So, you decide to create a work of fiction with some foreign characters in it, e.g. your hero battles two evil generals - a Frenchman and a German. But there's one little problem. You know neither German, nor French, and have no clue about how these wacky foreigners are usually named.
But you've got an idea!
A quick search in the dark corners of your memory reveals some scarce knowledge about French and German history and culture. With local names in it! That's the answer to all your problems!
Half a minute later, you've got names for your villains - "Napoleon Dumas" and "Friedrich-Wilhelm Goethe". That sounds pretty authentic, right? Right?
A Famous Named Foreigner is a character hailing from some foreign nation
who, due to the authors not knowing anything about local naming conventions and/or thinking it would make their nationality more recognizable
and/or just being lazy
, is named after some very famous person from the respective nation's history or culture. Which most of the time sounds pretty ridiculous to the local ear, due to those names often being quite rare and primarily associated with those same famous persons
This trope, as noted earlier, is often the result of either Small Reference Pools
or They Just Didn't Care
. If the authors care even less
, it often results in As Long as It Sounds Foreign
. And of course, names do
become popular because famous people have them—for example, "Muhammad" is by far the most common name for Muslim boys (and in fact, is the single most common boys' name in the world).
Compare Named After Somebody Famous
, when this is done deliberately as a reference, and not just with foreign characters.
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: has Pelé Dos Santos, the Brazilian in the movie's Five-Token Band. Named, of course, after perhaps the most prominent Brazilian of all time (Complete with the last name, which despite being very common, possibly refers to the team Pelé played for (Santos)).
- Several members of the Bulgarian Quidditch team in Harry Potter bear the names of notable historical figures; Zograf is a 19th-century painter, Levski a revolutionary hero. Krum was a king who killed the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros, and is also famous for being the first to introduce written laws. "Krum" is particularly unlikely as a surname, though it has some popularity as a given name.
- Mao (as in Mao Tse-Tung) is fairly common, especially in anime. Note that Mao could be written several different ways in Chinese, and is a common enough surname.
- Miss Wenceslas in Sherlock, presumably named for Wenceslaus of Bohemia. Unfortunately for the makers, the Czech version of the name is Václav, which is not used as a family name, and even if it were, would be lacking the "-ová" ending all female surnames that have a noun root.
- In the Night Watch series of novels, there is the Czech vampire Vítězslav Hrubín. While "Vítězslav" is a common name, this combination obviously is merging names of two famous Czech poets, Vítězslav Nezval and Frantiek Hrubín.
- At one point in WET, Rubi is put in contact with a Czech woman named Kafka Dvorak. Kafka is a last name!
- Early in the movie Swordfish, a Finnish hacker is arrested. His first name, Axl, is not a commonly used Finnish name, but his last name is Torvalds - just like a certain other Finnish hacker.
- Axel, however, is a common enough Scandinavian name (a variant of "Absalom"), and it fits quite well with the Germanic-based surname (akin e. g. to Thorvaldsen, the name of a Danish sculptor).
- Fate/hollow ataraxia has Luvia Edelfelt, a Finnish Ojou and Rich Bitch extraordinaire. In Finland, Edelfelt is practically a synonym for a noble family whose members are talented architects, painters, writers et cetera.
French and German
- St Trinians school, in the 2007 film, has a French teacher called Miss Maupassant
- Invisible Kid II from the Legion of Super-Heroes was named Jacques Foccart. For added irony appeal, he was also black.
- The X-Files: Chester Bonaparte in "Fresh Bones".
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX has a teacher named Jean-Louis Napoleon (Bonaparte in the English dub).
- Inglourious Basterds: The Dreyfus family shares its name with the most famous French Jew in history. Tarantino was actually drawing a reference to Julie Dreyfus.
- Inspector Dreyfus of the Pink Panther films. The name itself however is originally Yiddish, a language related to German.
- George de Sand from Mobile Fighter G Gundam. George Sand was the Moustache de Plume of a woman. It's meant to sound English - the French form of "George" is Georges and the French word for "sand" is sable.
- Captain Tsubasa: The two main players of the French team are named El Sid Pierre, and Louis Napoléon.
- Marvel's Canadian superheroine Murmur alias Arlette Truffaut, rather similar to actress Arletty and film director Francois Truffaut.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had Captain Picard, a scientist-explorer, who sounds suspiciously like the (French-Swiss) Piccard brothers, who were scientist-explorers. Or Jean-Felix Picard, a 17th century French astronomer.
- In the later seasons and the first movie, it is vaguely suggested that he is a distant descendant of said famous Picards.
