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The Von Trope Family

Dr. Frank-N-Furter: Go on, Dr. Scott... or should I say, Dr. Von Scott?!
Brad: Just what exactly are you implying?

Want to give an ambiguous character that extra bit of onomastic intrigue? Tack a "Von" on to their last name.

Technically, von is merely a German preposition which approximately means of or from which appears mostly in names of families that belong (or once belonged) to the nobility. To set themselves off from commoners with "von" in their names, German-speaking noble persons sometimes prefer the abbreviation "v.". The nobility was abolished as a privileged estate in 1918, since then "von" and titles of nobility like "Graf" (count) or "Ritter" (knight) are treated as mere parts of the name. Note that the capitalization Von is a non-German, mostly English usage. Before the 20th century, it was quite common to translate "von" as "de" in French texts and German-speaking diplomats would sign that way under treaties (which explains why even today it's not uncommon to see Germanic names preceded by that particular Latin preposition).

Some German-speaking noble families have more elaborate particles before their name such as "von dem" (shortened form: "vom") or "von der" (both mean "of the"), others have "zu" or "zum" (roughly "at", which usually indicates the actual or former place of residence), some have "vom und zum". There are also both noble families which have "SURNAME von OTHER NAME" or "SURNAME zu PLACE NAME" (as usual, there are exceptions, such as names of the pattern "Meyer zu PLACE NAME" and e. g. the poet August Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who added "von Fallersleben" after his birthplace to distinguish himself from other writers called Hoffmann). And there are ones that combine "von" with "nobility indicators" from other languages such as with many surnames containing the slavic suffix "-ski" or "-sky" or Franco-German combinations as the noble Huguenot family von Arnauld de la Perière.

At its most basic level, "von" merely exists as a marker of Germanic origin, high origin or both. However, character namers have seen fit to use the syllable to make two main branches of the Von Trope Family tree.

  1. Darker Von Trope: Often the Von implies sternness, skill at intrigue, power, autocracy, villainy, sadism or any of the other tropes that Those Wacky Nazi Noblemen tend to inspire — ironically, as the old nobility largely despised the Nazis as parvenus. Less dark variations may include the particularly Gothic or militaristic Badass, especially those that are a riff on Otto von Bismarck (a classic Magnificent Bastard) or Baron Manfred von Richthofen, The Red Baron. Sometimes the characters with the name do not have a Germanic origin at all.
  2. Lighter Von Trope: It is also used as more of a Stock Foreign Name for a Germanic Funny Foreigner (especially Mad Scientists), or for goofy characters for whom the aristocratic bearing of the name seems incongruous.

Naturally, there may be crossover between these two subsets.

When the character just happens to have that as part of their family name, with no particular cultural significance meant to be attached (though in countries with a long history of democracy, the elitist overtones of the prefix often cause it to be dropped), it's not this trope or any other one.

The Dutch equivalent, "van", may be used to imply the same categories, if more rarely, and usually more of the latter two. In America, a Dutch Preppy Name is often a better shorthand to signify old money and "WASPiness" than an actual Anglo-Saxon one would be.


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Darker Von Trope Examples:

     Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books 

     Film - Animated 

     Film - Live Action 

     Literature 

     Live Action TV 
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: George's idea for finding the German spy at the field hospital was to look for the guy whose name began with "Von".
  • House refers to the man who ratted him out at college for cheating as "Dr. Von Lieberman" although the man's real surname is "Webber", because it "sounds much eviller". (Ironically, translated back into English the name comes out as "Goodman"...)
  • Major-General Erich von Klinkerhoffen of 'Allo 'Allo! certainly falls on the sterner side of Those Wacky Nazis, while Colonel Kurt von Strohn is more jovial. (Which says something when you can say that about someone who threatens to have people shot.)

     Professional Wrestling 

     Tabletop Games 
  • Erich and Karl Von Shrakenberg from Tech Infantry, named as a Shout-Out to Stirling's characters.
  • Warhammer
    • Used quite often for characters - especially nobles - from The Empire, which is unsurprising given that The Empire is based heavily on the Holy Roman Empire. Examples include Valmir von Raukov, Elector Count of Ostland, Isabella von Liebewitz, Elector Countess of Wissenland, and the mad engineer Hermann von Meinkopt, who invented the repeater handgun (getting in a bit of the "crazy German inventor" there too).
    • A prominent bloodline of Vampires in Warhammer are the Von Carsteins, modelled on the Dracula archetype and living in an analogue for the Black Forest.
    • Van examples would include the Chaos Sorcerer Egrimm van Horstmann and the infamous Witch Hunter Johann Van Hal (and his equally infamous ancestors). Van is also used in some Marienburger names to give them a more Dutch feel than the rest of the Empire's German, given that Marienburg is a mercantile free city on the Empire's Northwestern coast very reminiscent of the medieval Netherlands.
  • Ravenloft is home to Strahd von Zarovich, D&D's most infamous vampire, as well as other examples such as Dr. Rudolph van Richten and Urik von Kharkov.

