What’s in a Name?


I was a journalism major in college. I took a lot of fiction writing courses that focused on the importance of minute details; one of them being character names. We dove into names for at least a month. We would do exercises by writing a sketch based on a character’s first and last name. We would draw pictures of characters based on their nicknames. We had to guess a character’s name based on what was in his trash can. I have to admit it was really quite fun! (Better than doing labs that some of my biology friends spent their free time doing!). I even bought a baby name dictionary to consult during these exercises.

These games came back to me recently when my husband and I were watching a television series called Shameless. One of the supporting character’s names is Sheila. She is quirky and eccentric, and reminded me of another supporting character named Sheila in a different series called Rescue Me. I went straight to my trusty dictionary and looked up the name “Sheila.” It’s an Irish variation of Cecelia and it means “blind.” I decided to go on a mission to see if television writers and book authors took their jobs as seriously as I once took mine. Here are some Sheila’s I found in OWL’s collection who fit the namesake:

sheila keefe

Rescue Me’s Sheila Keefe is blinded by her grief over the death of her husband. Jimmy, a New York City Firefighter, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. I won’t ruin anything for you, but she slowly deals with his death over the seven seasons of the show. Snippets of their relationship are revealed over time through flashbacks, dream sequences, and home video clips.

Sheila Jackson

Shameless’ Sheila Jackson turns a blind eye to the world. She is an extreme agoraphobic, never leaving her house. She asks all house guests to remove their shoes and stick them in a Ziploc bag before entering. She has groceries delivered, orders everything online, and sends her husband to every parent-teacher conference. She even has a virtual game where she can practice going to the grocery store that her therapist brings over for home visits.

Sheila Brooks

West Wing’s Sheila Brooks is a chief of staff/campaign manager extraordinaire in the show’s final two seasons. Her commitment to the job and duties of being a public servant is so blinding she offers herself as a scapegoat when a sticky situation unfolds.

Sheila Tubman

Judy Blume’s Sheila Tubman first made an appearance in the Fudge series, then broke out with her own children’s story Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. This Sheila is blinded by fear. She suffers from arachnophobia (fear of spiders), cynophobia (fear of dogs), and hydrophobia (fear of water), to name a few. Over the course of her summer vacation she needs to confront each fear.

Sheila Murder

Grace Kelly’s character in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was named Sheila in its original stage play. The character’s name was changed in the screenplay to Margot Mary. (If you can find the answer, please post!) Her character fits her native name, being blinded by her extra-marital affair to see who her husband truly is. I have to admit that I just watched this movie because of the Sheila reference, but was pleasantly surprised by the storyline. It’s a little slow by today’s suspense standards, but still full of twists and surprising moments.

Sheila Waiting for Guffman

Sheila Albertson is portrayed by Catherina O’Hara in “mock-umentary” Waiting for Guffman. This 2001 film must have inspired the creators of the television series The Office, with its style of filming and deadpan humor. This Sheila is blinded by her passion of acting as she pursues a part in a local play that might be seen by a Broadway producer. Once she catches the acting bug, she lets her travel agency fall to pieces to follow her dream.

Do you know of any other fictional Sheila’s who fit the namesake?

Lisa Shaia is the children’s librarian who is on the lookout for Sheila’s this weekend while watching The Last Mimzy and Stir of Echoes.

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