- Emile Zola, writer of J'accuse was the best-known Dreyfusard and French voice against anti-semitism, so it's weird that Jack Kirby named a Nazi Mad Scientist and enemy of Captain America Arnim Zola. The chosen first is the surname of a German noble family that included, among others, the romantic poet Achim von Arnim and his wife, Bettina von Arnim, née Brentano; the latter was a well-known liberal with social reform tendencies during the decades leading up to the Revolution of 1848.
German and Hungarian
German and Russian
- Code Geass:
- Bismarck Waldstein. Or perhaps this one, though the two were related.
- Jeremiah Gottwald.
- Nina Einstein (this could be a reference to her invention of the atomic bomb, a project to which Albert contributed)
- Arsenic and Old Lace has a Doctor Einstein. Somewhat lampshaded in that Elaine expresses obvious surprise at hearing his name. The play goes even further when Jonathan clears it up for her by revealing that his first name is Herman, not Albert.
- Gunbuster has mostly Japanese characters, named after people on the staff, and one foreign character (Toren Smith) named after a well-known manga translator. When it came to the female German pilot, though, they fell headlong into this trap, ending up with Jung Freud, which is... not exactly a name anyone is likely to have. Especially since neither Carl Jungnote nor Sigmund Freudnote were German.
- Len Wein has gone on record that he came up with Nightcrawler's civilian name in 1975 by combining the first name of Kurt Waldheim (Austria, then secretary-general of the United Nations) with the family name of Richard Wagner. Kurt Wagner would hardly raise as much as an eyebrow with a native speaker, though.
- Final Fantasy VII has a fat villain named Heidegger, with an annoying laugh. He is in no way to be confused with either the Dr. Heidegger in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story or the eponymous German philosopher, author of "Being and Time," an inquiry into the nature and meaning of existence.
- Marvel's Destiny alias Irene Adler, named for the Sherlock Holmes character, although there are a number of famous Austrians and Germans with the same surname.
- Minor Marvel villain of the Hellfire Club Friedrich von Roehm, quite probably named with Nazi leader Erich Roehm in mind.
- The current führer of Reich-5 and successor to Viktor Alchsneiss is named Günter Wallraff. In our world, that's the (first AND last) name of a decidedly leftist German author. Makes you wonder how much research they did on that.
- On one episode of American Dad!, a Greek butcher named Hercules is introduced. At only one point is the correlation between his name and the mythological hero pointed out, in the form of a pun in his store signage ("Witness the 7 Meats of Hercules!") Otherwise, the name is treated as perfectly normal name. This is particularly noticeable because Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, and a Greek having the former name ahead of the latter, if either, is quite odd.
- Forms of Hercules are actually used in some languages, such as the Italian Ercole and the French Hercule.
- In Eyeshield 21, Panther's all-American, white best friend is named Homer. Not exactly a common name in the States due to who its associated with...
- Where else but Demi Moore's Striptease, where a (female) stripper "from Israel" is introduced as Ariel Sharon? Admittedly likely a stage name.
- In the Gabriel Allon novels involving an Israeli spy/assassin, his superior is named "Ari Shamron" which is one letter and an abbreviation away from Ariel Sharon.
- Hadji Singh from the Jonny Quest series. Hadji is an obviously Muslim title, and Singh is obviously Hindu or Sikh. Also, the chances of a guy named Hadji Singh being the prince of Calcutta are about the same as a guy called Kaiser Wilhelm being the king of England or France.
- Indians in fiction named "Mahatma". It's not a first name, it's a kind of honorific. Probably, the cause of this is Gandhi.
- In the late 1980s sitcom "Head of the Class", an Indian-American character is named "Jawaharlal Choudhury." Not only do the given name and the family name unlikely to be paired in a real Indian person because they come from two different ethnicities, but also "Jawaharlal" is obviously taken from the name of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Also, naming fashions change from generation to generation in India; thus, to an Indian, someone named Jawaharlal should have been born in the late 19th century, not someone who is a teenager in 1986.
- Mahomet Singh in the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of the Four. The Penguin Books annotation calls this a solecism, and blandly remarks that "the two names would not be found together." This annotation should be accompanied by bells, whistles, flashing lights, and a maroon. Especially a maroon.
- Ultimate Marvel Captain Italy: Umberto Landi.
- The Italian Vellian Crowler in the Japanese version of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX was named Chronos de Medici.
- In Babylon 5, one of the characters is Michael Garibaldi, despite Garibaldi being an uncommon surname. To reduce the perceived oddity of this choice, in the Italian dubbed version the name becomes Gariboldi.
- There's also the Garibaldi Temple in Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness. Along with other oddities such as a town named Cordova in the middle of Valachian forests.
- Lucky Dog 1 has Giancarlo Bourbon del Monte, Giulio di Bondone and possibly Alessandro del Salto / del Sarto.
