There’s a lot in a name, you know. And in movies, quite often there is more to the name of a character than at first meets the eye, whether it’s a pun, a nod to another movie, or just something ridiculous that kept the crew amused during filming. Here are some well-known character names from popular movies along with the references, jokes and double meanings you may well have missed. Oh, and there may be a few spoilers along the way…
40. The Donut Police Officers in Wreck-It Ralph
Do you remember the two comedy law enforcement officers from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph? Officers Duncan and Wynnchel were so named as an ode to two of America’s most popular donut chains. That’s Dunkin’ Donuts and Winchell’s Donut House, of course. So, if the 2012 movie had you dreaming of the sweet snack and where to get it, it was far from an accident.
39. The main characters in Cyborg
Cyborg is an 1989 action flick starring “The Muscles from Brussels” himself: John-Claude Van Damme. The name of Van Damme’s character was one Gibson Rickenbacker. And if that moniker had you dreaming of guitars, then that was probably the point as both parts of that name are a nod to famous manufacturers of the instrument. The names of characters Nady Simmons and Fender Tremolo also had musical instrument connections. It was almost as if it wasn’t an accident.
38. Violet from The Incredibles
Some names take a bit of a stretch to get to the link. Sometimes it’s a wonder if it wasn’t just pure coincidence, such as in the case of Violet in The Incredibles. The teenage daughter of the eponymous family is seemingly a reference to the fact that her mother Helen’s superhero costume is mostly red, while her father Bob’s is mostly blue. What do you get if you mix red and blue? You get the picture. Or more specifically, you get violet.
37. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
The heroine of The Hunger Games goes by the unusual name of Katniss Everdeen. Played in the series of movies by Jennifer Lawrence, Everdeen is an archer. Not coincidentally, the name “Katniss” is taken from an edible plant of the Sagittaria genus. It is also the name of the constellation, Sagittarius, the symbol of which is the archer. And there you have it.
36. Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Anyone who has seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will confirm that the movie’s bad guy – or bad ape – really is a nasty piece of work. It is therefore little surprise to discover that the man after whom the character was apparently named was also somewhat of a despot. Joseph Stalin, the notorious dictator of the Soviet Union, answered to the name “Koba” in childhood.
35. Dopinder from Deadpool
When you are the main star of a movie, you get all manner of perks. One of which is deciding the name of some of the minor players in the film. And so we meet taxi driver Dopinder in 2016’s Deadpool, who was apparently named after a “really cool” guy that star Ryan Reynolds knew in school. Sadly, Dopinder was killed by a lightning strike, so Reynolds’ choice was a tribute to his old friend.
34. Castor Troy from Face/Off
Mythology is a great source of names. But the writers of Face/Off decided to borrow more than simply the name “Castor” for Nicholas Cage’s bad guy in the 1997 movie. According to Greek legend, the mythological character of the same name meets his death on the end of a spear. Spoiler alert here, but in the movie Castor gets his comeuppance from a spear gun.
33. The neglected toys from Toy Story 4
The Toy Story franchise of movies is witty in so many ways, appealing to kids and their parents alike. In the fourth installment, Tom Hanks’ character Woody becomes firm friends with a bunch of misfit toys voiced by an array of well-known actors. Those very toys end up with punning names based upon their voice actors, from Melephant Brooks, voiced by Mel Brooks, to Bitey White, brought to life with the vocal talents of Betty White.
32. The family members from Knives Out
Sometimes an entire cast of names can be linked to a particular theme. And so it is, allegedly, in the 2019 movie Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson. With a relatively large array of characters to remember, Johnson, who also wrote the script, seemingly gave the protagonists the names of 1970s music stars. So, there was Neil (Young), Joni (Mitchell) and Richard and Linda (Thompson), as well as Walt and Donna, who were supposedly named after Walter Becker and Donald Fagan from the band Steely Dan.
31. Ethan Chase from Joker
Often directors like their movies to include a little nod to one of their earlier films. And so it is in Todd Phillips’ Joker. The character of Murray Franklin welcomes an actor called “Ethan Chase” onto his show. And that was the precise name of a character played by Zack Galifianakis in the movie Due Date, directed by – you’ve guessed it – Todd Phillips. A coincidence? We think not.
30. Bellwether from Zootopia
Here’s a major spoiler, but the apparently harmless assistant mayor Bellwether in Zootopia turns out to have a hidden agenda. “Bellwether” can be defined as someone who takes the initiative, or literally the leading sheep in a flock. The character Bellwether turns the citizens of her town into nothing but mindless sheep who cannot think for themselves. Oh, and she’s a sheep, too. It all links together nicely, don’t you think?
29. Uhura from the Star Trek movies
Uhura is a beloved member of the team on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Star Trek movies. In fact, the full name of the character, who has been played by the likes of Michelle Williams and Zoe Saldana on the silver screen, is Nyoto Uhura. “Nyoto Uhura” is in fact Swahili for “Star Freedom.” Considering her role in exploring space, it’s pretty apt, don’t you think?
