When Girlfriends debuted in 2000 on UPN (now The CW) it was a groundbreaking and critical success. The legendary show was set in LA and followed four friends in their late 20s trying to navigate life, love, and their careers.
Though this may seem like a formulaic series, it was different because like its predecessor, Living Single which was set in Brooklyn in the ’90s, this show was created by a Black woman, Mara Brock Akil, and centered four Black women.
Joan Carol Clayton (Tracee Ellis Ross), Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks), Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones), and Lynn Searcy (Persia White) are all very different women from various walks of life who find their way to each other. Each aspect of Girlfriends was significant, but Akil was also deliberate about choosing her characters’ names.
This is how Mara Brock Akil came up with the idea for ‘Girlfriends’
Akil began her television career as a staff writer on the hit series, Moesha, which was also set in LA. She came up with many of the concepts for Girlfriends because they did not work for Moesha, was was a high school student, and then a college student during the show’s run.
However, Akil was able to connect the world of Moesha and Girlfriends together when she left the series to create her own show. In the final season of Moesha, in an episode entitled, “That’s My Mama” Maya makes a cameo as well as her husband Darnell (Khalil Kain) and son Jabari (Kendre Berry).
Maya and her family were thought to live in the same neighborhood as Moesha’s parents.
Joan on ‘Girlfriends’ is named after Mara Brock Akil’s mom
Though the series is very much an ensemble, a great deal of Girlfriends centers Joan. When we met Joan in the pilot for Girlfriends she is a successful lawyer at age 29, with her own home and wonderful friendships.
Much of the series focuses on Joan’s romantic struggles and her tumultuous relationship with her childhood friend, Toni. From the very first episode, the tensions between Toni and Joan are clear and they explode in Season 6 of the series.
When Akil initially wrote the pilot for the series, she only had the name Joan prepared. “For the pilot of #Girlfriends I only had the name of one character…#Joan,” she wrote on Instagram. “I named the #heartbeat of the show after my #mother, the woman who is my biggest champion and supporter.”
On ‘Girlfriends’ Toni, Maya and Lynn are named after powerful Black writers
Since the craft of writing allowed Akil to earn her own show, she decided to name the remaining central characters on Girlfriends after powerful Black writers. Toni or Antoinette “Toni” Marie Childs-Garrett is named for masterful novelist Toni Morrison.
Lynn Ann Searcy is named after the late prolific writer, E. Lynn Harris whose 10 consecutive novels on the New York Times Best-Seller list made him one of the most successful Black or gay authors of his era.
Finally, Maya Denise Wilkes is named after the legendary Maya Angelou. If you want to dive into the word or Girlfriends or catch up with their antics, all eight seasons are currently streaming on Netflix.