A character needs an alias. They only have a few seconds to think of one and simply saying "John Smith" is out of the question. The camera follows their eyes as they look around the room. They see one common object, and then another, and then another...
Uh, my, er, name is, uh [sees a pair of jeans] Jean [an eyeball] uh, eye... [a fur coat]... ummm jean-eye..uh, jean-eye-fur [a green wall] green Uh, jean-eye-fur- green-uh-flower. Yes. That's it! I'm Jennifer Greenflower.
And assembling the names of the objects in their head, they have an instant pseudonym.
Sometimes they can luck out and see things with writing on them. This sometimes supplies them good names, but just as often is Played for Laughs with them selecting something ridiculous.
Somewhat Truth in Television, as the real-world examples show.
Other ways to invent a quick alias include Character Name Alias, Sdrawkcab Alias and Sue Donym.
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A credit card commercial where a man at work is asked by his wife if he made any plans for their anniversary. Naturally he must scramble for an Ass Pull: "Uh, yeah... we're... " * glances at Chinese takeaway box* "taking the Orient Express to..." * glances at stained tie* "a spot in... Thailand!" * glances out window, where a bird lands* "We're going birdwatching!" At the end of the commercial, on the trip that his credit card company was able to drum up on short notice, his wife remarks that "this is such a surprise", and he wholeheartedly agrees.
Anime and Manga
In one episode of Bakuretsu Tenshi, Jo must give Takane her full name, so after seeing someone eating some rice with curry, she comes up with "Jo Kareraisu" ("Jo Curry Rice"). This may also happen because Jo has Only One Name.
Jo says "Jo Mamma" in the English version instead, quite amusingly.
In one episode of Pokémon anime, when Ash Ketchum needs a fake name, he sees Pikachu with a bottle of ketchup, and comes up with "Tom Ato". Misty then comes up with "Anne Chovie", and Brock follows on the food theme with "Caesar Salad".
Ash was going to say "Ash Ketchup" (maybe), but he gets whacked.
The Japanese version has the trio use the aliases "Omurice Ketchupurou", "Chicken Rice Sauceko", and "Curry Rice Chutney Zaemon", which are actually just the names of Japanese dishes with the last few letters of some traditional Japanese names added at the end.
In Ōban Star-Racers, Eva Wei invents her pseudonym Molly in this way. When she sees her father for the first time in years and he doesn't recognize her, she gives the name "Molly" after a pin-up poster in the hangar.
Toa of Dragonaut: The Resonance got her name from a bracelet belonging to Jin's sister Ai, which was broken in the accident that killed her and the rest of his family (that she caused.) It originally had "To Ai" engraved on it, but read "To A" when she found it.
Gio got his name because Kazuki saw his designation number G10 and mistakenly read it as Gio.
In Haré+ Guu, Haré, while time-traveling, gives his name as "Ame" ("rain" in Japanese):
Weda: "Ame? That's a strange name. Almost like you took it from this rain!"
Odd variation/subversion: in Here Is Greenwood, a few of the main characters are wandering around town when a young woman, clearly on the run from someone, knocks into them. When she's asked her name, she notices the giant poster behind them advertising the album of a singer named Mieko Nitta, so she naturally gives the name "Mieko." The guys help her escape the various people chasing her while trying to guess what her story is, only to finally discover the unlikely truth: she is Mieko Nitta. She ran away from her manager and handlers to try and have a day to herself for once.
The four Numbers Cyborgs who joined the Nakajima family named their unit "N2R" after the part of the rehabilitation center they stayed in (N block, Room 2)
In Letter Bee, Lag gives Niche her name because he found her in an alcove of a train station.
It's eventually revealed that the titular character of Naruto does in fact have a name someone made up while eating a bowl of ramen (a naruto is the circular fishcake with a red spiral in it you put in it). Jiraiya did it when trying to think up the name for the hero of his (non-pornographic) novel, and Naruto's parents named him after the character.
Kabuto turns out to have been named like this too. In his case, he was found wounded and suffering from amnesia after a battle, and he didn't remember his own name. When the people who found him decided to give him a new name, he happened to be wearing a samurai's helmetnote also known as a kabuto .
In CLANNAD, Tomoya is at first impressed when Fuko quickly comes up with Isogai as a fake last name, until he realizes she got that name from seeing it on the nameplate of the neighbors' house.
In Dragon Crisis!, Rose's name is chosen by Ryuuji by him thinking the pattern on her hand looks like a rose.
Suitengu of Speed Grapher picked his current name after reading it off a sword.
Itsuki also chose the name 'Cure Sunshine' because she was also currently looking at the sun. It goes more than that, but the element of the trope is there.
In K, Shiro comes up with the name for an ill-sister based on a poster he sees floating around in order for Kuroh to let him go. Later it turns out that's how he came up with the name Isana Yashiro as well
The superhero Invincible got his name when, after a fight, his high school principal told him "you aren't invincible, you know".
One assumes that this scene would work equally well with the writers' original idea, "Bulletproof".
In The Corinthian: Death In Venice, a beggar attests that he named the titular nightmare after the first thing he saw with his new eye— a Corinthian pillar.
Loser Ringo Fonebone tried to commit suicide by hanging himself but failed, and ended up falling out his window on top of a robber on the run from the police. The robber blurted out "You klutz!" When the thankful police asks him who they have to thank for catching the crook, the dazed Ringo mumbles "I'm just a klutz, captain..." Since circumstances has meant he is wearing a superhero costume (his long johns, the towel he used as a rope, a hat that got stuck on his head) they assume he is Captain Klutz, the new superhero. The name stuck. (The Captain's adventures were illustrated by Don Martin and published in MAD paperbacks).
Nightwing rival/enemy/ally Nite-Wing took his name from a restaurant's neon sign advertising that they had "all nite chicken wings".
The Stan Lee version of Superman gets his secret identity this way. Amusingly, from the other names available, he could have gone with Peter Parker.
The eponymous hero of Blueberry was named Mike Donovan, but picked "Blueberry" as last name in a hurry because there were some growing where he was looking at the time.
In one of the older Batman origin stories, Bruce Wayne is sitting in his study trying to come up with his vigilante name, and contemplating that criminals were a superstitious cowardly lot, when a bat smashes through the window. "That's it, it's like an omen, I shall become bat". This was expanded nicely in Batman Begins.
In Alan Moore's Terra Obscura, the origin of the Black Terror is cribbed specifically from this; Bob Benton based his superhero identity on a book about pirates he had lying around, which prominently featured a skull and crossbones on the cover. Similar in spirit, but not quite the same.
A variation of this was used in Booster Gold. In order to distract Sinestro, Booster pretends he's his biggest fan and that his yellow ring is a tribute to him. When asked what corps he belongs to, Booster replies "The...Sinestro Corps". This gets Sinestro thinking...
Cerebus has an example of a Line of Hearing Name. Cerebus, using the pseudonym "Fred", comes up with the surname "Hammer" because he hears someone fixing a roof with one.
In the version of Paperinik where he starts out as a member of The Guardiansof the Galaxy, Donald just makes up the name "Paperinik" from an alien symbol on his shield that looks like the letters P and K entwined when asked who he is during his super hero debut (he has recently been told he must remain anonymous).
The amnesiac heroine of Somerset Holmes gets her name from an advertisement for a housing development called Somerset Homes.
When asked for his name, The Punisher villain Thorn names himself as such by glancing at a passing road sign. As his near death experience had left him amnesiac, it became his new name.
In Fairest #22, one of Cinderella's mouse footmen sneaks into the ball. When asked his name, his eye falls on a tray being carried by one of the servants and he introduces himself as "Champagne. Marcel Champagne".
When England has think of a fake name in The Taboo, he comes up with Arthur Kirkland when he glances at a bottled water someone is drinking.
In The Eighties Dan Aykroyd comedy Doctor Detroit, this is how the title character is named. A pimp named Smooth Walker is in the office of Mom, a competitor, and he convinces her that he's leaving because "the Doctor" has forced him out.