- Played with in Rally Round the Flag, Boys!: Guido di Maggio doesn't really like to play baseball, but he always has to because, as someone says to him, "Whoever heard of anybody named di Maggio who didn't feel like playing ball?"
- In the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal Rising, Hannibal Lecter has a Japanese aunt-by-marriage named Lady Murasaki Shikibu. The historic Murasaki Shikibu is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, one of the world's earliest novels as well as one of the most famous and significant works of Japanese literature. The character in the book is said to be a descendant of the historic author, but this doesn't make the name much more plausible because "Murasaki Shikibu" was the author's pen name. The author's real personal name is unknown, but she was a member of the Fujiwara clan. "Shikibu" isn't even an actual Japanese family name, it was a reference to the court position held by the historic author's father.
- Pretty much every 'foreign' character in WWF at least through the Attitude Era, what with Mr. Fuji, that sort of thing. To be fair, Mr. Fuji's real name is Harry Fujiwara.
- Averted with Kenzo Suzukinote , who originally was going to be called Hirohito and come in as if he was related to the Emperor of Japan.
- The protagonist of Shaena Lambert's novel Radiance is called Keiko Kitigawa, just one letter different from the name of actress Keiko Kitagawa. Incidentally, "ti" is not a native Japanese syllable and would never show up in any real Japanese name, though it is an entirely legal rendering of a 「ち」 syllable in the official Kunrei romanisation system. (The better known Hepburn system renders it as "chi".)
- Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater, has Clarence Yojimbo, author of Yojimbo's Japanese-English Dictionary. Subverted by the revelation that he's not actually Japanese but Venusian.
- On the Angel episode "Players," a Japanese character is named Takeshi Morimoto, doubtless referencing Takeshi Kaga and Masaharu Moriomto from Iron Chef.
- World Heroes: Erick, justifiable in that Erik is still a very common Norse name.
- Celty Sturluson of Durarara!!, who came from Ireland and now lives in Japan, but ended up with a Scandinavian name along the way. Kind of runs into problems because Sturluson is a patronymic, not a last name.
- The X-Files, in the episode set in Norway, introduces the Norwegian fisherman... Trondheim (also the name of one of Norway's biggest and most important cities, and a former capital). While naming kids after cities or places is not unusual in the States, it is not a part of Norwegian naming conventions at all, neither as given names or surnames. On the other hand, Trondheim is established as having been born in Pensacola, which is in Florida...
- Sigrid Nansen, the original Icemaiden in DC Comics, is presumably named after the Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Note that her first appearance involved an expedition by the Super Friends to Antarctica.
- The Pakistani boy who comes to live with the American family in Aliens In America is named Raja Musharraf.
- Blackhawk Janos Prohaska. Note that Blackhawk is Polish, the RealLife Janos Prohaska was Hungarian, the surname is Czech (Slovakia was part of Hungary until 1918), and the first name isn't Polish either (that would be Janusz).
- The creators of the strategy video game Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord decided to be nice enough to give Polish soldiers Polish names (every individual in the game had an individual name). They gave them ones they could find in the Internet quickly, though. So you could commandeer Marian Krzaklewski, Jerzy Buzek, Aleksander Kwasniewski. It could be quite fun for some people to send them to their death, as the first two were not so popular at the time. Good enough that they didn't use Karol Wojtyla.
- In Medieval: Total War (I and II) the characters actually have names you could find in a history book, only sometimes assigned to wrong gender or forming strange combinations (like "Jagiellon Jagiello" a century before the reign of the dynasty founder). The last installment, Empire, reportedly uses the name of somewhat more obscure Polish politicians (but still fun to see them time-slipped).
- The random name generator in Europa Universalis III will occasionally churn out a name that belonged to a famous historical figure, not least because the Polish surnames in the generator's data file all belonged to figures of note in Renaissance Poland.
- The Anti Christ from the Left Behind series is named Nicolae Carpathia. To be absolutely fair, his other name is "Jetty" (?!?!) and this is hardly the only offensive moment in these novels.
- Perhaps best used in Work Time Fun in the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Tournament mini-game. The Romanian character in the world league championships is named "Mayor Dracula." In fact, just about every opponent in that minigame falls under this trope, including "Victoria Potter" from England and "George Spielberg" from America.
- James Bond:
- Chilly Beach also had a Russian hockey player named Gogol.
- Red Alert:
- Marvel Comics:
- Natasha Romanova.
- Piotr, Illyana, Mikhail Rasputin. A recent recton reveals that Colossus and family are in fact descended from the "Mad Monk".
- As far as his first name goes, Piotr is most likely named after Peter the Great.
- Also lampshaded by Hank McCoy when Piotr came back from the dead; "Boy's named Rasputin. Should have known he wouldn't be that easy to kill."
