Warning: contains spoilers for Westworld, American Vandal, Lost, Jessica Jones season 2, The Exorcist and Fringe as signposted.
Storytellers are like Batman villains – they can never resist signing their work. Rearrange the letters of Ghost World character ‘Enid Coleslaw’ and you’re left with comic book creator Daniel Clowes. Jiggle about Larkin Eve, the Canadian news reporter played by Kevin Smith in 2016’s Shooting Clerks, and it brings you ‘Real Kevin’.
Anagrammatic pseudonyms are all over film and TV. Swapping around a few consonants and vowels as a disguise, or to conceal an homage or hint is a long-established tradition both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Here are twenty-eight fun examples from the world of TV…
The Simpsons – according to Matt Groening in 2000 documentary The Simpsons: America’s First Family, the name Bart was chosen because it’s an anagram of ‘brat’. The family surname ‘Simpson’ literally means ‘son of a simp’, or stupid/foolish person.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – in the 4th edition of Star Trek Encyclopaedia, it’s noted that Morn, the almost silent Lurian courier with a joke reputation for garrulousness who’s a fixture at Quark’s bar, is named as an anagram of Norm, the barfly character played by George Wendt in Cheers.
Breaking Bad – when the episode title for Breaking Bad’s last ever episode Felina was released, many were quick to notice it was an anagram of ‘finale’. That’s true, but more relevant is its reference to the character Feleena from the Marty Robbins song El Paso, which features in the episode. Another theory notes that FE, LI and NA are the respective chemical symbols for iron, lithium and sodium, or blood, meth and tears.
Westworld – major spoiler ahead if you haven’t seen Westworld season one! Fans worked this one out pretty quickly. Jeffrey Wright’s character Bernard Lowe, head of Delos’ programming division, is revealed to be a robot replica of Dr Robert Ford’s park-designing partner, Arnold Weber (an anagram of Bernard Lowe.)
Swap Shop – Noel Edmond’s purple dinosaur toy sidekick (that predated Barney by several years) on the BBC One Saturday morning children’s show was named Posh Paws, an anagram of Swap Shop.
The Adventure Game – this 1980s BBC children’s series sent contestants to complete a series of challenges on the planet Arg, which was populated by shape-shifting dragons known as Argonds. The Adventure Game characters Rangdo, Gnoard, Dorgan, Gandor, Rongad and Angord were all other anagrams of dragon too.
Lost – JJ Abrams’ wiggy mystery show is famous for hiding anagram clues in names for characters and things. Spoiler ahead: Best known is that William Mapother’s character ‘Ethan Rom’, who posed as one of the survivors of Flight 815, was actually a member of the Others, hence his name anagram: Other Man.
Lost (again) – the show’s producers have confirmed that the name of Mittelos Biosciences, the firm used as a front by the Others to recruit people from the outside world, is intended as an anagram of Lost Time.
Lost (one more time) – the funeral parlour where the body of ‘Jeremy Bentham’ is laid out is called ‘Hoffs/Drawlar’, a verified anagram for ‘flashforward’.
Hannibal – Cynthia Nixon’s character Kade Purnell in Hannibal season two is based on Justice Department official Paul Krendler, played by Ray Liotta in the 2001 feature film Hannibal. Because of a rights issue, the NBC show wasn’t allowed to call Nixon’s character Paula Krendler, so gave her an anagram of Krendler’s name.
Torchwood – probably the best known anagram in geek TV, ‘torchwood’ started life as an anagrammatic codename for Doctor Who, before being incorporated into the universe of the show and given its own spinoff.
Doctor Who – the humanoid ‘Kaled’ race were the ancestors for the genetically engineered mutant Daleks.
Doctor Who – (again) to disguise Terry Molloy’s appearance as Dalek-creator Davros in 1998’s Remembrance Of The Daleks, the show’s producers had the actor listed in that week’s Radio Times as ‘Roy Tromelly’.
Doctor Who (er, again) – once again, to disguise the appearance of Anthony Ainley as the Master in The Keeper Of Traken, the actor’s name was disguised in the TV listings as Neil Toynay, Leon Ny Tai and others.
Doctor Who (yup, again) – ‘Loyhargil’, the substance that features in Time And The Rani, is an anagram of Holy Grail.
