You know who I feel bad for? Jean Grey. Yes, the one from X-Men. Not because her character totally got the shaft in the third X-Men movie, not because she ends up married to that suckbomb Cyclops and not even because she her most familiar costume is the least flattering of all the major X-Women’s duds. No, I feel bad for Jean Grey because of her lame, lame, lame name.
Like a lot of other kids, I first became familiar with Jean from the 90s Saturday morning cartoon show X-Men, on which she was one of the core members of the main team. In theory. See, the same line-up of heroes was featured in just about every episode — Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, The Beast, Storm, Rogue, Jubilee and Jean Grey. See what’s weird about that? Everyone has a cool superhero name except for Jean.
Look at the screens from the show’s opening credits, and compare what Jean gets to what others get:
Whoa! This guy’s name is The Beast! He must be cool!
Hey, it’s Gambit! And look out — he’s throwing playing cards at us!
Jubliee, huh? She sounds festive at least!
Oh. Hmm. Jean Grey? Really? Is she like the X-Men’s mom or something? Is her superpower making colors?
You might think that all the female members of the team have comparably lame codenames. They don’t. They all have cool names. Storm? Rogue? Even the name Jubilee is better — and Jubilee sucks. But let’s say that none of the X-Men went by codenames and instead just called each other by their given names. Jean would still get the shaft — Storm is Ororo Munroe, Jubilee is Jubilation Lee and Rogue is… well, we can’t say because we’re not sure what Rogue’s full given name is. Which is kinda cool — and certainly cooler than being Jean Grey.
I should point out that Jean isn’t the only character to be better known by her real name than by a codename. There’s also Kitty Pryde, she of Weezer fame. Kitty — who I don’t think ever appeared on the show but who has been an important part of the comics for a long time — technically has the codename Shadowcat, but everyone pretty much just calls her Kitty Pryde, which you must admit, is a good enough name for a superpowered individual who fights crime. A person with the name Jean Grey, however, is not a superhero. A person with this name is a substitute teacher who has to eat lunch in her classroom because she’s scared of the real teachers. A person with this name is your mom’s friend whose husband leaves her a week before she learns she has lupus. And, worst of all, a person with this name can’t ever wear gray jeans, because if she does everyone will make the same joke all day.
So why the hell doesn’t Jean get a good name — a real cool X-Men-style name?
Could it be that her name serves her character? In you’ll recall, Jean isn’t the most dynamic of the main group of heroes. She is psychic, telepathic and telekinetic and that’s about it. There are only so many occasions in which someone’s mind needs to be read or something needs to be suspended in midair for a few moments — but no longer than that, since Jean is a fragile flower even when it comes to mental effort. Even worse, most of what Jean can do can also be done by the team’s leader and founder, Professor X, who is also psychic and who, it should be noted, also has a cooler name. To the credit of the 90s X-Men series, Jean in this continuity does eventually become Phoenix, a much cooler-sounding hero who is also substantially more powerful than most anyone else. But for much of the show — and, really, a lot of her existence as a comic book character — Jean Grey is just Jean Grey. And Jean Grey is boring.
Lest you think she was only offered membership in the X-Men because she’s Cyclops’s girlfriend, she actually is one of the original members of the team — and the first female member to boot. I don’t think the 90s TV show ever touched on this, but back in the day, she was Marvel Girl, which, yes, seems like an obvious nod to the company that published the series but is still something more exciting than the name her parents gave her when they decided their daughter was going to be someone who tells everyone at parties about how she’s repairing her own shoes now and why it’s actually better than buying new ones.
And that’s why I feel bad for this character. She’s cursed to be lame, at least when she’s not Phoenix, which is a lot of the time. In fact, having her body overtaken by the Phoenix Force — the “manifestation of the prime universal force of life and passion,” as Wikipedia pits it — is pretty much the only way to make her interesting. So I guess it’s not necessarily the fault of the cartoon that no young fans would have ever picked Jean as their favorite character. But I’m guessing that the show did nonetheless make a lot of kids who were, say, playing X-Men in their backyard assign the role of Jean to whatever neighborhood child they liked least. (“Or maybe the cat. Yeah, the cat can be Jean because she’ll just sit there.”)
If I had to think of one good thing to say about this character, it would be that she was at least smart enough to pull the trick that many unfortunately named women do and get married as a means of trading up for a better name. Jean did eventually marry Cyclops (real name: Scott Summers) and finally became — oh? She hyphenates? She’s Jean Grey-Summers? Of course she does. Great — rather than just be boring, she instead gave herself a name that sounds like those few years you never got to go to the beach because the weather never became nice.
Awful. Just awful.