Smooth: Yeah. Doctor...(Looks around frantically, spies a travel poster for Detroit behind her head) Detroit."
In The Incredibles, according to Dynaguy, one of the heroes killed by their cape, he got his name while eating at a diner and sounding out words.
In The Usual Suspects, "Verbal's" entire story was created by piecing together random items from the office he was being interrogated in. Even the bottom of his interrogator's coffee mug was used to name the lawyer, Kobayashi.
And in Supergirl, the titular character's secret identity, Linda Lee, comes from a glance at a picture on the wall of Robert E. Lee.
In Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams' character glances at a newspaper headline ("Police Doubt Fire Was Accidental") to come up with the titular name.
Robin Williams gets another one in August Rush when he comes up with the titular protagonist's stage, taking a fragment from the slogan on the side of a frozen foods truck.
A non-name example: Wayne's World 2 has Wayne come up with the entire plot of the movie (holding a big festival) looking at posters and other stuff in the record studio where he's at (including a gag with an Indian fashioning a canoe out of a log).
In Wrongfully Accused, Leslie Nielsen's character does this in a sporting goods shop, resulting in a name based on fishing lures ("Buzz N. Frog") and an alleged meeting in a place called "Menzrum". As if this weren't enough, the scene becomes an explicit parody of The Usual Suspects, when Nielsen leaves and his interlocutor begins recognizing the names on the rack behind him.
The Wrong Guy: Nelson Hibbert wakes up in a hospital; believing he's a wanted man, he needs a fake name. So he tries "Enemabag Jones". When the doctor isn't convinced he tries again, reading his fake name off her nametag.
In the 1987 movie Hiding Out, the main character spots a can of Maxwell House coffee and says, "Maxwell House....er. Maxwell Hauser."
Occurs in The Princess Diaries when the Queen invents the "Genovian Order of the Rose", after spotting a sign for Rose Street, to get Mia out of a spot of trouble with a police officer.
In The Muppets Take Manhattan, Kermit the Frog, suffering from amnesia, wanders into an ad agency and when he is asked his name by some frogs who work there, he sees an ad on the wall that says "Fill'er up" and says his name is Phillip — Phil. By an odd coincidence, all the other frogs are called Gill, Jill and Bill.
City of Angels's protagonist, Seth, tries this on his love interest and is immediately shot down when he claims to be called "Seth Plate".
In The Associate, Whoopi Goldberg's character needs a name for her mysterious friend and her eyes falls on a bottle of alcohol at the bar: Robert S. Cutty.
In Lover Come Back, when Edie Adams's Ms. Fanservice character is threatening to ruin the Madison Avenue career of Rock Hudson's character because her Sex for Product endorsement for one of his clients has been canceled, he offers her the chance to do the commercials for a brand new product. Searching for a name, he picks up a newspaper bearing the headline "VIPS ARRIVE FOR CONVENTION." Soon enough, television commercials are being produced with her as the "Vip" Girl; they generate a good deal of publicity, despite there being no such product as "Vip" - at least, not yet...
In Down with Love (largely a Homage to Lover Come Back), Catcher Block, in urgent need of a pseudonym for himself that Barbara Novak won't recognize, takes a look at the dry cleaners' signs saying "Zippers Repaired" and "MARTINIZING® Specialists" and comes up with the name of "Zip Martin."
In Shanghai Knights, Roy comes up with the pseudonym "Sherlock Holmes" in this manner. No, not from seeing anything written by Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, he's the one who inspires Sir Arthur to use that name.
Linda Fiorentino's character in The Last Seduction makes up an alias while looking, into a mirror, at a poster for the city of New York, and comes up with "Wen Kroy", with "Wen" later elaborated into "Wendy". And unusually, the man she was running from actually manages to reconstruct her thought process, and finds her under her new name.
A version appears in the first film when Hans Gruber tries to pass himself off as an innocent employee. John McClane surreptitiously checks the building directory while asking Hans' name, but Hans had apparently already seen it and gives the name "Bill Clay", which John spots in the directory.
Live Free or Die Hard would revisit this, as Justin Long's character impersonates the real owner of the car McClane is trying to jack.
"My name... (rummages through glove compartment) is... (finds something) Frank... and my dad's name is... Dvorak... Tsajinsky..."
The fortune teller in Pee-wee's Big Adventure tells Pee-wee that his bike is at "The Alamo, in the basement," from signs outside her window.
Dale: "Go to the Days Inn downtown. Use a fake name." (Looks around garage.) "Garagely!"
The Hottie & the Nottie, features Paris and Nate at a picnic. He stammers over coming up with a name for a fictitious guy for her roommate. He comes up with "Cole Slawsen". Yeah.
The ronin from Yojimbo gives his name as "Kuwabatake Sanjuro", meaning "Mulberry Field thirty-year-old". Guess what he's looking at (and how old he is) when he was asked. He adds that he's "closer to forty."
In Sanjuro, the ronin gives his family name as Tsubaki (camellia) after the nearest plant life.
A bizarre instance of this can be seen in the made-for-TV movie The Pooch and the Pauper when a con artist who specializes in inventing fraudulent dog breeds is asked the name of one of his "exotic" breeds and his eyes fall on an an assortment of teas before he responds that the dog is called a Darjeeling Orange Pekoe.
When the protagonist of Top Secret!, Nick Rivers, is asked about his name, he says that his father thought of it ("Nick") while shaving.
Line of Sound variation in the original The Nutty Professor - when Prof. Kelp's suave cad alter-ego needs to give a name, someone calls him 'buddy', a song about love is cued up...presto, he's Buddy Love.
In the 1996 remake, Eddie Murphy as the alter-ego is chatting up the beautiful woman he had always wanted to get with. When a security guard says "Hey, buddy...", he adopts that as his first name; but when she asks his last name, he looks at her wonderingly and says "Love. Buddy Love."
The Rocketeer gets his name when airshow promoter Bigelow, having rejected "Rocket boy" and "Rocketman", spots a sign advertising Pioneer fuel.
In the Japanese film Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, when the live production of a radio play goes off the rails, one of the actors is forced to come up with an American name on the spot. He glances around the studio and spots a meal from McDonalds, then gives his character's name as "Donald McDonald", which is Ronald McDonald's Japanese name.
In Rango, the title character gets his alias from a bottle of cactus juice, which has "Hecho en Durango" (Made in Durango) printed on it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Elisabeth Swann doesn't want the attacking pirates to know that she is the Governor's daughter, so she catches herself in mid-name and blurts out the one last name constantly on her mind: that of her secret crush, William Turner. It turns out this choice is way worse than Swann could possibly have been.
Flower the skunk from Bambi actually got his name when Bambi was getting the names of various plants and animals wrong (such as calling a butterfly a "bird" and a flower a "butterfly"), and the reason why Bambi named the skunk "Flower" is because he was first found in a flower patch.
In Dark Shadows, Maggie Evans is training herself for her governess job interview in the train that drives her to Collinsport. She thinks her real name will not impress the Collins so she looks for another name, sees an advertisement for the "Winter Olympics" (in Victoria) and renames herself "Victoria Winters".
Dick: Yes, this is Officer...(sees multicolored paper) Red Green of the... (reads off a computer monitor) MVPDL.
In a film version of "Puss in Boots" starring Christopher Walken, Puss (Walken) comes up with an alias for his master, the "Marquis of Carabas", after seeing a cart loaded with casks of "Carabas Wine" in the marketplace.
In Heathers, when a radio host asks Heather Mc Namara for her name, she struggles to give one. Then she spots her canary and comes up with "Tweetie".
In Charles de Lint's Newford books, main character Jilly Coppercorn picked her last name from two advertising billboards she happened to see.
In The Light Fantastic, the name of the Forest of Skund comes from the fact that the explorer who discovered it pointed towards it and asked a puzzled native what it was called. In the local language, "skund" means "your finger, you fool". A footnote points out other similar place names like "Just A Mountain", "I Don't Know", "What?" and "Who is this fool who doesn't know what a mountain is?".
