Boy Meets World Producer Explains Why Danielle Fishel's Character Was Named Topanga, And The Reason Is Surprisingly Personal

Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) on Boy Meets World
(Image credit: ABC)

The mystery surrounding how Topanga Lawrence got her name has been lingering for some time. Boy Meets World cast member Danielle Fishel Danielle Fishel heard varying stories over the years about how the unique name came to be. She, Rider Strong, and Will Friedle, who co-host a rewatch podcast together, have repeatedly asked creatives from the show who came up with the name. And after asking the same question during a recent episode, the stars finally got their answer by way of a producer, who gave a surprisingly personal reason for the unique and now-iconic name.

The much-debated question was finally cleared up when producer Jeff Sherman stopped by Pod Meets World to chat about his time working on the show. When the conversation turned to how Topanga Lawrence's name came to be, Sherman first shot down a misconception about it:

Here’s the real story about how Topanga came to be. It’s not a simple answer, but the answer was [series creator] Michael [Jacobs] was not in his car driving. He remembers things in a certain way. We were all sitting in the room pitching it would be funny that since Ben [Savage, who played Cory Matthews] was such a square kid to have sort of a hippie girl come in and be spiritual and do all that stuff.

Having a free-spirited character to serve as a foil to the more all-American Cory Matthews was a smart move for the ABC sitcom. But how do you come up with a name that matches the quirkiness of the teenage girl. Jeff Sherman stated that the team brainstormed on it for a while, even admitting that the selection process was a bit unorganized. But ultimately, Sherman figured it out by leaning on a key element from his formative years:

We were talking and came up with this character, and we were like ‘What should we name her?’ Starstream Moonpilot or [some other] stupid names. I was going nuts, because that was my era. I was the writer who grew up in LA in the room. So, I thought ‘Who did I know who was cool?’ There were about three girls I knew who lived in Topanga Canyon. So, I went, ‘Growing up out here everyone I knew who was cool grew up in Topanga…’ And Michael goes like, ‘Topanga!’ April Kelly [co-creator of Boy Meets World] didn’t like it at all, but Michael was set on it.

You never know where creative inspiration might come from and, in the producer's case, it was derived from his Southern California roots. Ultimately, it proved to be the best decision possible for Cory’s childhood sweetheart. But Jeff Sherman’s contribution was only half of the equation. He also revealed the role series co-creator April Kelly played in crafting Topanga’s name. In addition, Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence had an indirect part to play as well:

April wanted to stand her ground that day. She had been pitching us an outside writer named Bill Lawrence. So, she said ‘How about Lawrence because it would be a funny thing to go from Topanga to a normal name like Lawrence.’

Jeff Sherman mentioned other factors that shaped Topanga Lawrence once she was named. The TV and film writer championed fellow Boy Meets World writer Susan Jansen as the character’s advocate, calling her “the voice” of the fictional tree-hugger. He even cited the actress herself as a major influence on the character. The Boy Meets World producer mentioned the show’s writers would change scenes and dialogue for her. It's amazing that all of this work led to the character becoming so beloved, especially considering Topanga was originally meant to be a one-off or recurring character.

Despite the show and the character's popularity, Danielle Fishel didn't always have the easiest time on the show. Fishel has been open up about the harsh criticisms she received from showrunner Michael Jacobs upon landing the role, including him allegedly threatening to fire her if she didn’t improve. The actress has also spoken about other intimate details like sharing her first kiss with co-star Ben Savage and how her final years on the ABC sitcom were tainted by her need to move on. Still, she seems to appreciate the overall experienced, and it now sounds like she's happy to have the origins of Topanga's name cleared up. And as a fan, it's satisfying to know that it originated from such a personal place.

You can hear more stories like these by listening to Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong, and Will Friedle weekly on Pod Meets World, where the Boy Meets World stars rewatch and recap past episodes from the series. You can keep up with their schedule by streaming the classic '90s sitcom using a Disney+ subscription.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).