In one sense, the title of the novel is ironic; the title character is neither "great" nor named Gatsby. He is a criminal whose real name is James Gatz, and the life he has created for himself is an illusion. By the same token, the title of the novel refers to the theatrical skill with which Gatsby makes this illusion seem real: the moniker "the Great Gatsby" suggests the sort of vaudeville billing that would have been given to an acrobat, an escape artist, or a magician.
Nick is particularly taken with Gatsby and considers him a great figure. He sees both the extraordinary quality of hope that Gatsby possesses and his idealistic dream of loving Daisy in a perfect world. Though Nick recognizes Gatsby's flaws the first time he meets him, he cannot help but admire Gatsby's brilliant smile, his romantic idealization of Daisy, and his yearning for the future. The private Gatsby who stretches his arms out toward the green light on Daisy's dock seems somehow more real than the vulgar, social Gatsby who wears a pink suit to his party and calls everyone "old sport." Nick alone among the novel's characters recognizes that Gatsby's love for Daisy has less to do with Daisy's inner qualities than with Gatsby's own. That is, Gatsby makes Daisy his dream because his heart demands a dream, not because Daisy truly deserves the passion that Gatsby feels for her. Further, Gatsby impresses Nick with his power to make his dreams come true—as a child he dreamed of wealth and luxury, and he has attained them, albeit through criminal means. As a man, he dreams of Daisy, and for a while he wins her, too. In a world without a moral center, in which attempting to fulfill one's dreams is like rowing a boat against the current, Gatsby's power to dream lifts him above the meaningless and amoral pleasure-seeking of New York society. In Nick's view, Gatsby's capacity to dream makes him "great" despite his flaws and eventual undoing.