Since stories have been told, names of all sorts have played a large role. As you can expect, film is no different. When it comes to characters, names tell the audience a great deal. Perhaps the writer/creator wants the audience to feel a certain way about a character, so they name the character in such a way that helps accomplish that task. Sometimes, it’s the name meaning that carries weight. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a sound of a name that conjures up specific feelings. Names may be foreign and may appeal to only a specific audience, or they may hold hidden meanings that most English speakers overlook. It’s these hidden meanings that we want to look at today.
Think back to the big examples of this type of thing. By now, you’ve probably heard of the naming devices in Star Wars and The Usual Suspects. In Star Wars, people always talk about how Darth Vader is Dutch for Dark Father. Well, it’s not, but it’s close enough. Vader does mean father in Dutch, but Darth is likely based on the Rakata word Daritha, meaning “emperor.” Then, there’s The Usual Suspects and Verbal Kint’s connection to Keyser Soze. The word soze is close to the Turkish word sözel, which means “verbal.” Keyser is almost certainly meant to be connected to Kaiser, which was a German king title related to Caesar. Put them together and you have “Verbal King.” We all know these ones, so we won’t include them. But let’s look at some you may not know. Here are 25 Movie Character Names That Tell Viewers More Than You Realized.
25. Black Swan
The names in Black Swan are so basic and generic that it’s easy to overlook their significance. We have Nina, the protagonist, who is childlike and innocent. She begins to unravel and see things that aren’t there, namely the daring and more dangerous Lily. In the end, she sees her transformation through to completion, moving from Nina to becoming more like Lily. Both of these names are important. Nina, in Spanish, is the feminine word deriving from nino, which can mean “child.” Ninati is a Slavic word that means “dreamer.” Lily connects to lily flowers, which are used in the funerary practice, symbolizing a purification in death. Lily also means innocence, which might hint that the character of Lily was not doing the things that Nina thought she was or perhaps it was meant to be ironic because Nina was transitioning into Lily and becoming less innocent.
24. Game Of Thrones
Names in Game of Thrones are incredibly significant, so we thought we might as well just give you the biggest and most significant of the characters and their name meanings. We have Bran, which means “raven” in Gaelic; Lyanna, which is “martyr” in French; Varys, which comes from the Roman for “versatile;” Sandor, which derives from Alexander and means “the defender of men;” Orell, which means “eagle” in Russian; Jaqen, which means “established by god” in Hebrew; and Theon which comes from Theron, meaning “hunter” in Ancient Greek. Now, you know it all.
23. The Hunger Games
It’s not really hard to see that the names in The Hunger Games mean something. So many of them are named after historical figures, and many of them, including those with historical roots, give the audience clues about the character and/or their fates. Katniss Everdeen, for example, does not mean “catnip.” It’s actually referring to the Katniss plant, which is also called the “arrowhead.” This plant is called that because it is part of the genus Sagittaria, which refers to Sagittarius the Hunter. Seneca Crane calls our attention to the Roman philosopher Seneca, a man forced to commit suicide for conspiracy. Finally, Coriolanus Snow is named after the Shakespeare character Coriolanus. He was well-known for his pro-aristocrat stance.
22. The Matrix – Cypher
The name Cypher in the film The Matrix, is both easy and more difficult to connect. The easy part is the standard definition of the word Cypher, which means “a code.” Since Cypher can read the code easily and even experience the Matrix by reading the code, this one makes perfect sense. Simple enough, right? Not so fast. There is also the archaic definition of the word Cypher, which means “zero.” This points to a theory (and an earlier script of The Matrix) which has Cypher being the chosen one before Neo (the One); hence, the zero connection.
21. Doctor Who – Donna Temple-Noble
Any self-respecting Doctor Who fan, or Whovians as they…er…we, like to call ourselves, loves the character Donna Noble. Just by itself, the name Donna Noble means Royal Woman. Donna means woman in Italian and “noble” means high-born or lordly. Now, when you add Temple to the character’s name, something that happened when Donna married Shaun Temple, the name changes slightly but it is an important change. Since “temple” is from the Latin tempus, which means “time,” Donna Temple-Noble means Lady Time Lord.
20. Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow – Dr. Totenkopf
In Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dr. Totenkopf is the big bad guy who is, as we find out later on in the film, actually dead. In a Wizard of Oz type of thing (everyone knows what we are referring to), Dr. Totenkopf sends posthumous messages as a large image projection of only his head. Interestingly, the word Totenkopf is the German word for the Skull and Crossbones symbol. But that’s not all; the word also literally means “Death’s Head.” That would have been a dead giveaway if we only knew German or were told about the meaning of the word prior to watching the film.
19. Harry Potter
Like many of the film franchises on this list, the names in Harry Potter obviously carry weight with them. Rather than go through them all, we will highlight the best of the bunch. Draco Malfoy is easy. Well, his first name is because it so clearly connects to Dragon. There’s more than that, though. Draco also refers to the Athenian statesmen who instituted cruel laws. This is why the word draconian means severe and cruel punishment. The mal in Malfoy is also related to bad and evil, but the foy is reminiscent of “foi,” which means faith and/or trust, pointing to his dual nature. Both names of Remus Lupin are connected to wolves, with lupinus meaning “of a wolf” in Latin and Remus being the name of one of the mythical founders of Rome who was suckled by a she-wolf.
The name Castor Troy is one of the coolest-sounding names in film. It belongs to Nicolas Cage‘s character from Face/Off and it has some very noticeable connections to Greek mythology. First, the name Castor is always connected to that of Pollux. Castor and Pollux are also known as the Gemini twins because they were immortalized in the stars, allowed to share eternity together in their own constellation. In the film, Castor also has a brother named Pollux. There’s a good chance that Castor’s parents named them this way because their last name was Troy. Although neither Castor nor Pollux was said to be present at the Trojan War, these two men were the brothers of Helen of Troy, so the connection is there.
17. American Beauty
Although some dispute the naming conventions in American Beauty, there is no doubt that the writer wanted to draw some links to the characters in this film and some characters in Nabokov’s Lolita. Both stories are similar in that they deal with underage and inappropriate love. The last name of Angela Hayes from American Beauty is reminiscent of Dolores Haze, the young girl nicknamed Lolita. Lester Burnham, the main character in American Beauty, is said to be an anagram for “Humbert Learns,” a play on the fact that Lester, like Humbert in Lolita, learns nothing throughout the story.
16. Veronica Mars
In the world of Veronica Mars, there are some very clever names. The best come in the form of Veronica Mars herself. First off, her last name is Mars, she lives in Neptune and she drives a Saturn, but it goes much deeper than that. The name Veronica is a derivation of the name Berenice, meaning “bearer of victory” or “she who brings victory.” There’s also the Veronica from the bible. That name has come to mean the “image of truth.” Put Mars together with that and you have “war on the image of truth.” Now, that sounds like exactly what the Veronica Mars character is all about.
The names in Inception all carry weight, and the associations are not difficult to spot. But many were probably just too lazy to look up what they were. First, and the most obvious, is Ariadne who is the Architect in the film. The name refers to Ariadne from Greek mythology who helps lead Theseus out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Next is Eames, who is the Forger. Eames likely refers to Charles and Ray Eames who were 50’s designers and architects. Like Malfoy, Mal means bad in French and helps connect her to the antagonist-style role. Finally, there is Yusuf who is the potion maker. Yusuf in the Quran was a famed dream interpreter.
14. Beauty And The Beast
Now, we know that Beauty and the Beast used naming conventions. For the most part, they are painfully obvious. We can see that Belle means beautiful and Beast means beast. We know that Mrs. Potts and Chip are straightforward, so is Lumiere and his connection to light. But what about Gaston and LeFou? These names are not so obvious. Well, LeFou means “the fool” or “the idiot.” That works. Gaston might be referring to the German or Jewish nickname for “stranger,” which is gasti. This would be some great play with the whole thematic element of the guest in Beauty and the Beast.
