secondly, Hiro is a Japanese word meaning “generous” – which certainly does describe Hiro’s giving and self-sacrificing personality. Finally, it was revealed in the comic that Hiro was named after the Japanese city of Hiroshima – which we all know was hit with an atomic bomb as part of an American effort to end World War II. Hiroshima is, in fact, referenced numerous times in the show and comics. Both Isaac and Hiro compared what they saw of the future New York Explosion to the Hiroshima bombing and Angela Petrelli tries to steel a reluctant Nathan by reminding him that Harry Truman didn’t want to use the atomic bomb but thought it would save more lives in the long-run, similar to what The Company hoped to do by allowing The Explosion to occur. Hiro’s being named for a disaster he is trying to prevent the reoccurring is definitely a dramatic irony of sorts. Nakamura, translated literally into Japanese words, can mean “village in the middle” – a reference to Hiro’s family having always been in the center of the the events involving powered individuals, perhaps?

Isaac Mendez - Isaac’s name seems to be meaningless or dark comedy when one considers the Hebrew meaning – “He will laugh”. Certainly, Isaac has very little to laugh about over the course of the show. Between his fighting an addiction to heroin, his girlfriend leaving him, his increasingly disturbing visions of the future, his inadvertently signing on with the wrong team (i.e. The Company) and his twice-fated death, it could be argued that Isaac has the most grim and depressing lot of any character on the show. And yet, when his destined death does come, he isn’t afraid or angry. In fact, he’s smiling right before he dies as he tells his murderer that he’s already seen the future – and how he is the one who stops Sylar. In this sense, it seems that Isaac’s name is not a hint to his personality so much as it is a note about his fate. In a way, the precognitive Isaac’s own name is a prophecy. Mendez is Spanish for “cleverness” which does seem to describe the intuitive Isaac.

Jessica - a name whose origins are apparently hotly debated by onomatologists around the world, the first written record of the name is in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It is believed by some to be derived from the Hebrew name Jesca (alternatively spelled Iesca or Iscah) which means “foresight”. While this is usually used, in the original Hebrew context, to refer to someone who can see the future (hmm.. Iscah is almost Isaac…) it can also refer to worldly wisdom and knowing how things will likely play out. In this sense, the more worldly and sensible Jessica (at least, compared to Niki) seems aptly named.

Matt Parkman - I didn’t even need to look this one up, for some odd reason. Matt is short for Matthew which is Hebrew for “Gift of The Lord”. To make sense of this one, consider Matt’s power – mind-reading. Now consider two more things. First, that the word the word for “gift” also means “talent” or “ability”. Then consider what “power” might the proverbial all-knowing, all-seeing God have that makes them all-knowing and all-seeing? In this sense, Matt’s power could be seen as the literal gift (or ability) of God. The surname Parker is an archaic English word referring to a lawman who protected royal parks from poachers – a fairly lowly position for any law man. Matt, when the show opens, is in a similarly low position in his job as a traffic cop in Los Angeles.

Micah Sanders - an alternate spelling of Micha, which in itself is a shortened form of Michael. Michael, translated literally into Hebrew means, “Who is like God”. El is, of course, the Hebrew for God. So taken by itself, Micah in Hebrew means “without-equal” or “God-like”. Given Micah’s ability to talk to machines and the power that could give him over an increasingly mechanized world, it seems certainly fair to say that Micah could potentially become an all-seeing, all-knowing figure. For more information on Micah’s last name, see Niki.

Mohinder Suresh - This one took some finding, but evidentially Mohinder is a variation on the Hindi name Mahendra. Mahendra is made up of two words – “Maha” meaning Great and Indra, being the Hindu god of weather and war. This seems completely unrelated to the mostly peaceful personality of Mohinder until one reads up on their Indian mythology. Indra was the most human of the gods and was known for his heroic but brash character. While Mohinder does not have any powers, he is certainly meant to be the “everyman” figure on the show – the most human – and brash certainly does describe most of Mohinder’s actions which are made more out of enthusiasm than wisdom. Indra was also the king of the gods, so perhaps this is a reference to Mohinder someday becoming a leader among the powered individuals of the world? This seems increasingly likely given that the surname Suresh means “lord of the gods” in Sanskrit.

Nathan Petrelli - A shortened form of Nathanael, Nathan is Hebrew for “gift” with Nathanael meaning “Gift from God” This certainly does seem to describe the mostly-arrogant Nathan’s attitude regarding himself. As for his surname, see the entry for Peter for the details and note that out of all the characters Peter wasn’t directly connected to, Nathan was.

Niki Saunders - Taken from the Greek Nike (goddess of Victory), this may just be a simple reference to Niki’s eventual winning out over her other self. But is it really that simple? Niki is also an Afghan word meaning “goodness” – a reference to Niki’s status as “the good twin”? Niki, broken into two Japanese words (ni ki) can mean “two souls”. Sanders is Greek for “defender of men”, which is certainly what Niki is trying to do for the men in her life.

Noah Bennet - The infamous and mysterious H.R.G. finally had his full real name revealed in the final episode. So what does it mean? Well, apart from the obvious comparison to the Biblical Noah (an ordinary man chosen to usher in a better world), Noah is the Hebrew word for “peace” or “rest”. This certainly seems to be in line with Bennet’s goals of protecting his family from The Company and living as normal a family life as possible. And given his rather amazing luck in some circumstances, he certainly seems to be as blessed as his surname suggests.

Peter Petrelli - Both Peter and Petrelli come from the Greek work “petra”, meaning “rock” or “stone”. It is frequently used in reference to foundations (as when Jesus dubbed his apostle Simon with the name Peter and declared that he would build his church upon that rock). Drawing a parallel between the two Peters seems fitting as Peter has, in a fashion, become the foundation of the HEROES universe as the great common link between most of the characters.

Simone Deveaux - Simone is a feminine version of Simon, which is Hebrew for “listener”. Deveaux is French for “valley”. Apart from an argument that Simone was a listener to the crazy theories of Peter and Isaac regarding their powers early on, it appears that Simone’s name is as empty and lacking in meaning as her character.


  1. How does Linderman's name analyze?

  2. I always thought Parker's surname was simply a reference to Spider-man. :P

  3. I decided to limit it to the main characters for a reason.
    One of them is that Linderman means "man of Linder" literally and depending on whether you go by German or Spanish meanings, it either means "one who lives near the lime trees" or "man who lives on the boundary".