This is based on "Canada", which, in Iroquois, means "village". The theory goes that one of the early explorers asked where he was. He was told he was in Stadaconda, the native's village, which he took as meaning "Stadaconda, Canada".
There's a lot of similar stories in other places. For instance, one myth states that "kangaroo" means "I don't understand your question". According to This Discworld Site: "As Cecil Adams puts it in More of the Straight Dope: 'Having now had the "I don't know" yarn turn up in three different parts of the globe, I can draw one of two conclusions: either explorers are incredible saps, or somebody's been pulling our leg.'
Used in The Last Continent, Pratchett does love this one (surprisingly enough). Matter of fact, I'm certain half of Uberwald's geography makes use of this trope.
The Yucatan Peninsula is another place that supposedly got its name this way.
During his brief layoff in Reaper Man, the Death of Discworld goes through a couple of these before settling on "Bill Door".
Lampshaded with his first choice of surname. "Bill... Sky." "Sky? Nobody's named Sky."
"One-Man-Bucket" got his name the same way; the tribe were traditionally named after the first thing the mother saw when looking out of the teepee, and his was a shortened form of "One-Man-Pouring-A-Bucket-Of-Water-Over-Two-Dogs". Reportedly, his twin brother, born and named ten seconds earlier, would have given his right arm to be named "Two-Dogs-Fighting"...
A variation in Soul Music; people join the Klatchian Foreign Legion to forget and end up forgetting everything (except sand). The corporal who recruits Death doesn't know his own name, but thinks it might be written on the label of his uniform. Death finds it unlikely that he's "Corporal Medium" or "Corporal Hand-Wash Only", but accepts that "Corporal Cotton" is a possibility. The new recruit is then handed over to Legionary Size 15.
In the short story "In the House of the Seven Librarians", the little girl Dinsy names herself from a column of drawers on a card catalog: D, I, N, S, XYZ.
Subverted in Utopia. An assassin is sent to kill a man called Warne, but due to a pass card mix-up, he closes in on the wrong man. The victim protests that his name is "Pepper, Norman Pepper", and the assassin is almost ready to realize his mistake. However he then notices the soft drinks can that Norman was drinking from, and with a smile steps forward saying the words "Of course you are...".
In Good Omens, the creatively challenged witch-hunter names his imaginary co-workers (invented in order to increase the stipend his threadbare organization receives) after his office furniture.
Live Free or Die: "CeeFid" is used as a fake project name used to fool any Horvath listening to a conversation between two human characters, as part of an excuse to go to a secure room. Once they're out of observation, the speaker explains the inspiration: the book C++ for Idiots, a book he saw on the shelf in his office.
In the Spy High series, abandoned baby Cally was given the surname "Cross" because she was found with a crucifix necklace on her.
An unusual form in Alethea Kontis's Enchanted: when a mute girl came to work for the cook, the cook took her into the garden and told her to pick out a plant; they would call her that. Rumbold, hearing it, offers a few jests about her name being Cabbage or the like, and the cook tells him it's Rampion.
All of The Wombles are named after places. In the original books by Elisabeth Beresford it's explained that they took their names from an old atlas, but this doesn't seem to get mentioned in the animated version.
In Stephen King's novel Dolores Claiborne, the place where Helga Donovan works is called Gaylord Fashion. Dolores finds out at the end that Helga died in 1961 and that Vera most likely made up the name because she had been born in Gaylord, Missouri.
Meta example: At Swim-Two-Birds was written on a desk made from a trellis, and one of the characters is named Dermot Trellis. Scholars do not believe this is a coincidence.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, there's the character Ser Rolly Duckfield, who was knighted near, you guessed it, a field with ducks in it.
There's also Ser Robert Stone, whom Osney Kettleblack cites as the man who knighted him, but Jaime believes he made up the name from that of dead King Robert and a stone wall in the room.
In Manning Cole's A Toast to Tomorrow one of ex-agent Tommy Hambledon's subordinates in the Berlin police force brought in a fellow ex-agent on suspicion of having started the Reichstag fire. The other man gave his name as "Johann Schaffer" during questioning and once they were alone together, Hambledon commented "Next time you are asked for your name, think up a nice one, don't just read one off an advertisement calendar on the wall. It arouses suspicion in the most credulous breast."
In the last book of The Tomorrow Series, The Other Side of Dawn, Ellie Linton calls herself "Amber Spaulding" after being captured, taking the name from things she sees around her in the hospital she is being treated in.
This is Lampshaded in the episode because before seeing the Exit sign, Cory glances at better names (like a flier for a 'Blood Drive'.)
At one point Eric makes up a fake fraternity so that he can have a fraternity party. When the Dean asks him the name, he sees a kid in a Magnum, P.I. shirt, and thus replies "Magnum Pi".
According to Word of God this is how female lead Topanga got her name. One of the writers was on his car phone and drove past a sign for Topanga, California while they were trying to think of a name for the character.
Doctor Who: The Doctor first acquired his occasional alias of "Doctor John Smith" in "The Wheel In Space", when, prompted for the name of the unconscious Doctor, his companion Jamie reads the name from the maker's mark on a piece of hospital equipment.
His granddaughter, Susan, adopted the false surname "Foreman" after seeing it written on the gates of a junk yard.
Earned a Shout-Out on Leverage when characters used the pseudonyms "John and Sarah Jane Smith".
In a Saturday Night Live sketch, Fred Savage's character must create an imaginary friend for a competition, so as he's speaking into the microphone at a podium, he names his friend "Mike Podium."
In another SNL sketch which takes place backstage, Andy Samberg tells a story to guest host Kevin Spacey about why he was late, which turns out is a Line Of Sight Story echoing Spacey's The Usual Suspects.
When Vala from Stargate SG-1 finds herself in a police station after suffering Laser-Guided Amnesia: asked for her last name, she gives "Valerie ToDad", after a drawing on the officer's bulletin board. It doesn't work.
Lieutenant Tyler, an alien impersonating an SGC member, took his name off a label on the team's gear of Tyler, Texas. Fortunately, he managed to work out that Texas was a location; and was able to avoid having to think of a first name.
In Atlantis, part of the wraith Michael's phony background was taken from a calendar in Dr. Beckett's lab.
"Mr. Monk and the Employee of the Month": Randy claims he has a girlfriend named Crystal, and Sharona, seeing a nearby box, asks, "What's her last name? Glassware?" But it's subverted when she turns out to be real, even though no one actually believes it.
"Mr. Monk and the Big Reward": Monk figures out that a woman who has been coming into the police station is connected to the crime when he remembers seeing her name on a plaque and realizes that it's an alias.
"Mr. Monk is At Your Service": Monk is in a suspect's house, having been mistaken for the applicant being hired as new butler. Rather than raise suspicion, Monk goes along with it and gives the name "Adrian Melville" after spotting a copy of Moby-Dick on the table.
"Mr. Monk Fights City Hall": Harold asks for the name of Monk's new therapist. They're next to the elevators, so Monk makes up the name Dr. Door. Harold calls him out on it, asking that if they were next to the alarm, would Monk have said "Dr. Bell"? This prompts a beautiful Spit Take from Natalie, because Harold might not be aware at this point that he did correctly guess the name.
"Mr. Monk Gets Drunk": Monk meets a stranger calling himself Larry Zweibell at an inn who disappears the next day. No-one else seems to remember Zwibell ever being there, and then Monk discovers a painting in the inn signed by a Larry Zwibell, further enforcing the possibility that he just imagined the guy because he'd had too much to drink. However, Monk correctly deduces that the guy was real and used that name because he'd seen it on the painting, not because Monk had seen it. His real name was "Ben Gruber".
In Alien Nation, the Newcomers were given human names for similar reasons, and you could tell when the bureaucrats were reaching the bottom of the barrel: there were names like Sam Francisco and Dallas Fort Worth, and many more.
Sylar on Heroes, who took his alias from a watch he was fixing. This is likely inspired by the real-life Zodiac killer, who is thought to have taken his name and/or logo from a brand of watch.
