“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
-Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Juliet Capulet could not have been more wrong. What’s in a name you ask? While the obvious answer is letters, but beyond that there is much-much more in a name. A name can be a personification. A name can unlock doors and put you in places you never imagined. A name can prevent you from having what you want. A name can enable you. A name can disable you. A name can define you as a person. So, were Juliet to have asked me from a balcony above, “What’s in a name?” I would have told her that EVERYTHING is in a name and would have suggested that she be careful when handling daggers and dealing with potions and such.
This might come off as elementary and obvious, but every character in every movie has a name or a title. There have been thousands -upon thousands- upon thousands of characters in the last hundred years or so of cinema and for the most part they all had names (Edward Norton in Fight Club was just called the Narrator if you want to get technical, I don’t). These character names can reveal character flaws, foreshadow events, and serve as analogies for character traits.
This list compiles the ten most memorable character names of all time. With a seemingly bottomless pit from which to draw from, narrowing the list to ten was a near impossible task, as a result many quality names were left off the list. Those that did not crack the top ten can be found in the honorable mention section at the bottom. I hope you enjoy it and be sure and leave a comment at the bottom regarding any characters that I may have missed.
10) Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
Shout out to Gregory Peck and a shout out to the 1962 movie and Harper Lee for their part in bringing Atticus Finch to consciousness. Atticus Finch is one of the early examples of cinema and storytelling to a non-traditional male name to the forefront. Between Atticus, Boo Radley, and Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird is chock-full of unique character names.
9) Marty McFly in the Back to the Future films
The ever-resourceful Marty McFly finds his name on this list purely for its alliterative ring. Young Marty is heroic in the face of danger and an above average skate-boarder as well. McFly personifies scrappiness and is able to handle the constant neurosis of Doc Brown. Why no one has ever really questioned the relationship of a high school teenager and an aging doctor who does experiments in his garage is an entirely different matter that can be discussed at a later time.
8) Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Lloyd Christmas was one of the last names to be taken off the list, but Ace Ventura, another early 90s role that catapulted Jim Carrey into the world’s consciousness finds itself among the top ten. Ace Ventura is a bizarre, immature, and occasionally annoying Pet Detective, but when the Miami Dolphins organization needed to find Snowflake their beloved sideline performer, they called Ace. And Tone Loc.
Michael Douglas was superb as the money hungry stockbroker Gordon Gekko. It’s no mistake that Gordon Gekko’s first and last name starts with the letter “G” and his fatal flaw throughout out the film is his never-ending greed. Alliteration aside, Gekko’s attempts at corrupting young Charlie Sheen proved to be futile and he was put behind bars for insider trading. In his case, Greed was not (for lack of a better word) good.
6) Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights
The perfect porn name in the penultimate Mark Wahlberg role. Long before Wahlberg was saving us from killer plants and hanging out with talking bears, he was the young gun on the porn circuit in Boogie Nights. Boogie Nights has become something of a cult classic in recent years and serves as reminder that Mark Wahlberg can actually act.
5) Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums
Royal Tenenbaum is one of the worst fathers in the history of modern cinema. He shot his son Chas with a BB gun, he constantly reminds his daughter Margot that she was adopted, and took his son Richie to dogfights as a child, but despite all of his flaws, he has the titular Tenenbaum name and what a fantastic name it is.
4) Gaylord Focker in Meet The Parents
Poor Gay. The airline lost his luggage, Robert DeNiro gave him a polygraph test, and he was caught spray painting a cat’s tail to pass it off as one that he lost. Never has a film garnered more laughs out of a character’s name than Gaylord Focker in Meet The Parents. I would go by Greg too if I were him.
3) Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects
SPOILER ALERT: Roger “Verbal” Kint and Keyser Soze are the same person!
The Usual Suspects is a film that offers one of the all-time truly great cinematic twists and was a launching spot for Kevin Spacey’s career. Spacey plays Keyser Söze, the ruthless drug lord and con artist who has achieved a mythical status among police officers and fellow cons. Söze can be translated in Turkish to talking too much, which makes perfect sense as Kevin Spacey, narrates much of the film while under the name of his alias Roger “Verbal” Kint.
2) Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and The Red Dragon
One of the most chilling performances of the past fifty years is Anthony Hopkins’ role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal and cannibal rhyme which is certainly not coincidental as Lecter enjoys fava beans with his liver. A name synonymous with both evil and brilliance, Hopkins voice in the Silence of the Lambs is enough to invoke goose bumps.
1) Rocky Balboa in the Rocky franchise
Sylvester Stallone as the “Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa is arguably the greatest character in the history of sports-related films. The meat-punching, step-climbing Balboa is a staple in the pantheon of great films and great film characters. Imagine this legendary Stallone character going by another name, something basic like Joe or Jim. It just doesn’t have the same effect. The public sentiment/disdain towards Stallone as an actor has long been documented, but his performance as Rocky Balboa is the stuff that makes legends and is this writer pick as the most memorable character name of all time.
Sorry to any female readers, but Hollywood does not have a tremendously rich history of memorable fictitious female names..
HONORABLE MENTION: McLovin in Superbad, Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, Alotta Fagina in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films, Tony Montana in Scarface, Jeff Lebowski in The Big Lebowski, Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko in Donnie Darko, and Clark Griswold in the National Lampoons Vacation films.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed the list. Please shower the comment sections with entries you agreed/disagreed with and overall thoughts of the piece.