Doctor Who (last one!) When Karen Gillan first auditioned for the role of Amy Pond, she had to pretend it was for a part in new series ‘Panic Moon’ (an anagram of ‘companion’). When Jenna Coleman auditioned as Clara Oswald in series seven, she had to lie that it was for ‘Men on Waves’ (an anagram of woman seven). And when Pearl Mackie secretly auditioned for the role of Bill in series ten, she had to say she was working on ‘Mean Town’ (woman ten).
A Series Of Unfortunate Events – as taken from Lemony Snicket’s books, the characters Al Funcoot, Foreman Flacutono and Nurse Lucafond are all, of course, anagrams of the villainous Count Olaf.
Tales of the City – also taken from the series of books on which this TV series is based, and explained in-world, the character played by Olympia Dukakis in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is named ‘Anna Madrigal’, an anagram of ‘a man and a girl’, in reference to her transgender identity.
Blindspot – the episode titles in season one of NBC Thriller Blindspot form a series of anagrams that provide a set of instructions. Pilot ‘Woe Has Joined’ therefore, translates to ‘Who is Jane Doe?’, ‘Eight Slim Grins’ translates to ‘The Missing Girl’ and so on. Season two dropped the anagram trick and went for palindromes instead.
Fargo – this one’s not quite perfect, nor is it verified by the show’s producers, but it’s been pointed out repeatedly that Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Fargo season one, Lorne Malvo, is very close to being an anagram for ‘malevolent’. Nobody could deny that it’s fitting…
The Exorcist – major spoiler ahead if you haven’t seen The Exorcist season one. In this TV version of William Friedkin’s horror classic, Geena Davis plays Angela Rance, the mother of a possessed child. Play around with those letters and her true identity is revealed: ‘A clean Regan’. That’s right, Rance is in fact a grown-up version of the child possessed in the 1970s feature film.
Dollhouse – short but sweet: when the villainous Alpha books a session with ‘doll’ Sierra in the Joss Whedon created series, he uses the pseudonym ‘E. Hap Lasher’, an anagram for ‘Alpha’s here’.
American Vandal – season one of American Vandal rests on the question: was Dylan Maxwell responsible for vandalising 27 cars with lewd graffiti at his high school? The authorities say yes, but the series’ teenage investigators say different. Spoiler ahead if you’ve yet to watch it. Though without the evidence to prove it, we’re left thinking that characters Christa Carlyle and Van Delorey are in fact responsible for the graffiti. Fans spotted that their combined names form the anagram “clearly car vandal is end theory.”
Jessica Jones – major spoiler for Jessica Jones season 2 ahead. It’s revealed that the antagonist in the second season of this Marvel/Netflix collaboration is Jessica’s mother, Alisa Jones. Her name is a neat anagram of Alias, the name of the Brian Michael Bendis comics featuring Jessica Jones (and, perhaps not incidentally, the first name of Bendis’ wife).
Pretty Little Liars – over multiple seasons fans of this show deciphered various inserted clues, anagrams and hints. To choose just one, the Radley Sanitarium so key to Pretty Little Liars’ twisted plots is an anagram of ‘Mary A. DiLaurentis’, aka the show’s Mary Drake.
Fringe – the mysterious Sam Weiss is linked to several anagrams during his time in Fringe. Spoilers ahead. First up are the authors of books on The First People ‘Seamus Wiles’ and ‘ M. Weiselauss’, both anagrams for Sam’s name. A message spotted on a blackboard in the Alternate Universe that reads ‘A demon’s twist rusts’ can also be read as an anagram for ‘don’t trust Sam Weiss’…
Psych – 2010 Psych episode Dual Spires wasn’t just named in homage to Twin Peaks (a series itself fond of the anagram trick) it starred seven original cast members from the David Lynch/Mark Frost series including Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee. Read about the episode’s many Twin Peaks allusions here, which include the victim’s name being Paula Merral, an anagram of Laura Palmer.
Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather – the voice actor credited as Death of Rats in this Sky TV adaptation is ‘Dorkey Hellmice’, an apt anagram of the real actor’s name, Michelle Dockery, who also played Death’s granddaughter Susan in the adaptation.