Oliver needs an excuse for why he can't go on a date and he says he's going to do roadie work for a band called "Restroom's This Way", after seeing it on a sign. Lilly calls him out on it.
Lilly: "'The Restroom's This Way'? Who's their opening act? The 'Place Trays Here'?"
Oliver also gets the name for his alter ego "Mike Stanley III" this way, after seeing a microphone stand backstage at a Hannah concert.
Miley is doing a radio interview from her kitchen while eating spaghetti and claims to be speaking from a cafe in Italy. When she is asked where she is, her father passes her the pasta box. She reads the first words she sees and claims to be in the small village of "Sodium Free". She immediately ammends this to "Sodium Freme" (said in an Italian accent).
Young Indiana Jones: When older Young Indy joins the Belgian Army during World War I, acting on advice never to join the military under his own name because they can't prosecute a nonexistent assumed name for desertion if he later left, joins as Henri Defense (Defense de Fumer = No Smoking). Lampshaded by an officer:
Recruiting Officer: Your name is Henri . . . (looks pointedly at no-smoking sign) . . . Defense?
Max Headroom names himself after downloading Edison Carter's line of sight in the pilot episode of the Max Headroom TV series (the last thing Edison saw before his accident was a parking-garage sign indicating the "Max(imum) Headroom," i.e. vertical clearance, of an exit).
In the Wings episode "Lynch Party," Helen recalls her (failed) attempt to break off her engagement with Davis Lynch so that she could marry Joe: not wanting to tell him the truth, she claimed that she had a disease, which she named "Faulkner's Syndrome" after spotting a Faulkner novel on Davis' table. The trope is compounded when Davis offers to find her a doctor, and she claims to have already seen the "top Faulkner man," named "Dr. Dickens."
Laura Holt combined a Remington typewriter and the Pittsburgh Steelers to name her "fictitious" boss Remington Steele.
In an episode of The Pretender, Jarod is pretending to be a bounty hunter. When he meets a rival, she asks him what his name is. He gets his alias, Jarod Green, from reading a Greenpeace flyer in the background. The rival then says her name is Peace.
In an episode of Green Acres, a runaway kid ends up in the Douglas' farm. One of the several false names he makes up for himself is "Paul Frankcan": which he got from looking at a can of "Paul's Canned Franks" on the Douglas' cupboard.
In an episode of Taxi, cab driver Elaine Nardo encounters one of her old high school friends as a fare, and impulsively tells her about her boyfriend, who she names "Bill Board" while passing a billboard. She convinces Alex Reiger to pretend to be Bill at a dinner party (during which he reinforces the charade by joking "Yeah, my name really is Bill Board... you should meet my brothers, Clip and Switch...")
An episode of That's So Raven has Eddie needing to come up with a name for Raven's latest disguise. He chooses Liz Anya (after seeing a plate of lasagna). Raven's not too pleased, but Eddie points out she could have easily been called "Pork Choppa" instead.
Done on both versions of Cupid for the title character's human alias, both were taken from the marble quote behind the judges during his court hearing.
Okay, "Sid" and then the first thing I see when I look over this fence... "Sid Cowpat"....hmmm.
One of the most famous examples: Jan Brady's imaginary boyfriend "George Glass." Spoofed on The Simpsons with "George Cauldron". Also, in A Very Brady Sequel, Jan meets a real George Glass.
In an episode of The Office when Michael Scott is having trouble getting to talk to boss David Wallace over the phone. Dwight decides to take the phone in his place and tries to give a pseudonym. He uses Michael's real first name and then the last name of the first thing he sees- a roll of scotch tape. Thus, Michael Scotch. Later averted when Micheal winds up being redirected to Charles Miner, the very person he had wanted to complain to David about; when Charles asks who is calling, Michael simply replies "I was never given a name" and hangs up on him.
In an episode of How to Be Indie, Marlon has to come with the name of the president for a made-up country (It Makes Sense in Context). He eyes fall on the sugar cellar on the table he declares the president is 'Gary Sugarthing'.
Subverted/parodied on an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program. Young Sarah has to give her new imaginary friend Troy a last name, and looks around for inspiration. Spying a television set in her room she settles on Troy Bulletinboard.
In the Canadian puppet TV series Bookmice, the cat that had plagued Norbert, Zazi, and Leon (the "mice" in question) decides to give himself the name "Exit" in honor of the first word he learned how to read (which was an "EXIT" sign).
Played with in a sketch on SCTV with guest star John Cougar (before he added "Mellencamp" to his name). Character Ed Grimley (Martin Short) accidentally consuming some bubbling flask of stuff in a laboratory, ends up transforming into the good looking, suave guest star. When he walks into a bar, someone asks him his name. The first thing he hears is "Someone left a Cougar in the parking lot with its lights on!" The second thing he hears is "I gotta go to the John."
In a sketch from Stella, Michael Ian Black changes his name from Michael Schwartz because he sees a poster of Jesse Jackson and decides that black people are cool, so Black would be a cool last name.
Power Rangers Wild Force had an example. Cole met a young boy running from some builders in the street. Asked his name, the boy looked around before answering "Kite." His counterpart in Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger is Futaro, who took his name from "fuusen", the Japanese word for balloon, after seeing one.
Buddy Overstreet in the old The Fugitive parody Run Buddy Run did this a lot, for instance he once called himself "Barry Straw" after passing a strawberry farm.
In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin looks at the bill and the pepper shaker on the restaurant table and claims that the man she slept with was called "Bill Pepper." Lily, not fooled, inquires if Bill knows "Mr. Forknapkin."
In another episode, Ted tries to recall the names of his past dates from photographs by associating them with either the occasion ("Bertha" for a girl he met at a birthday party), or something in the picture. He gets them all wrong.
In the Victorious episode "Beck's Big Break", Tori is sneaking onto a movie set and gets stopped by a security guard, who asks her name. She tells him it's "Crystal Waters" after seeing it on a water cooler.
In the 2009 mini-series remake of The Day of the Triffids, the villain takes his name from Torrence Lane after the plane he's in crash-lands there.
Eerie Indiana features an amnesiac kid who sports a mysterious "+" and "-" on the backs of his hands. He eventually decides to name himself after the marks. The main character guesses, "Plus Minus?" but the kid scoffs at the suggestion and corrects him, "Dash Ecks."
Full House has an episode where DJ says her name is "Janet Abdul" after seeing posters of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Then Stephanie says "And I'm Barbie Dollenbear" after seeing a Barbie doll and Mr. Bear.
In another episode, Jesse and Becky decide to make lists of all the people they dated before they got married, and Becky eventually just starts making up names such as "Larry Couchman" (she was sitting on the couch.)
On Young Dracula, when Robin pretending to be a vampire and being questioned by the Westenras, he is asked the name of his parents. Glancing around, his eye falls upon a certain kitchen implement and he says his father is "Count Spatula".
Subverted on Still Standing: Brian asks his father for condoms for his friend Dorian. Bill thinks he's lying and the condoms are for Brian because he looked right at the door before naming his friend. It turns out that there is actually a real Dorian, but Bill was right, Brian wanted the condoms for himself.
In the The X-Files episode "Unusual Suspects", Suzanne Modeski, being on the run and desperate for information regarding the frame-job her former bosses put on her, spun a Wounded Gazelle Gambit to get Byers involved. He asked her for a name, and she called herself "Holly," after the packet of sugar on the table. Word of God said Byers later paid tribute to that by creating a new identity for her as "Holly Fitzgerald," a combination of the sugar name and his middle name.
In the Charmed episode "She's a Man, Baby, a Man!", Prue is unexpectedly changed into a man as part of a spell to catch a succubus on the loose. She uses the name "Manny Hanks" since she was turned into a man and in order to adequately play a man, should emulate a man that she admires, namely Tom Hanks.
