There is a large gap between the way the world was in Medieval Europe and how we, the public, think it was like. we conjure up images of uneducated peasants toiling in the dirt, dying of everything, royal courts with jousting tournaments, and witch burnings lighting the countryside. While some of this isn’t entirely inaccurate, it does leave a lot out. But, if a fantasy or historical fiction writer was to set a story in a more accurate setting, people call foul. This is called the Tiffany Problem by author Jo Walton in an interview with the now-defunct Internet Review of Science Fiction.
The name “Tiffany” is a great example of the disconnect between historical fact and perceived fact. This is a name that people think of as fairly modern. In a sense, it is. Many girls where named Tiffany after the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s came out in 1961. However, it is significantly older. Originally, in the 12th century, it was a derivative of Theophania, which in Ancient Greek means “God Appears” or “Epiphany,” which is why it was given to girls born on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox celebration of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus.
Eight hundred years is a long time, and eventually, Tiffany as a given name fell out of popularity. It did stick around as a surname. Which is where Tiffany & Co, and ultimately Breakfast at Tiffany’s, got the name.
Unfortunately, these facts don’t really help out the poor writers. Theophania sounds much better to modern ears than Tiffany when writing about someone swanning about with swords. Really, there is much more to the Tiffany Problem than a name. It really applies to how writers are criticized when they attempt to portray accurate historic views on homosexuality, race, and even witchcraft that are seen by the public as wrong or anachronistic.
People pitch a fit when authors imply that not everyone is white or coded Christian. In FANTASY novels. Alongside dragons and magic. “But Historical Accuracy!” they whine. They are wrong. We have been taught this image of the world as it was that is missing huge swaths of information or is simply wrong.
Do I have a fix for this? Not really. The only suggestions I have are the same ones I would offer for most issues in the world- education and more representation. I am also totally going to name my next D&D character Tiffany.