13. Friends – Regina Phalange
Don’t we all just love how ridiculous Friends can be sometimes? Well, it may seem like Phoebe Buffay just plucked the alter ego Regina Phalange from thin air, but there may actually be some sense behind that particular made up name. Since Regina is the Latin word for “queen” and Phalange is a term that refers to a finger bone, Phoebe might be telling us something. You may believe the name Finger Queen refers to her talents as a massage therapist or maybe you like the reference to the finger she found in her pop early on in the series. Whatever you like better, it seems clear that there’s a method to Phoebe’s madness.
The names in iZombie aren’t especially challenging to see through, but many fans tend to spot the meaning in them. Some are very subtle, such as Babineaux, which might be pointing to Babin, an Eastern European term for a fussy man. It might also just connect detective Babineaux to the Acadians who settled in Louisiana. The name Major Lilywhite, although it was chosen because of some of the writers’ personal connections to the name, points to the character’s strict moral code. It’s the Moore family who have the real play on words here, though. Olivia or Liv Moore is as obvious as the ironic Live More. Her mother’s name is Eva and her brother is named Evan. These could be seen as Ever More and Even More. None of these names have great meaning behind them, but they are clever.
In the original Westworld, Arnold Abernathy was the head scientist. We know Arnold in the television series revival, but we weren’t given his last name. Dolores, however, does carry the last name Abernathy. Knowing how season one played out, this connection would have helped put the pieces together. The name Dolores means “Virgin Mary of Sorrows,” a reference to both her virginal character at the beginning and the sorrows she brings in the end. Maeve Millay, the host who is in the process of creating her own army, is named appropriately as well. Maeve is the name of the Irish Warrior Queen of the Fairies. The last name of Millay might refer to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who said, “It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over.” There are others too. Teddy (Theodore) Flood could reference the cleansing of the Earth and Hector Escaton points to the end of the world. Almost all have something hidden in them.
10. Lion King
Many of the names in Disney’s The Lion King are rather straightforward, but we’re sure that there are some of you who aren’t really familiar with Swahili. So, we thought we should tell you that Simba actually means “lion” in that language. Clever, isn’t it? Other Swahili names include Nala which is “gift,” Pumbaa which is “slow-witted,” Rafiki which is “friend,” and Shenzi which means “savage.” There are many others in Swahili, but none are very meaningful, character-wise. Mufasa is one name that isn’t in Swahili but Manazoto and means “king.”
9. The Lord Of The Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien used various sources to generate the names of his characters. Many carry historical or mythological significance in them, whereas others have a personal significance to Tolkien. There are names, like Frodo, that come from other stories. Frodo is a derivative of Frodi, the Norse king who sought peace in Beowulf. Sam Gamgee is named for Tolkien’s own real-life neighbor. There’s the name Gandalf, which means “sorcerer elf” in Old English and Sauron, which means “detestable” in Norse. The name Saruman comes from “searu,” an Old English word meaning “cunning.” Some names are very descriptive, like Shelob. The word lob means “spider” in Old English and, of course, She is female.
The names in Psycho are very interesting in that they help set up expectations. The name Marion Crane is meant to instill feelings of virginal virtue. The original name was Mary, but it had to be changed to the similar Marion. We first see Marion in white lingerie, giving us that virtuous and pure image. Later, after we see that she is a thief and somewhat of a mistress, she is shown in black lingerie. The name Crane is simply connecting her to the other birds in Norman Bates’ collection. The name Norman Bates is very similar. The first name sets up an expectation that will be shattered later on. Norman is similar to “normal” and that’s what he appears to be. But, like Marion, he is not what his namesake suggests. Again, like Marion Crane, the last name is truer to Norman’s purpose. Bates makes us think of “bait,” which suggests that he is setting a trap or is a trap of some sort.
7. Kill Bill
We’ll be honest here. This one doesn’t necessarily tell us anything that we didn’t already know, but it’s interesting either way, so we’re going to point it out. The name Beatrix Kiddo is bleeped out for much of Kill Bill. Now, the twist at the end of this film is that Beatrix’s daughter is alive and with Bill. Beatrix’s entire goal was to get revenge. But when she learns that the kid is alive, things change. Now, consider the name Beatrix Kiddo. Beatrix means “she who brings happiness or joy.” Obviously, Kiddo refers to the kid. Put them together and you have her new purpose in life.
