Why Doesn’t “Fleabag” Have a Name?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in "Fleabag."

Unfortunately, Fleabag looks like it has come to an end after two strong seasons.  The award-winning Phoebe Waller-Bridge, known for Fleabag and Killing Eve, decided that she had achieved everything she wanted in the complex characterization of her dysfunctional nameless protagonist.

In case you aren’t caught up, the show explores a deeply troubled woman who appears to measure her existence through sex and power. Following the death of her best friend, we accompany Fleabag on an incredible journey.  The character, equally debilitated and lovable, draws the audience in with her open commentary and situations that arise out of troublesome decision-making.  Waller-Bridge tears down the fourth wall so Fleabag can talk directly to the audience, often revealing hilarious insight on human awkwardness.  

And yet – even though we can see the inner workings of the central character – we never learn Fleabag’s name.  Some fans have found this unnerving, tweeting: “It’s so frustrating to try and talk about Fleabag without knowing her name”.   

Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained to Decider: “I wanted something that would create an immediate subtext for the character”.  The writer also revealed in Vanity Fair that she “liked the idea of withholding some of that mystery.”

But surely names are a crucial part of our identity? By naming a person, we can frame them in some sort of context. For example, Olivia Colman plays the “godmother,” Bill Patterson is simply known as “dad,” Andrew Scott – “the hot priest,” and Hugh Dennis as “Bank Manager.” All these characters are mixed up in Fleabag’s life choices, and yet by not naming, they come across as archetypes, rather than humans with real character development.

This list of nameless characters goes on.  Throughout the two seasons, we are introduced to “arsehole guy,” “hot misogynist,” and “bus rodent”, to name but a few.  We have to ask whether this is a pre-meditated commentary on society, or just Phoebe Waller-Bridge continuing with her cheeky writing style and keeping some of the mystery locked away forever.

Fleabag initially started as a one-person act written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the Edinburgh festival. Perhaps all the other characters that arose from this initial masterpiece were not as important and thus did not merit a name. But then we have to ask ourselves why the central character herself is only ever referred to as “Fleabag.”

On the flip side, it’s also worth exploring that some of the characters do have names, such as Fleabag’s sister “Claire” and her husband “Martin.”  Claire adds to the comical and bizarre nature of the show, when she meets a man with the same name, and ends up leaving her husband for him. But what makes Claire’s violent, abusive drunk husband worthy of a name? All the characters in the show are deeply flawed but each possesses a redeeming trait, even if sometimes very small. Martin is portrayed as a spineless drunk that goes out of his way to be cruel to people. Does this selfish portrayal, make him more human – and thus worthy of a name?

Ultimately, it seems that Phoebe Waller-Bridge has not only succeeded in creating a masterpiece that captivates the audience every minute of every show. She has held onto an element of mystery. The significance of some characters having names, whilst the majority do not, has sparked significant debate. At the heart of the debate is the charmingly nameless character of Fleabag.