- Also Lampshaded in a What If? one-shot where Natasha, Piotr and Illyana are part of a Stalinist Fantastic Four; Stalin claims to tell a lot about people by their names, and to be rather suspicious of these ones. "My own name means - " taps Colossus " - Man of Steel."
- Boris Turgenev (Crimson Dynamo II).
- Alex Nevsky (Crimson Dynamo III).
- Dmitri Bukharin (Crimson Dynamo V).
- Tania Belinsky (Red Guardian, Starlight).
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Pavel Chekov.
- Stargate SG-1: Colonel Chekov.
- Bubblegum Crisis:
- Katya Kuznetsova (though Kuznetsova is a pretty common Russian name, Word Of God says Katya is really named after the famous Admiral)
- Pyotr Bulganin.
- World Heroes: Rasputin. Note that this character is not the Real Life Grigoriy Rasputin, as some may think. According to The Other Wiki, the World Heroes Rasputin is "a philosopher of XIII century Russia, was also a known alchemist and sorcerer".
- Wild CATS: Adrianna Tereshkova (The Void).
- Fiends of the Eastern Front: Grigori Eisenstein. Eisenstein is actually Jewish name, but still...
- The ship that took Luna Volves and Death Guard loyalist captains Iacton Qruze and Nathaniel Garro to Terra is also named after the famous filmmaker — or, rather, a pale shadow of his memory.
- Another 40K reference is Lord Inquisitor Fyodor Karamazov, Pyrophant Judge of Salem Proctor.
- Simon Brezhnev of Durarara!!
- There's a fairly important character named Mayakovsky in The Magicians.
- Eye of the Red Tsar also features a Mayakovsky, as well as a Kirov, a Kolchak, and a Kropotkin.
- Airwolf featured a General Kirov as well
- Hetalia's Ivan Braginsky aka Russia.
- One of the campers in Psychonauts is named Mikhail Bulgakov.
- In The Code of Dusty Fog by J.T. Edson, three trouble-making Russian members of a rail gang are named Kruschev, Gorbachev and Gorki.
- In Max Payne, the resident Russian mobster boss is called Vladimir Lem. Sound familiar?
- Draza, one of Lazarevic's lieutenants in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was almost certainly named after Drazha Mihailovic, the leader of the Chetnik "resistance" movement during World War II.
- Not to mention Lazarevic has a historical name of his own.
- The Doctor Who serial The Abominable Snowmen, which was set in a Tibetan monastery, had characters with the names of prominent historical figures in Tibetan Buddhism.
- As did Thief of Time, set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version.
- There's also "Lobsang Dibbler" in Witches Abroad. Since this is an example of a conman using the same name as a probable conman, it could be described as authentically inauthentic.
- Tenzin, the Tibetan villager that helps Nate in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, was most likely named after Tenzin Gyatso, the religious name of the 14th Dalai Lama.
- Although, to be fair, Tenzin is a very common first name in Tibet.
- Gyatso Avatar: The Last Airbender and Tenzin from The Legend of Korra, both named after Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso.
- Pearls Before Swine once used Ataturk as a name for a Turkish diplomat. It's uncertain whether the author realized that this was the nickname of the Republic of Turkey's founder.
- It's actually his official surname, but everybody else is prohibited by law to use that particular surname. So yes, that seems like a major mess up, unless it was deliberate.
Other / Multiple
- The real name of the Marauders mutant Scrambler is Kim Il Sung, after the communist revolutionary leader.
- Jerry Jenkins has admitted to consistently using a variant of this to name foreign characters: first name of a famous foreigner, then a notable location in their country as a last name. When this fails, it really fails (e.g. Nicolae Carpathia.)
- Apparently Jerry Jenkins and Ann M. Martin took the same creative writing class. Mallory of The Baby-Sitters Club gets a boyfriend in Australian Ben Hobart.
- Harry Potter has the Wronski Feint, named for a Polish Seeker. Wronski is pronounced the same as Vronsky, Anna's lover in Anna Karenina.
- Although in this case there is also a "Wronskian" in math. (Yes, invented by some guy named "Wronski". Jozef Hoene-Wronski, in fact.) It's pronounced "Vronsky" as well.
- According to Word of God, Survival of the Fittest character Clio Gabriella was originally going to be named Ava Gardner. Yes, that Ava Gardner.
- Major General Abraham Lincoln in Fantasy Mission Force might be a case of this. (Though it's possible he is meant to be the historical Lincoln; it's that kind of movie.)
- Enforced by the random generator that names the explorer unit in Age of Empires III. The first name and the last name are drawn from separate lists, both of which are based on historical European explorers and conquerors. You can end playing with Cristóbal Cortés or Francis Smith.