The Sarah Jane Adventures, "The Curse of Clyde Langer": Clyde is under a curse that makes people hate him when they see his name or hear it spoken. When he ends up sleeping on the street and is found by a homeless girl, he sees a box from Enrico's Pizza and tells her his name is "Enrico Box". She knows he's lying, but doesn't press him for a real name. Later, when trying to find her again, he sees her name on a poster and realizes that she was also using a Line Of Sight Name.
In the Unforgettable episode "Lost Things", a suspect trying to throw the detectives off invents a story about the victim using a dating service. He gets the idea of a dating service from the screen of a nearby computer, the names of guys she met through it from wanted posters, and the name of the service from a different poster.
One Foot in the Grave: Victor hastily says that his address is "Dunn Hill", taken from a discarded Dunhill cigarette packet on the table.
Inverted in Drake & Josh. The leads have been accused of selling stolen goods and try to tell the real criminals' names to the cops. Though they are telling the truth, it looks like they're lying because of this trope.
Cop: "And what was this guy's name?"
Drake: "It was...Guy."
Cop: "Oh yeah? And what was his buddy's name?"
In Spellbinder, when Ashka is in our universe, she uses the alias "Mrs. Harley" after the Harley-Davidson motorcycle she stole. Later she changes it to "Anna Harley", after meeting a woman named Anna and realizing that in this universe people have "two names".
In the television play The Flip Side Of Dominick Hide, time traveller Dominick Hide takes his new name Gilbey from a bottle of gin. He soon discovers that Gilbey is not a normal first name in this era.
In the Japanese TV adaptation of Absolute Boyfriend, Riiko needs to make up a surname for Night to use at work. She chooses "Tenjou" from the front of a nearby travel brochure, but then a co-worker points out that the name of the place is actually pronounced as Amagi.
On an episode of 30 Rock Liz's pseudonym while hiding in the men's bathroom was Kenneth....Toilethole.
Spaced: at a housewarming party, Daisy claims that the title of her new screenplay is Guacamole... Window.
Nathan Barley: Dan tells Nathan his accidental hairstyle (cut short on one side and matted with paint on the other) is "Geek Pie" by reading random words off posters on the street
On an episode of Pobol y Cwm, Mark calls in to the radio station and disguises his voice in order to vote for something he himself proposed. He's standing in the street, so when he's asked his name, he looks around at the signs and makes one up (Elis Maenan) from the names of local businesses. He then gets asked where he's from, and his eye falls on the sign of the fish (pysgod) and chip shop. So he says he's from a town called Dinbych y Pysgod – which, being in southwest Wales, doesn't match his (fake) North Walian accent.
This is the core of a Key And Peele sketch in which a potentially-pardoned prisoner answers all the detective's questions based on wall posters. At the end, it turns out that many of the detective's responses, like "I'm getting too old for this," were actually on the posters behind the convict's side of the room.
Mel gets Cole's fake last name, Hauser, from someone's parking space in Tracker
In Sleepy Hollow, the Sin Eater gets his primary alias this way, naming himself "Henry Parrish" after the (abandoned) St. Henry's Parish
In Boston Common Cookie De Daren, head of the drama department, is expected to have chosen a play for the revamped college theater.
Cookie: A play? Of course I've chosen a play! I'm the head of the drama department after all! The play. [picks up an apple] The play is the thing. And the play I've chosen is... [spots Cross' Japanese tea set] The Tea Ceremony.
Harrison: That's an inspired choice. What other plays were you thinking of? Death of a Stapler, perhaps, or My Fair Paperclip?!
In the 1893 poem, "A Bush Christening", by AB Paterson the priest forgets the name of the recalcitrant child who is to be christened. Seeing an empty bottle of Maginnis' whiskey, he chooses the name Maginnis much to the later embarrassment of the upstanding citizen he has named (is this the earliest instance of this trope?)
In Advance Wars: Days of Ruin the amnesiac Isabella first wanted to be called Cattleya (her name in the Japanese version) after Will gives her a cattleya isabella Orchid (a natural hybrid actually only found in Brazil). Will convinces her to go with Isabella instead, because he finds "Cattleya" to have a very awkward pronunciation..
In Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin you meet a ghost who explains ghosts have no need for names. But then the wind blows, and he decides you can call him "Wind".
Common in Massively Multiplayer Online games. Due to the prevalence of extremely uninspired names when there is no disincentive for it, most games have rules and programmed limitations that filter out at least the worst cases of Sony, Millerlite, and Dietmrpibb.
Final Fantasy IX: Garnet, the runaway princess, has to go incognito for awhile and needs a fake moniker. Seeing the hero's weapon of choice, she names herself Dagger—assuming the player picks that name, of course. Not doing so renders the scene nonsensical, however.
In Escape from Monkey Island, crazy hermit Herman Toothrot admits that he suffers from Easy Amnesia. When he washed up on the island, he created his name as a backronym from the only legible initials on his last remaining possession.
In Beneath a Steel Sky, a boy is given the surname "Foster", ostensibly because he's an orphan that was "fostered", but the fact they're in Australia and the person who named him was holding a popular beer of the nation probably helped in some way. (Due to copyrights and trademark stuff, the name of the beer was changed to a fictional one for many versions of the game (including the freeware one) hence spoiling the joke).
A variation (combined with Foreshadowing) occurs in BioShock: in Fort Frolic, you come across posters for the play "Patrick and Moira" by Sander Cohen. The names of Atlas' murdered son and wife are also Patrick and Moira, making the posters hints that Atlas is not what he seems. The posters are also hung up in Atlas's (now deserted) headquarters, making it all the more obvious he did this.
The Order of the Stick prequel graphic novel On the Origin of PCs reveals that the titular adventuring party itself has a Line Of Sight Name:
Roy: You might as well call us the Stray Rock Guild, because there's a stray rock over there, or the Order Of The Stick, because there's a stick on the ground!
The other prequel, Start of Darkness also has one. The main villain, Xykon, can't be bothered to remember his minions' names (and blasts people when they have names too long to remember), so when the Anti-Villain goblin brothers team up with him, the one who would become known as Redcloak introduces them as "Redcloak and Right-Eye". We never do find out their real names, even though Redcloak is a major character in the main comic. Right-Eye, especially, treats the new names as a symbol of subservience to Xykon (ironically never calling him by his name either, though he uses the more affectionate "brother"), and it becomes obvious he's given up on his brother when he calls him "Redcloak".
For further irony, Redcloak later has his right eye cut out by O-Chul. Fellow minion Tsukiko is instructed to use this by calling him "Wrong-Eye" when he gets ethical on her.
Line of Sight everything: Alex King has a tendency to create some interesting non sequiturs this way.
In Ben Croshaw's webcomic Yahtzee Takes On The World, a variation of this occurs. When the Villain Protagonist was trying to choose a name for himself, he consistently overheard people talking with the name 'Ben' in every other sentence. However, he ignored these, and took the name 'Yahtzee' when the board game was mentioned.
In Tempts Fate, the side-comic of Goblins, it is spoofed in this strip. Morpheus Bilbo Kenobi!
Karin-dou 4koma: Seren happened to be eating Ujikintoki (a type of shaved ice) when she needed a surname for Ginka and Kinka and just went with "Ujikintoki".
Accursed Dragon has a variant: Coven anagrams the names of the towns he's in for his aliases. Some of these names include "Nigel" (which he used in the town of Elgin) and "Marvy" (which he used in Vamyr).
Darths & Droids: Han (played by Jim) has decided to visit a drunk guy he knows who can verify whether or not the "Dagger Bar" existsnote Han actually misheard Luke (played by Corey) when the latter said he must get to Dagobah. When Leia (played by Annie) asks for a name, Han responds, "Orlan... Dough." "Orlando?" the GM asks, leading Han to decide that the name "Lando" is better. Leia then asks where Lando is, Han says that he's on the planet "Orb... o'Spin." The GM asks, "Orbespin?" for verifcation, and Han once again decides "Bespin" is a better name for the planet.
In the Spike TV adult cartoon Stripperella, the main character used this to come up with aliases. One memorable example was in the episode "Everyone loves Pushy", she ordered a purse and identified herself by the last name of "Lampchairwalnerstein" after glancing at a lamp, chair, her apartment wall, and an obscured Frankenstein poster respectively.