28. Evan Treborn from The Butterfly Effect
For those who haven’t seen The Butterfly Effect, the movie involves time travel. More precisely, the main character – Evan Treborn, played by Ashton Kutcher – is able to relive previous events from his life. So, it’s no coincidence that if you say the character’s name a few times quickly you end up saying something that sounds a lot like “event reborn”. The movie is full of those particular events.
27. Seth and Evan from Superbad
Superbad was a huge hit back in 2007 and made stars of main actors Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. But the characters which the pair play – Evan and Seth – were named after the movie’s writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. The pair actually wrote the script for the movie while they were teenagers. And that’s not all. “Almost all the names in Superbad are people we went to high school with and lots of the stuff in the movie really happened to us,” Rogan later tweeted.
26. Alec Trevelyan from GoldenEye
There was once a British film censor by the name of John Trevelyan. Trevelyan seemingly didn’t like the first few Bond films – a fact that was well-known. And the producers of the series of films never forgave or forgot, seemingly. Because much later, in the movie GoldenEye, the crafty villain played by Sean Bean is also called Trevelyan. Alec Trevelyan this time.
25. Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket is a brutal Vietnam war drama. One of the movie’s most memorable characters is Private Joker, played by Matthew Modine, whose full name is registered as ‘Davis J.T.’. That is deliberately meant as a tribute to the first-known U.S. Army casualty of the war, who was a cryptologist by the name of James T. Davis.
24. Darth Vader from the Star War movies
Darth Vader, from the Star Wars franchise, is definitely one of cinema’s most memorable bad guys. But it seems the character’s name was no accident. The name “Darth” is eerily similar to the word dark, symbolic of his outfit and the side of the Force that he represents. And “Vader” means none other than father in Dutch. Now, exactly whose dark father is he?
23. Hud from Cloverfield
In the movie Cloverfield, the character of Hud is a somewhat comedic protagonist, yet also one who turns out to play a key role. In filming the monster, he ensures that events are documented for posterity. The name “Hud” is very likely connected to the acronym for an electrical device called a Heads-Up Display which, as the name suggests, presents a viewer with important data. Just like the character Hud, then.
22. Mark Bellison from The Invention of Lying
The Invention of Lying, as the name would suggest, is a movie about the first lie. That very lie is told by Ricky Gervais’ Mark Bellison. In one scene, “M. Bellison” is displayed on the character’s office door. The significance? Sounds a lot like embellishing, doesn’t it? Lying, in other words.
21. The main characters from Cube
Cube is a 1997 movie in which the main protagonists must escape what is seemingly an endless maze. A sort of prison, you could say. Unsurprisingly, therefore, all of the major characters are named after prisons: Leaven (Leavenworth), Holloway (London) and Quentin (San Quentin), for example. Kazan – the character played by Andrew Miller – is actually a notorious mental institution in Russia.
20. Enzo Gorlomi from Inglorious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie Inglourious Basterds took its title from a 1978 film called Inglorious Bastards. The director of that earlier movie was one Enzo Castellari, who was actually born Enzo Girolami. In one memorable scene in Tarantino’s film, Brad Pitt pretends to be an Italian stunt man by the name of Enzo Gorlomi – a tribute to the earlier movie’s man behind the camera.
19. The main characters from The Lion King
The Lion King is one of Disney’s most popular movies and has, of course, inspired a long-running stage musical and even a live-action remake. Yet did you know that many of the character names are taken from the Swahili language and offer insights into the roles of those protagonists? “Rafiki” means friend, for example, while “Mufasa” translates as king. As for “Simba?” It quite literally means lion.
18. Cypher from The Matrix
Another spoiler alert here: there’s a bad guy in The Matrix called ‘Cypher’. It’s a great name for an antagonist because it can be read as a shortened version of the devil himself: Lucifer. A cypher is also a type of secret code, so it’s also a great name for a character who seemingly changes sides halfway through the movie.
17. Major Cage and Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow is a 2014 action movie featuring two main characters with names that aptly sum up their respective roles. Tom Cruise plays Cage, who relives the same day every time he dies. It is something of a time cage in which he lives. Emily Blunt, meanwhile, plays Rita Vrataski, who shows Cage the way out. “Vrata” in Slavic means door: the symbolism is quite obvious.
16. Angela Hayes from American Beauty
To anyone who has seen American Beauty, you would be forgiven for drawing parallels with Vladimir Nabokov’s seminal novel Lolita. In an uncomfortable plot, a middle-aged man falls for the charms of a much younger girl. And while Nabokov’s siren was named Dolores Haze, the film has Angela Hayes, played by Mena Suvari.
