Special Person, Normal Name
In real life, most people have very common and completely ordinary names. But not so in fiction. If a character is to have any relevance to the plot, he has to have a name that sounds either cool and tough, or ominous and evil. But sometimes they don't. Everyone else does, but not these characters. Their names are just so ordinary and common that it really sticks out.
This trope is the middle ground between Awesome McCool Name
and Unfortunate Names
. Compare with Aerith and Bob
, when characters with completely made up names appear side by side with others that have completely mundane names. Might overlap with Mr. Smith
if the name has been selected deliberately. See also Fluffy the Terrible
, Tom the Dark Lord
, Sesquipedalian Smith
, Some Call Me Tim
, and Odd Name Out
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Anime and Manga
- In Elfen Lied, the massive, floating head, Body Horror oracle that is kept in the pool under the research facility is just called "Anna." Helps that she was born as a mostly normal girl.
- The Big Bad undead evil sorceress in Record of Lodoss War is just named "Karla", being about the only character in the entire world with an actual real world name.
- The high priestess of the temple in Rune Soldier is named Jenny. Just "Chief Priestess Jenny".
- Martian Successor Nadesico starts with a pilot named Jiro Yamada, the Japanese equivalent of John Smith. He's so upset his name isn't awesome he insists everyone call him Gai Daigoji.
- The Big O: "My name...is Roger Smith."
- One Piece: Whitebeard's relatively normal name is Edward Newgate.
- Claymore: Most of the Claymores have quite plain names by occidental standards; examples include Clare, Teresa, Priscilla, and Helen.
- It's an unfortunate effect of translation that Monster Rancher has a Big Bad whose name sounds to western ears like, well, Moo. The theme song even identifies him as "the evil Moo."
- Space Dandy gives us the leader of the Jaicro Empire. The mighty Emperor...Johnny.
- And his opposite number in the Gogol Empire is the positively demonic-looking Admiral Perry.
- AKIRA is a perfectly ordinary name in Japanese.
- X-Men gives us Jean Grey. She's had a number of names over the years (Such as Marvel Girl and Phoenix), but nothing ever really stuck. Across various media and incarnations, Jean is just... Jean. Lampshaded in one issue:
Cyclops: "Everyone, Jean and I have an announcement to make..."
Jubilee (off-panel): "Don't tell me, she finally got herself a real code-name?"
Jean: (Rolling her eyes) "Nothing quite THAT exciting, I'm afraid!" (For the record, they were getting engaged)
- We also got Jubilee sarcastically referring to Jean as "Miss 'I'm too sexy for a codename, too sexy for a codename.'" Another time, in an X-Men: Evolution-based comic, Nightcrawler asked why Rogue was just Rogue, in superhero and in civilian life. Cyclops said "The same reason Jean's just Jean." When Nightcrawler asks about that, they're interrupted before any answer can be given.
- All this becomes slightly hypocritical when you consider that Jubilee's "codename" is actually just her childhood nickname. But then, when your parents named you "Jubilation", what can you do?
- And Rogue's real name - at least what we know of it - is Anna Marie.
- A Norse god-powered alien cyborg named "Beta Ray" Bill. Just Bill, for short.
- For a group that calls itself the Legion of Monsters and is made up of a variety of fearsome, sometimes supernatural beings, you'd definitely expect some exotic names. There are — some. Most others? Michael, Jack, Ted, Johnny, Frank, Elsa and "Manny".
- Dilbert has often met a demon who claims to be the ruler of Heck, where small sins are punished. While his full title is the Lord of Insufficient Light, you can just call him Phil.
- As a Running Gag, at least half the aliens in the Space Opera comic Nexus have perfectly normal-sounding human names like Tyrone, Sinclaire, Jil, etc. Dave of Thune's son Fred changed his name to Judah after converting to Judaism.
- The cover of the very first MAD magazine (when it was a comic book) shows people cowering in terror before a monstrous shadow — "That thing! That slithering blob coming toward us!" "What is it?" "It's Melvin!"
- Melvin was the name of a number of menaces in early Mad. In Woman Wonder, the villain was called Nivlem.
- Kevin from Sin City combines this with They Look Just Like Everyone Else. You wouldn't look at him twice if you passed him in the street. He's also a serial killer who's one of the best fighters in the series, and he never makes a sound, ever. Even when his guts are being eaten by a wolf and his head is sawed off.
- In the Star Wars/Mass Effect/Borderlands/Halo crossover Origins, the villain (for some of the story anyway) is a super-powered Siren. Other Sirens are named from canon: Maya, Lilith, Angel. Her name is...Sarah. She doesn't take this well when her underlings laugh at the Special Person, Normal Name, though later on it's revealed that "Sarah" is simply the closest convenient translation of Eridian language for her given title, the "Selfless Servant of the Mantle".