Parodied in a Halloween episode, when a witch gave the name of her boyfriend as "George Cauldron" after doing this. Bart and Lisa both laugh at that... and then, at the end of the segment, George shows up at the door. note George Cauldron is a reference to "George Glass", Jan Brady's alleged boyfriend on The Brady Bunch.
When writing a fake love letter to Miss Krabappel while in detention, Bart sees a picture of US president Woodrow Wilson hanging on the wall and signs the letter "Woodrow", then attaches to the letter a photo of hockey star Gordie Howe.
After Homer is embarrassed at a bumbling TV character sharing his name, he changes it to the decidedly more respectable "Max Power." When complimented on his new name, he replies "Thanks, I got it off a hair dryer."
Though not a personal name, Homer, at Moe's Tavern, calls in absent to work because he's observing the "Festival of (sees "Maximum Occupancy" sign behind the counter)...Maximum Occupancy."
At one point, Bart pretends his turtle is lost to sneak inside a woman's house. When she asks him what the turtle's name is, he says "Apron Boobs-face" and later gives his own name as "Shoes Butt-back."
When Lisa has to do an essay about her heritage for a class project, she decides to write about Native Americans and chooses a made-up tribe calling it "Hitachi" after her microwave.
When Bart is trying to come up with a comic book character. He sees a bat hanging in the window and exclaims "Batman!" before he realizes that it's taken. He looks around a little more and sees a Green Lantern, but realizes it's taken too. He eventually comes up with the character of Angry Dad after watching Homer's buffoonish antics through the window.
In one episode, Bart applies for a credit card under the false name "Santa's Little Helper" (the family dog). He has horrible handwriting, though, and the card comes back issued to Santos L. Halper.
Aside from Goliath, most of the titular gargoyles did not use names before their move to New York. On learning that humans insist on them, the others pick names from their surroundings, becoming Hudson, Brooklyn, Broadway, Lexington and Bronx.
Hudson: You humans have to have a name for everything. Does the sky need a name? The river?
Eliza: The river's called "The Hudson."
Hudson: (sighs) Then I shall be "The Hudson" as well.
Demona names the gargoyle clones after Californian surroundings—Hollywood, Malibu, Burbank, and Brentwood—specifically to point out how stupid she thought this method of naming was.
Subverted in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. While trying to think up a nickname for an aloof new kid who never speaks, Billy sees likely names on all number of things around him, but doesn't choose any of them, and instead goes with "Pif".
Spoofed in the Tuff Puppy episode The Wrong Stuff where Dudley and Keswick try to hide their identities from Kitty while spying on her.
Dudley: I'm not Dudley, I'm Bob...Men's Room.
Dudley: I'm not Dudley, I'm Bob...Don't Feed The Squirrels.
Kitty: Is that Keswick?
Keswick: I'm not Keswick, I'm Bob...Stay Off The Grass.
Dudley: Real smooth, Keswick. (whispers loudly) Now she's onto us.
Parodied in The Emperor's New School, where Kuzco claims his best friend's name is "Brad Bowllama"... and Melina immediately calls his bluff. (It could have been worse. He considered "Bananastaircasehat".)
In Transformers Animated the Constructicons picked their own names this way. Mixmaster from a decal that was left on him (or just "Mix" for short) and Scrapper from a pile with a sign that said "Scrap".
Used in an episode of Rugrats. In order to con Didi into buying her two toys instead of just one, Angelica claims to have a sister. Seeing a boy playing with a ball across the store, she names her invented sibling "Ballina."
Parodied in Johnny Bravo, when Johnny disguises himself as a woman to hide form a murderous mobster. When he's at a hotel and asked for his name he replies "Mitch", then looks around and spots a sign, adding "Mitch Checkouttimeisattwo", and explaining it's a Polish name.
Teacher's Pet: Spot comes up with his alias (Scott Leadready II) by first blurting out his real name (the teacher mistakes it as "Scott" instead of "Spot"), and then reading the teacher's pencil (A "Leadready No. 2" pencil).
In the episode "The Man Who Killed Batman", nobody mob underling Sidney Debris is given the nickname "Sid The Squid" when one of his superiors spots an advertisement for calamari.
In the episode "Growing Pains" Tim Drake must think of a name for an amnesiac girl. He looks around and seeing another girl with a Brand X version of a Raggedy Ann doll, and concludes that he'll call her Annie.
In SpongeBob SquarePants, when the Flying Dutchman comes for Mr. Krabs' soul in the hospital, Mr. Krabs insists that he is "Harold Flower", after the flower on the end table.
In the German dub he calls himself Benjamin Blümchen(Flower) which is another character by the same Voice Actor. He even changes his voice appropriately.
When Jane becomes angry, and threatens to run away to spite her friends in Jane and the Dragon, she claims that she has been recruited by one King Barrowclaw. Naturally, she was inspired when, under pressure to give the supposed king's name, she looked around and spotted first a wheelbarrow, and then Dragon's foot.
Parodied in an episode of The Tick in which he suddenly needed to make up an assumed name when checking into a hotel. In desperation, he picks "Nick Soapdish" as his alias when he sees a soap dish.
Hotel clerk: Are you sure that's your real name? It sounds more ... made up.
On Ugly Americans a demon who is posing as a demon baby's father is asked the name of the baby and he responds, "Choking Victim?" This is revealed to be a title on a poster directly in his line-of-sight. It turns out he actually is the baby's father.
On Stoked, Reef was dressed as a girl and got asked to enter a female surf contest. When asked for his name, he looked at the sand he was standing on and came up with "Sandy... Beaches".
There was a Panamanian cartoon that used this trope: the main character was the product of a country-bumpkin Panamanian woman getting pregnant from a one-night stand with a United States Navy officer who was at one point stationed in the Canal Zone. The mother named the child "Usnavy" (pronounced Oos-nah-vee) because she saw the "word" on a ship (U.S. Navy) and, since she couldn't speak English, had no idea what it meant. Funnily (or sadly?) enough, there are a few Real Life cases of this, though (for some children born in the 70's and 80's), making it Truth in Television and more of a parody of a trend.
Parodied in The Amazing World of Gumball. Forced to wear a dress to school, Gumball tries to convince his classmates that he's a new girl in class. When he tries to come up with a name, the first thing he sees is someone chewing gum, and a ball, takes it back then picks some other random things he sees. So he tells them he's Gumballoopseggwobbleunderpants. When asked where he's from, he says Europe. When pressed for specifics, he's forced to come up with a Line-of-Sight Place. He sees a gum truck and a bald head (making Gumbald), takes it back again, then adds some other stuff to end up saying he's from Gumbaldnowigbattle-axeninja.
In "The Remote", Nicole asks Anais to tell her what brand their TV remote was, but it turned out Anais told her the name of a garage door opener which she saw an ad for. This was part of how the episode's ending was an homage to The Usual Suspect.
In one episode, Roger tries to come up with an excuse for Bullock and attempts to do this.
"Mug....spoon...stir....counter.....glass....George Glass! That was the name of Jan Bradey's fake boyfriend!"
At one point Roger and Steve are playing detective when Roger calls Steve's character "Squirts Cinnabon Wheels". When Steve asks where the name came from, Roger said he "Keyser Söze'd" his name, followed by cut across the room to a bottle of soda labeled "Squirts" and a Cinnabon box.
Subverted in an episode of Duckman. Duckman has to think of a fake name and tries this, but he's too Genre Blind to spot several perfect fake names and instead makes up a really obvious name that contains Duckman.
An episode of Regular Show has Rigby use this method to come up with his new namenote Having been convinced to change it to two random words after seeing a documentary about a rock band; the first things he sees are a trash can and a painting of a boat, so he goes with Trash Boat.
A nickname variant happens in Motorcity: a mysterious figure who's seeking vengeance on Mike Chilton shows up wearing KaneCo armour. While Mike just refers to him at first as "You Again," Texas ends up nicknaming him "Red" due to the red on his clothing.