6. Pacific Rim
The names of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim are quite clearly connected to their countries of origin, but there are some interesting things beneath the surface as well. We have Cherno Alpha, which appears to reference Chernobyl because it is Russian and powered by a nuclear reactor. There is Crimson Typhoon, which connects it to China’s “Red” Communism and their flag. Gipsy Danger seems to point to the Jaeger’s nomadic and country-less stance of the future, and the name Strike Eureka, which is Australian and likely refers to the Eureka Rebellion in Australia where the miners stood against the colonial powers.
5. The Master
In The Master, the main characters are Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Many believe that Dodd is meant to be Ron L Hubbard, the Founder of Scientology. We’re not sure if that’s true, but he is meant to be the founder of a similar type of religious order. That is in his name too. Lancaster can be broken down into two parts, Lune and Castra. Lune means “pure” and Castra is Latin for “camp.” Dodd can either be a stand-in for “dad” or it can mean “of the people.” So that would make Lancaster Dodd either the “father of the pure camp” or “the pure camp of the people.” Freddie Quell is more difficult. Frederick means “peaceful ruler” and quell means “to vanquish or subdue.” At the end of the film, Dodd tells Freddie that if he can find a way to live without a master, then he will be the only one who can do so. Therefore, his personal quest is to “vanquish the ruler” in a way.
4. Barton Fink
In Barton Fink, most of the character names are meant to generate specific feelings based on the sounds of the name, whether it sounds rich and classic or of a specific ethnic origin. The main character, however, Barton Fink, is much more straightforward. Barton likely refers to the large empty hotel he is staying in, since Barton means “large manor house.” Fink is connected to the character’s dilemma because Fink means “a failure to deliver on a promise,” pointing to the character’s writer’s block and inability to complete the script. Then, there’s Karl “Madman” Mundt, which is possibly a reference to a later Coen Brother‘s film. In the Muncie fight song in The Hudsucker Proxy, we hear the line, “You’ll be tattered, torn, and hurtin’/Once the Munce is done with you,” referring the Muncies. But replace that with Mundt and you have a neat film crossover.
3. 10 Things I Hate About You
Most of you probably know that 10 Things I Hate About You is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Well, because of that, many of the character names are connected in various ways to their inspirations. Katarina Stratford, the protagonist, refers to the shrew of the original story, Katherina. Stratford is referring to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Patrick Verona is connected to his inspiration, Petruchio. Petruchio was the Italian suitor from…you guessed it…Verona. The other interesting name connection is Cameron James, the boy smitten with Bianca. Cameron is based on the character Lucentio, and the name Cameron probably comes from Cambio, the name Lucentio took when posing as a tutor. James means “the follower,” so this points to his inability to leave Bianca alone.
2. Sweeney Todd
The name Sweeney Todd from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is so different that we automatically think about why it’s important. Well, the name Sweeney is an Irish name, meaning “small hero.” Meanwhile, Todd means “cunning,” “sneaky,” or “fox-like.” This fits well with the character because he is sneaky and believes himself to be a hero. The big bad in the film, Judge Turpin, is harder to place. His name could be a reference to the famed Highwayman, Dick Turpin. This Turpin was a thief who was celebrated in his time, much like Judge Turpin himself.
1. Alien Franchise
In the Alien franchise, we meet the synthetic characters of Ash, Bishop, Call, and David. You might first recognize that the first letters in their names could indicate some sort of order of creation. They also carry historical weight. Ash could be a reference to the remains of a human after they are destroyed, pointing to his immortality. Or Ash could be referring to the God Ashur or Ashur, the grandson of Noah. Both these Ashurs were prominent as settlers of a people. Bishop comes from the Greek episkopos, which means “overseer.” Annalee Call might be intended to make us think of St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. Finally, we come across the name David, a name most commonly connected to the bible. David defeated Goliath, conquered Jerusalem, and founded the kingdom of Saul. Each of these names hint at their purpose on their respective ships.
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