15. Sharon Stone in The Flintstones
Halle Berry is a hit in The Flintstones, playing Sharon Stone. All the characters have themed names, of course, such as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. But Berry’s character is also a nod to the actress of the same name – an actress who was originally penciled in for the part but had to decline.
14. Charles Muntz from Up
When you make the movie, you get to choose who the villains are. And you also get to choose what they are called. So why not choose the name of someone of whom you were not particularly a fan? And so it probably is in the Disney movie Up where the picture’s crook is called Charles Muntz. The fact that Walt Disney had a business feud with a man named Charles Mintz is completely coincidental, of course.
13. The Fratellis from The Goonies
Character names in movies are often ridiculous. And so it would have been if the notorious crime family in The Goonies – featuring three brothers – were called “The Brothers”. Yet the “Fratellis” – which is, of course, the given name to the crooks in the movie – means exactly that in Italian. And they are Italian too. Someone was having a right laugh with that one.
12. The Bakers from Cheaper by the Dozen
For those who haven’t seen it, Cheaper by the Dozen is a movie about a family with 12 kids. The family in question have the surname Baker. And you may be familiar with the expression “a baker’s dozen”, which, ironically, means 13. But the Bakers from the movie do in fact have a dozen, of course. Get it?
11. Mayor Lionheart from Zootopia
In an example of art imitating history, the mayor in Zootopia is a lion named, aptly, “Lionheart”. “Lionheart” was the moniker of the legendary King Richard of England, who found himself imprisoned, just like his furry namesake. And just like the eponymous monarch, the movie character sees his second-in-command take over to disastrous effect, except – spoiler alert – this time it’s a megalomaniac sheep rather than Prince John.
10. Skinner from Ratatouille
Animated movies often have creative names for their characters. That’s one benefit of working off a blank sheet. Ratatouille is a movie about rodents who are victimized by an evil protagonist by the name of Skinner. Skinner himself was named after a real-life individual by the name of B.F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist who was notorious for conducting skin-crawling experiments on rats.
9. John Doe from Se7en
Se7en is a hauntingly chilly suspense movie. The crimes carried out by the perpetrator – the self-named John Doe – are hideous in the extreme, leaving a bunch of “John Does”, or unidentified bodies, in the morgue. And – here comes another spoiler – guess what his grand plan is? To end up as the final victim, making him, indeed, the final “John Doe.” Clever.
8. Remus Lupin from Harry Potter
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin is a character who – spoiler alert – was attacked by a werewolf as a child. As a result, the boy himself becomes a werewolf too. The character name makes two direct references to this fact, as “Remus” is, of course, one of the mythological Roman brothers who was suckled by a wolf. And then “Lupin” means wolf-like – lupine if you will – in French. There we go.
7. Neo from The Matrix
The Matrix firmly cemented Keanu Reeves as Hollywood royalty. The movie itself was far from straightforward, featuring some mind-bending plotlines featuring a rather complex parallel universe. Yet Reeves character “Neo” is the chosen one in the film, making his name – an anagram of ‘one’ and meaning “new” – more than just something that sounds cool. Which it does, of course.
6. Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects
The mythical Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects is a spine-chillingly effective villain. And in what must be one of the best plot twists in cinema, the legend turns out to be none other than – huge spoiler alert – Kevin Spacey’s disabled “Verbal” Kint. Now if you spoke Turkish, and knew that “Soze” could be loosely translated as a remark, or something someone says – something verbal in other words – you may have figured it out long before the end.
5. The Parrs from The Incredibles
The Incredibles is a movie about a family of superheroes who long for nothing more than to be normal. So, the family name given to Bob, Helen and kids – Parr – is more than apt. Par, of course, means average, as in a par score on the golf course. This particular family were far from average, though.
4. Sirius Black from Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling likes to be clever with the names of her characters, and so it is with Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies. It turns out that Black can transform himself into a black dog, hardly surprising considering his name. Sirius, from the Canis Major constellation, is known as the Dog Star. “Sirius Black” translates to black dog, in other words.
3. Seneca Crane from The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games was an immensely popular set of books which became an equally popular movie franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence. And just like his Roman namesake, bad guy Seneca meets his end after being sentenced to death by the state for which he works. It’s a case of fiction mimicking life.
2. Ariadne from Inception
Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a movie with a notoriously complicated plot. Yet somewhat easier to get your head around is the fact that Ariadne, the character who draws a map to help Cobb get out of the maze, is not named accidentally. Ariadne was also the individual who, in Greek mythology, helps Theseus get out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.
1. Phil Coulson from The Avengers
Sometimes a name needs to be said several times to appreciate that there is a homophone at play. That is, it actually sounds like something else if, as in the case of Phil Coulson from The Avengers, you take some liberties with pronunciation. It’s hardly a long leap to “feel cool, son” then, is it? Did you hear it all along, or are you now kicking yourself?