In the Beavis And Butthead short "Vidiots," Beavis and Butt-Head are watching an episode of "Geraldo" where the subject is dating services. A psycho on the show says, "My attorney says you shouldn't give your real name, Geraldo." When B & B go to sign up for a dating service, the clerk asks Beavis his name; he remembers back to the show and spits out, "Geraldo."
In Ben 10: Omniverse, after Ben sees Kai for the first time in years, he insists the werewolf-like alien he obtained when they last met isn't called "Benwolf" anymore. He then looks at a TV, sees a newsman that anyone who's watched CNN would recognize as Wolf Blitzer, and comes up with the name "Blitzwolfer".
All surnames were originally words derived from a characteristic aspect related to its bearer or whom he was related to. Characteristics could be physiological, psychological, occupational or even merely geographical: "Longfellow", "Goodchild", "Smith" and "Carlisle" are some obvious examples in English language, whereas most patronymics can be reduced to the words with the suffix "-son" such as "Johnson".
Personal names might as well be reduced to roots that were related to their owners, "Henry" being an example which would mean "home ruler". Or not at all, as "Carl", which means "guy".
In the Old Norse society, "Karl" was a title of rank. The highest rank was "Jarl" (pronounced "Yarl" which eventually became "Earl") and "Karl" was the rank below that.
Somehow subverted with "Andrea" meaning "virility", "masculinity". (It's the feminine version of Andrew or Andreas. In Italy, Andrea is a man's name.)
It Gets Weirder: lots of obvious occupational names come from England like Baker, Tanner, and so on. However, some people had jobs in acting, playing stock parts in the morality plays. Supposedly, this is how so many people came to have names like Bishop, King (and Queen), Prince... and, according to The Other Wiki, Virgo and Death.
In some regions folk myth associates redutible surnames as a characteristic of a certain people that supposedly went under forced assimilation.
The usual (but now considered apocryphal) anecdote as to how Terry Nation named those most famous of Doctor Who monsters is that, struggling over his script, he looked up to see a volume of the encyclopedia covering subjects from "Dal" to "Lek".
This has long since been confirmed an urban legend by Terry Nation, himself. He gave this explanation the first time he was asked where the name comes from, but later on confessed he had made it up, as anyone looking into dictionaries could find out. In fact the name simply came to him out of nowhere. Ironically, the word has meaning in Slavic languages including Serbo-Croatian, meaning something on the line of "far", or "distant". This, however, is purely coincidental.
Although at one time the London Telephone Directory did have four volumes that ran: A-D, E-K, L-R and S-Z.... (dalek is an anagram of the first five letters)
It was still a Line of Sight Name, but it wasn't from a file box. There was a store with the name Oz in it in his hometown in central New York.
In a subtle Shout-Out in the webcomic Skin Horse, one strip shows a filing cabinet labeled "A-N", implying that the bottom one is "O-Z". (Yes, this was intentional—the comic contains a number of Wizard of Oz references.)
When Larry King began as a DJ in Miami his manager thought his birth name of Zeiger was too ethnic. Minutes before going on air, he saw an ad for King's Wholesale Liquor.
One of Jim Henson's Fraggles, Wembley, was named this way. At an early production meeting where potential character names were being tossed around, head writer Jerry Juhl happened to glance at a newspaper article about an event at Wembley Stadium.
Canadian Inuit typically used only a single name until the government began delivering services in the 1940s and 1950s, at which point family names and southern-originated names started coming into wider use. In some cases the family names were chosen by this method as a person (or government bureaucrat) had to think of something to put in the blank lines of documents.
Many aboriginal people of Canada have a first name doubling as a last name. When asked for a name, they would give one (their given names); when asked for a last name, the concept was somewhat foreign. When asked for their father's name, however, they gave it - their father's first name.
Similar to the Inuit example, most Finnish people got surnames when the Swedes took over, most names were taken from the surroundings, and today, most surnames are references to nature, trees, rivers, hills etc.
Seems unlikely since Swedish surnames do not start to come into general usage until about 500 years after the conquest of Finland. Swedish nobility does have a certain amount of this trope though, as they usually got their names based on the device they bore on their shields. (this started out as a convention used by historians to differentiate all the various people with similar names and patronymics, but was eventually formalized in the 17th century) Case in point: Gustav Eriksson, widely credited as founder of the Swedish nation, is known today as Gustav Vasa, after his family's coat of arms- a vasa being a trap for catching fish.
Japanese surnames were also made up like that, as surnames were only legally required after the Meiji Restoration. Extremely common name elements are ta/da "rice paddy", yama "mountain", kawa/gawa "river", mori "forest", mura "village", ue "upper", naka "middle" and shita "lower". You can take almost any combination of two of these and make a common Japanese surname, with the most common names being known as the "Ta-naka-mura" names, which are a combination of any two of those three characters in any order: Tanaka, Nakata, Nakamura, Muranaka, Murata, Tamura.
Also, the German Jews. Which is why many German Jewish names have a relatively modern spelling and are not (like most German names) related to profession, location or personal attributes (appearance, temper etc.).
Brazilians are told that when Portuguese Jews were forced to convert, they took up names relating to their surrounding or to local vegetation and sometimes the myth tells that all surnames of this kind are New Christian. There no studies that might prove such tale and at least one Portuguese genealogist claimed to almost have a stroke when reading such. Also, having St. Nuno of Portugal been named Nuno Pereira (pear tree) and universally described as an Old Christian already brings down the idea that all of those surnames were Jewish.
However in old church registries (prior to etymological spelling or basic schooling) one could tell who was a New Christian to some limited extent because of the outright horrible spelling of their names as most spoke pidgins of Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic.
This sort of thing happens a lot when a nation suddenly gains improved infrastructure. Many common English surnames come from middle to modern English descriptions (e.g. Brown, Sharp), jobs (Smith, Reeve), etc as surnames were adopted in England in the 13th-14th centuries. The Scots and Welsh held out until the 17th, hence the stereotype of Scottish names being "Mc" constructs (Mc means "son of", so adopting Mc[Parents name] is an easy way to come up with a surname) and many Welshmen having the same surname.
Same thing with most Russian surnames. Before nineteenth century, only the Russian nobility, merchants and some richer urban commoners had surnames. The surnames for peasants, priests and various non-Russian ethnicities had to be made on spot. Peasants' names were mostly like this; priests' names were made from some random vaguely Christian concepts, often on Greek and Latin (for examply "Benevolensky" from benevolence), or from Biblical character names. Bad students of religious seminaries got names after biblical villains: Saulov, Pharaohnov and so on.
British musical hall artiste Nosmo King picked his stage name from some partially ajar stage doors that split the warning "No Smoking" in "No Smo King".
Actor Michael Caine chose his stage name after being told on the phone in Leicester Square that his proposed name of "Michael Scott" was taken. Caine then proceeded to glance around the square and saw a sign for The Caine Mutiny, and the rest is history. He has also joked in interviews that if he'd looked the other way he would have ended up as "Michael 101 Dalmatians".
Apparently this happens to a LOT of British actors. John Levene, Sergeant Benton of Doctor Who, plucked 'Levene' off a billboard when he learned he couldn't use his real name. Which would have been fine except for YEARS producers looking to fill Jewish Character parts kept calling him. Not only is he not Jewish, he doesn't even LOOK Jewish.
Tenth Doctor David Tennant (his real name is David McDonald, and there is already an actor with that name) says he got his name from a Smash Hits magazine, taking it from the Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant.
Ernest Tidyman reportedly came up with the name for Shaft while pitching the character to a publisher. When asked for the character's name, he didn't have one ready, but he happened to look out a window and see a sign reading "fire shaft".
Seen in this Bash.org quote about a baby named Dasani.
I've heard of a (Spanish) girl called Iloveny after the "I love NY" T-shirts.
When Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen was in exile in Japan around the turn of the 20th century, his friend registered him at a hotel as Sho Nakayama. He took this name from a palace near Hibiya Park in Tokyo. In Mandarin, the kanji for Nakayama would be read Zhongshan and it is now the most common name used for him— at least in Chinese.
Chris Martin said he named the Coldplay song "Yellow" after a Yellow Pages directory he saw while composing. He also stated: "In an alternate universe, this song could be called 'Playboy.'"
In her autobiography Anarquistas, Graças a Deus ("Anarchists, Thank God!"), Brazilian novelist Zelia Gattai tells her childhood neighbour was supposed to name his daughter Haydée, but lost the paper with that written. So, he asked the notary to name her Olga after the brand of cigarettes he smoked.
The Rolling Stones got their name when Brian Jones was on the phone trying to get a gig, and the promoter asked for the band's name. Not having one yet, Jones saw a Muddy Waters LP on the floor with the first song entitled "Rollin' Stone Blues".
Likewise, AC/DC came from a sewing machine (Alternating Current/Direct Current).
In 1966 Neil Young and Stephen Stills decided to call their new band "Buffalo Springfield" after seeing a steamroller manufactured by the Buffalo-Springfield Company resurfacing the street in front of the house they were living in.
Depeche Mode got their name from a French fashion magazine because they liked how it sounded. They only found out the meaning (either "hurried fashion" or "fashion dispatch") later but liked it anyway.
The song "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin was named after a black lab that hung around the recording studio, despite having nothing to do with the song.
When riding home from an audition in need of a stage name, future The Phantom of the Opera star Michael Dumbbell-Smith saw a truck pass by which said "Crawford's Biscuits Are Best". From then on, he was Michael Crawford.
As an old local rumor goes, the city of Cocoa, Florida, got its name this way. It was founded as "Indian River City," but that name was too long to fit on a postmark. When the time came to rename the place, the postmaster happened to have a tin of cocoa on his desk. The rest is history.
The programming language Java got its name this way. The creators were drinking coffee from Java when they were thinking of a name for their product. Originally, they wanted to name it Oak (because they saw an oak tree through the window), but that name was already trademarked.
Similarly, the Code Red computer worm was named after the Code Red Mountain Dew that the people who discovered it had been drinking.
Some Berber tribes in North Africa have a tradition of having the women gather and read the Qur'an while a woman is in labor. The word that was being read when the baby was born (how that's defined depends on the tribe) is the name of the child. It helps a bit that there is probably a bit of latitude in terms of which word is chosen (delivering a baby, after all, takes time), and that many Arabic words—and particularly adjectives—have meanings that are suitable as names.
The band Mest got their name from a can of Milwaukee's Best beer.
"Visually speaking, through all three games, we always start with an island. At the time, we were developing in San Francisco, and south of there was a town(?) called Emerald Hill. We were doing a location test at a shopping center there when we saw it, and since it was a Green Hill-like name we thought well, let's use it in the game!"
Incidentally, the town's name is actually Emerald Hills, but the details are otherwise correct. (Though it would probably be more accurate to describe Emerald Hills as "right next to Redwood City" because it is at least a good half-hour to the south of San Francisco.)
The Degrassi franchise began as a short film ("Ida Makes A Movie"), which led to others being commissioned and the need for a blanket series title. One of the houses used for a lot of the filming was on De Grassi Street in Toronto and so the name Degrassi was chosen.
Apparently how Pauly Montgomery Shore got his name. His mother passed by a Pauly Automotive and a Montgomery Ward on her way to the hospital. Though this could be an urban legend.
LutherRonzoni Vandross was so named because his mother saw a commercial for Ronzoni brand pasta in the hospital.
The writers of TRON: Legacy were looking for a good alias for Clu'sDragon, mostly because they really needed to hide the fact it was a brainwashed Tron. One of them had a Star Wars Encyclopedia on the desk, and one of the authors of that book had the surname "Rinzler."
The creators of Marble Hornets needed a project name that sounded like something a pretentious, self-absorbed film student would come up with: they picked two words at random off separate advertising signs.
The way the creators of The Super Mario Bros. series got Luigi's name was this: The second player's character needed a name, and a nearby pizzeria had the name of Mario & Luigi's.
They also got Mario's name in a variation of this, in a sense; their landlord, Mario Segale, got into a heated argument with them for rent, and after he finally left they decided to name the character, previously called "Mr. Video" or "Jump Man", after him.
Variation: turns out The Gunstringer was a Line of Sight Premise: the creators of the game were forced to scrap their previous idea due to technology issues shortly before the pitch meeting with a Microsoft exec in a Tex-Mex restaurant, forcing them to come up with a completely new game idea while said exec was in the bathroom. They had previously discussed a game involving marionettes and the restaurant had a painting of a skeleton cowboy. And the rest is history.
At the end of the US Civil War, many former slaves that had previously been listed with their master's surname or no last name at all made up their own. "Freeman" and "Freedman" were popular choices, for obvious reasons.
The most frequent Origin Story behind the hundreds of unfortunate babies with the classical Ghetto Name Usnavy (and its variations) is that the future mothers either saw a boat of the U.S. Navy on the road of the hospital or were attended on Naval installations.
This is how the Pink Floyd song "Atom Heart Mother" was named—the co-composer for the piece, Ron Geesin, gave Roger Waters a copy of the Evening Standard and told him to take the song title from within. The song came from the headline "Atom Heart Mother Named".
The name "Pink Floyd" counts as well. One of the early names the band used was "The Tea Set", but at a gig they found out another band also using that name was performing before them. They needed a new name on the spot, so Syd Barrett combined the names of two American bluesmen he happened to be reading about earlier that day: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
I was talking with a friend on the phone trying to decide on a pen name. I was eating strawberries at the time and there happened to be some condensed milk made by [the company] Morinaga right in front of me. Looking back, I feel like I should have thought about it more seriously...
According to the founders of The Onion, the question how to name their newspaper came up while being in the kitchen. Where one of them happened to be cutting an onion.
Douglas Adams was trying to think of a suitably exotic name for a rock star character in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when he spotted an estate agent's sign in the garden of a house he was driving past. The firm (which still exists) was "Hotblack Desiato" and they went through a phase of people calling them up and accusing them of copying their name from Adams...
Tommy James (of Tommy James and the Shondells) came up with the title for his song "Mony Mony" when he saw a MONY sign on a Mutual of New York building.
Actress Winona Ryder, born Winona Horowitz, took her stage name from musician Mitch Ryder, as one of his albums was playing when John Hughes had asked her how she wanted her name to appear in the credits for Lucas.
Australian actress Tabrett Bethell was named after her parents disagreed on what to name her while still at the hospital (her mother wanted "Siobhan," and her father wanted "Murray"). Her father went for a drive, saw the name "Tabrett Street" in Sydney, and returned to the hospital to suggest it to her mother, who said, "Yes, that's it!".
Ursula K. Le Guin came up with the titular town name for her short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" after seeing a road sign for "Salem, Oregon" reflected backwards in her car mirror.
Martin Nodell, the creator of the original Green Lantern, claims that he came up with the superhero's name after he saw an engineer at a train station using a green lantern and a red lantern to signal to trains when to run and when to stop. If he'd arrived at the train station a few minutes later, we may well have ended up with a superhero called Red Lantern.
A very common trick at hypnosis shows is for the performer to hypnotize the participants into forgetting their own names. When subsequently asked to identify themselves, many will say the first thing they see written down, so you'll get people saying their name is "Exit," "Staff Only," or similar.
Stefani Germanotta's former producer Rob Fusari claims that she came up with the stage name "Lady Gaga" from a botched text message that he sent her. As a private joke, he would frequently sing Queen's song "Radio Ga Ga" to her as she arrived in the studio for recording sessions, calling it her "intro song". One day, he tried to text the words "Radio Ga Ga" to her, but he accidentally misspelled "Radio", and his phone autocorrected it to "Lady". As Germanotta was struggling to come up with a decent stage name at the time, she supposedly looked at the text message and immediately exclaimed "That's it!"