Kill La Kill ( キルラキル ) - the title of the series itself has multiple readings, also thanks to the title being written in katakana (one of the Japanese phonetic syllabary systems). The katakana spelling can lend emphasis, or be used for foreign words; but it can also be used for wordplay and multiple readings. In this case, "kiru" can mean "kill", certainly; but "kiru" can mean the verb "to wear" (like, to wear a suit or a uniform, spelled 着る), or "kiru" can mean the verb "to cut, to sever" when written as 切る).
Also a visual pun: the life fibers are usually red, when you see them. This is a reference to the idea of the "red thread of fate", seen in plenty of anime and manga and visual novels before this.
Also while I'm at it, there is a balance issue here in the typography: “ki” tilts left (キ), while '”ru” tilts slightly right (ル), and the combination has a balancing effect, especially with “ra” in the middle (ラ). In the English typography of the title it is presented as KILLlaKILL, which to me looks like |o| - like the Scissor Blades, for example... or the idea of balance, of two sides to a coin. Neat effect, in any case.
And that is just the beginning.
Matoi Ryuko ( 纏 流子 ) - our rough protagonist. I talked about her first name being written with the kanji for "abandoned child" - more properly, it means a child without a family, a discarded child, which can include aborted fetuses. However, since the "ko" / child part is a well-known feminine suffix, it can also easily mean person who discards, and Ryuko doesn't bother with BS, making her an example of this as well.
And then there's her surname, Matoi. With that kanji character, it means "entwining" or "tying", like with ropes or threads.
Matoi Isshin - the alias of Kiryuin Soichiro - seems pretty straightforward. After all, mad scientist, right? Acting to make sure Ryuko received Senketsu, so she could kick ass. We're first introduced to him as Matoi Isshin the crazy scientist; his name is written 纏一身 which I take to mean (in total) that he "wears" or "ties" up his whole frame, his whole body and identity is wrapped up; in short, HIS ENTIRE NAME IS HIS DISGUISE IS HIS NAME. Pretty thorough, if you ask me. He also created Senketsu specifically to act together with Ryuko, so it can also mean that he acts as a creator; he ties the plot together, he ties the themes together, he uses his skills to help and create and further hope.
Kiryuin Satsuki ( 鬼龍院 皐月 )
Okay, surname (Kiryuin) first!
Notably, the kanji used for this individually mean "oni" (鬼) "dragon" (note: this uses an older, more traditional character for dragon, so the emphasis here is on the traditional wise serpent, I think: 龍 ), and "imperial house, empress, emperor" ( 院 ). We've talked about how Ryuko fits the oni template idea, but this also can apply to Satsuki, just not as strongly. The idea of the wise serpent, trying to make hard decisions because someone has to show people the way, is a better fit for Satsuki. The imperial house? ....well, the entire family.
But Satsuki's first name is interesting also. Now, a personal note here: I read tarot. And the kanji used in Satsuki's name can mean "shore" or "swamp" - that sort of marshy border area - and "moon". So of course, I get the idea of the Moon card from the tarot, of the moon shining onto a path, and dangers lurking in the shadows.
To make the association a bit more clear, Satsuki also has blue-grey eyes, and white and blue are her colors - colors associated with sky and water (so, the celestial serpent, in addition to the sun imagery).
Kiryuin Ragyo ( 鬼龍院 羅暁 ) - ....okay, so Ragyou. She uses unusual name kanji (though this isn't too unusual, for names...) - but "Ragyou" can also sound like 裸形 (also pronounced Ragyou), which means a nude shape, a nude doll, a figure that has nothing to hide.
Her official name, however - that is, ( 羅 暁 ) is from the kanji meaning "silk" or "Rome" (due to the phonetic 'ra' reading), and the kanji for "dawn". The implications in this to me are imperialistic - for most of the series, Ragyou is wearing very Western style of clothing, even looking close to a winged angelic figure. She also happens to be a lover of silk or other gauzy type fabrics.
That being said, is that really who she is? Is she really this 'sunrise' figure - the dawn of a new era, like she claims?
Harime Nui: 針目 縫
Okay, so this surname is interesting: 'hari' means needle (or hand, but only in the sense of a hand of a clock), and 'me' means eye. Now, the obvious reading would be regarding her missing eye, as she appears in the series after her eye is gouged out by Isshin; that being said, 'me' is also used to make ordinal numbers. (For example: "third avenue", the second one, etc) So in this case, her name can also mean "needler" - which is a pun that works in English somewhat too, describing the act of needling (irritating, annoying, bullying, etc) someone.
Nui with that kanji means "to stitch". She's the Grand Couturier/High Class Tailor, plus she is a Life Fiber/human hybrid.
However, I'm also likening her to the following:
The idea of the replacement/stand-in/sacrifice: dolls and decoys. This would also explain why she is animated INTENTIONALLY with limited frames. Also, as much as she plays with others, in the end she is a tool and a pretty thing to be used as Ragyo pleases; Ragyo considers Nui to be the 'daughter' closer to her own heart, for a given warped sense of 'amae' and loyalty.
Amae will be the subject of another post, I am certain. It's often translated as overdependence, but it usually means the dependence between parents and children. This sort of overdependence makes sense; a child can only do so much, for example, and so must rely on the prestige and assets of the parents simply to survive. The danger is when 'amae' gets frozen in time, fostering constant overdependence, or when the parents live their lives through their children, and so on.