- Tim the Enchanter in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- Kill Bill: The assassin codenamed Snake Charmer, a graduate student of the world's greatest swordsmith and kung fu master... is the title character, Bill.
- The Matrix: All the Agents have generic names, such as Smith, Brown and Jones.
- Inverted in Down Periscope. The name of the electrician is Nitro, but it is his actual surname. He's working on a nickname: Mike.
- Played with in the poster◊ for Men In Black (as the characters go by One-Letter Name, but the actors have Plain Surnames).
- Also done with the aliens. Many of the aliens the agents encounter in the field have plain sounding names like Frank or Bob. This even includes a gigantic, subway-dwelling, omnivorous worm called Jeff. Presumably these are all assumed names, and they would make sense for those aliens living as humans. No explanation for the giant worm, though.
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith: John and Jane Smith are highly-skilled assassins.
- In The Cabin in the Woods there is evidently some sort of evil, never-seen thing buried deep in the facility but named... Kevin.
- In Fright Night, the next door, neighbour, complete monster vampire goes by the name of... Jerry.
- Done with an entire planet in Titan A.E.. The name of the new planet, future home to the remnants of humanity? Bob.
- In The Man from Earth, John Oldman claims that, for most of his 14,000 year life, his name has generally been some variation of "John".
Live Action Television
- Clark Kent in Smallville. Sure, his birth name was Kal-El but it's very rare for anyone to call him that, and they never call him Superman until the very last episode. Dude can bench press a glacier. His name is totally ordinary.
- Early in Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard and a team capture a Wraith, which he names Steve. He keeps up the practice and later the Atlantis residents make an enemy of a particularly nasty Wraith named Michael and sometimes find themselves in Enemy Mine situations with another named Todd.
- The all-knowing prophet "Chuck".
- Followed by the prophet "Kevin."
- Somewhat justified in Farscape since aliens are expected to have stranger names than humans. Still, The Powers That Be were presumably invoking this trope when they decided to name the main character "John".
- Bob, the demon from Twin Peaks.
- In A Brother's Price, a civil war between royal sisters was caused by the fact that the eldest sisters' husband was infertile, and the youngest demanded that therefore their own children be heirs to the throne. In contemporary operas, the heartwrenching aria of the infertile husband, who bemoans his sad fate and begs for a divorce as to not cause any more fighting is sung by the best contralto singers available. The name of that tragic historical figure? Michael. (It sticks out especially as other characters have much more exotic names.)
- The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: Sookie starts giggling when her vampire love interest introduces himself as Bill.
- A trademark of sorts with many of Stephen King's books. All sorts of unique and fantastical characters and nary a "Jack Stone" or "Jack Steele" or any other "'John' Derivative + Hard Object" name to be found. Even the demonic antagonist of The Stand is named the very ordinary-sounding Randall Flagg. That's right; the Antichrist Expy is named Randy.
- The Ender sequels feature a one-of-a-kind life form, an artificial intelligence with a soul. The ansible network and all computers linked to it function as her nervous system. She thinks at thousands of times the rate of human thought. The name she gave herself: Jane.
- James Bond: Ian Fleming chose the name of his hero (named after an ornithologist) because it sounded so unexciting, although since then he's given the name an allure of its own. It also contrasts with the often outlandish names of the villains and peripheral characters.
- Anne of Green Gables: Anne Shirley constantly laments having such a plain name. She wishes to be called "Cordelia", which she believes sound much more interesting. Though, if she must be called Anne, she's sure to remind you that it's spelled with an E, because without it, it looks even more plain and dreadful.
- Jane Wishing by Toni Tobias contrasts "plain Jane"'s everyday reality (illustrated - by Trina Schart Hyman — in black and white) with her dreams and desires (in color). Jane wishes her name were something like Amanda or Melissa, or "at least Elizabeth".
- Harry Potter. In fact, Harry is one of the very few characters in his series to have a completely ordinary name. (Most of the characters with normal first names have weird last names.)
- The Nightside's own John Taylor. In-universe, he's made it into a Name to Run Away From Really Fast.
- In A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, the legendary founder of Time City is named John Smith. Residents usually use the Latin translation in order to make it sound more impressive. The man himself claims that people ought to be impressed by his name anyway due to the etymology.
- The main character of the Eternal Sky trilogy is a warrior, grandson of the ruler of the Qernysk Empire, and the main challenger to his uncle Qori Buqa for rule of said empire. His name is Temur, which is as widespread a name as "John" in his culture. His magical horse is named Dumpling.
- In The Dresden Files, the powerful air-spirit and age-old repository of magical knowledge which Harry acquired as a lab assistant is named "Bob". Justified by Harry having been only 16, and not a very original thinker, when he named his spirit-buddy.
Religion and Mythology
- There are a lot of women named Mary in The Bible, in addition to the Mother of Jesus. Of course, now, variations of the name Mary are even more common throughout Christian and Islamic worlds.
- Even the name "Jesus" was a very common one at the time. This is one reason Christ is often referred to as "Jesus of Nazareth" in the narration.
- In Dota 2, the true name of the Invoker, a mage who has lived centuries and has mastered the use of powerful invocations is simply Carl.
- Subverted in The Curse Of Monkey Island. Guybrush asks one pirate his name, to which he is told "Bill". When Guybrush comments that this doesn't sound very piratey, Bill interjects with, "Cutthroat Bill".
- Ed the Undying an ancient mummy in Kingdom of Loathing. Lampshaded in the encounter: "Ed? Not Ed-Ra, or Ed-hotep, or something?"
- In The Lord of the Rings Online you frequently run into a strange old lady called Sara Oakheart, who seems to know more than she is letting on. It's the perfect disguise, as her real name is Amarthiel, the Daughter of Doom, one of Saurons chief generals and a two thousand year old undead spirit, who had been spying on you the whole time.
- While Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid certainly has a cool-sounding code name; his real name is just "David".
- Big Boss/Naked Snake's and Ocelot's real names, revealed during Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, are also rather plain: John and Adam — or rather, Ocelot's real name is "Adamska", a Hollywood-Russian form of "Adam" (it makes certain sense, since Ocelot is Russian-born and the game is essentially a Cold War spy film parody that takes everything it does seriously). In fact, Ocelot asks Naked Snake what his name is and then gives his own; when the latter answers simply, "John," Ocelot replies, "Plain name, but I won't forget it."
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: Raiden's archenemy is a Brazilian cyborg swordsmaster named... Samuel Rodrigues. Although his codename Jetstream is somewhat funky, Samuel Rodrigues is a commonplace name in Brazil, especially the surname.
- Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire gives us Maxie and Archie, the Magma and Aqua leaders. Unlike most characters, they have no theme nor pun to their names and seem to have been chosen because they start with the same letters as their teams and Japanese names, and sound a little bit alike.
- Jack, from BioShock 1, the starring character. Though no one knows how special he is, not even the player, you go through a LOT of creepy, terrible things underwater, always coming up top, mowing a large number of enemies, and then you know what IS really special about this 'Jack'.
- Inverted in Thief with Viktoria, who has a suprisingly fancy and aristocratic name for a wood nymph.
- Messiah's protagonist is an angel named Bob.
- Gaia Crusaders features a sizeable blue cybernetic water demon boss and unlockable character named Rob.
- The Final Boss of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As Portable: The Gears of Destiny, the Unbreakable Darkness, a completely immortal being with unlimited and uncontrollable powers capable of destroying several worlds at once and warping time and space by her mere presence is revealed to have the real name of Yuri, a normal girl's name for someone who used to be a normal girl until some event in the forgotten, ancient past transformed her into what she is now.
- Averted in the English translation of Final Fantasy VI. The name "Tina" likely sounded exotic to Japanese ears, but dirt-common to an American audience, so translator Ted Woolsey changed it to "Terra", and every English translation since has followed suit.
- The recurring evil mastermind, possibly Man Behind the Man, of the Golden Sun series is named Alex.
- The last unlocked bachelor in Rune Factory 4 has a very egyptian feeling to his design, making him look like a Pharao with the common-dirt name of Leon.
- The immortal "Jerry" from El Goonish Shive. He even lampshades this while simultaneously poking fun at his peers who chose more pretentious names.
- Biff in Absurd Notions names every one of his roleplaying characters "Biff".
- Looking for Group: The sinister undead warlock... Richard. He tries to augment it with titles.
- John Egbert of Homestuck. And hey, Andrew Hussie counts as well — who's more important than the author of it all? Even if he did die . . .
- Though it does show her status as heiress to the baking empire (and the Evil Empire) of Betty Crocker, Jane Crocker's is certainly normal relative to those of her Alpha teammates.
- In fact, with the exceptions of Jade, Dirk, and possibly Rose, the kids' first names by themselves can be considered fairly normal.
- Given the extensive playing with names and titles in Namesake, a lot of characters are subject to this. Some of the most frighteningly badass or magical people in the human world have names like Jack Wright and Emma Crewe, due to their common fairy-tale names actually creating links to fairy-tale worlds. Still, the gold medal probably goes to the playing-card-turned-humanoid-supersoldier with strength and agility totally unexpected for his size... whose name is Fred. Yep, just Fred.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is about Bob Smithson, seemingly the world's most average man (he really isn't).
- It's more like Special Dragon Normal Name, but Hiram McDaniels from Welcome to Night Vale certainly qualifies.
- RWBY gives us Nora, certified badass and Huntress-in-training. (Although her surname, Valkyrie, is cool.)
- For that matter, Ruby itself isn't a particularly uncommon name either (though that is subject to regional variation).