     Video Games 
  • Von Kaiser of Punch-Out!!, a stereotypical World War I-era German aristocrat and apparently a military academy boxing instructor. This still doesn't change the fact that after years of fighting, he has only made it to or has just dropped down to the number two place in the WVBA Minor Circuit. With a record of 23-13. One suspects he's 23-1 against Glass Joe and 0-12 against anyone else.
  • Von Bolt from Advance Wars. The series has a habit of the Big Bad having a German name (his predecessor being 'Sturm').
  • Ludwig von Koopa from Super Mario Bros. 3 and later games. He even has Beethoven Hair.
    • And Magnus Von Grapple from the second Paper Mario game.
  • Werner Von Croy of the Tomb Raider series (the old-school games, at least).
  • Chancellor Cole from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is known as Minister Von Glaiss in German localisations of the game. Should be easy why he belongs here, he kills Princess Zelda and revives the demon king Malladus using her body.
  • Elzam von Branstein, and probably his father Maier von Branstein, from Super Robot Wars. (Both are written as V. Branstein, but Elzam at least is confirmed to be "von".) They're merely Anti Villains, so they don't possess all the dark traits of this trope, but it allows Elzam to be an Expy of both the Red Baron and the Red Comet. Raidiese F. Branstein ditched the "von" to distance himself from his family.
  • Baron von Doomkill from MARDEK combines Doomy Dooms of Doom with Large Ham in the best way possible. Though, at one time in the past he was a serious threat to the world.
  • Victor von Gerdenheim from Darkstalkers.
  • Hans von Groebel and his brother Kurt/Walther of Codename Panzers apply as darker Von Tropes, if only because they're in German uniforms and the setting is WWII.
  • Von Frog II from the Something series. He's a Mad Scientist who is the guardian of the Chateau du Eau and attacks the Mountain Bear village in Something Else.

     Visual Novels 
  • The German-born Manfred von Karma of the Ace Attorney series, a ruthless Amoral Attorney (a prosecutor, in this case). His daughter, Franziska von Karma (whose name means "free of bad karma"), has less of the evil, but certainly the name seems to fit the stern lady with a whip.

     Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius
    • Von Pinn. First encountered as nanny to the children on Castle Wulfenbach, then later revealed to be an ancient construct created specifically to protect the Heterodyne heirs and "keep them safe". She's The Baroness to anyone who threatens her charges.
    • The Wulfenbach family never uses "von" in canon, but a lot of fans seem to use it for them outside the comic, largely due to the existence of this trope. The fact that they don't use it is likely related to the contempt the Baron has for the nobility's "rules". note 
  • When creating a villain for Starslip Crisis Kris Straub stated he was trying to come up with the most evil-sounding name imaginable. A reader pointed out that "Archcount Obdrath Lucifuge" could benefit from this trope, Straub publicly announced "why didn't I think of that?", and the name was immediately changed (retroactively to Obdrath von Lucifuge's first appearance).

     Web Original 
  • Gaia Online's Von Helson family, an aristocratic family that happens to consist entirely of vampires. Vladmir (and later Zhivago) are both major antagonists throughout the storyline. The Von Helson were also villainous for a while, but have undergone some Villain Decay in recent years (lampshaded in a recent mini comic). Ian and Louie are subversions. Ian is a lovable goofball who runs a costume shop with his talking cat, and Louie is a nice guy who just happens to be King of the Vampires, hates his dad, and works at the local Formalwear shop.
  • Houses Von Jeggett, Von Kruger, and Von Hastur from The Tale Of The Exile.


Lighter Von Trope Examples:

     Anime and Manga 
  • The Ten Noble Families in the anime Kyo Kara Maoh all have 'von' in their names even if the rest of the name isn't Germanic at all. Von Bielefeld, Von Wincott, etc. etc. This is probably because Shin Makoku was heavily European based.
  • Oktavia von Seckendorff, Sayaka's witch form, in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
  • Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach in From Eroica with Love.
  • In the "Junk Car" episode of Speed Racer dub, the race is held by a Baron Von Vondevon... who has a long-lost daughter Yvonne Von Vondevon.

     Comic Books 
  • Peanuts featured the Van Pelt siblings, Lucy, Linus and Rerun. (There's no evident relationship to Van Pelt from Jumanji, or Scott Van Pelt of ESPN.) Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was from Minnesota, a U.S. state that has always had large German-American and Dutch-American populations. So Linus and Lucy's last name is probably just meant to mark them as "typical Midwesterners."

     Film - Animated 

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Young Frankenstein, Frederick's great-grandfather (whose son Victor originally created the Creature) was named Baron Beaufort Von Frankenstein.
  • Lily Von Shtupp, in Blazing Saddles.
  • In A Knight's Tale, William competes under the name of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, which contrasts not a bit with his bearing.
  • In Back to the Future III, Doc Brown mentions that his ancestors before World War I were the von Brauns.
  • Eric Von Zipper, the comical Badass Biker character from the '60s Beach Party movies.

     Literature 
  • As a Running Gag, many residents of Uberwald in Discworld have the Von as part of their names, including Moist Von Lipwig, the werewolves Angua and Wolfgang Von Uberwald, and vampire photographer Otto Von Chriek. Justified in that these names are all denominators of origin.
    • Lampshaded in Discworld Noir, where the name "Count von Uberwald" isn't enough to identify someone, except as "probably a vampire".
  • Ralph von Wau Wau, a talking German Shepherd from Spider Robinson's Callahans Crosstime Saloon stories. The character is originally from the works of Philip Jose Farmer including "A Scarlet in Study" and "The Doge Whose Barque Was Worse Than His Bight".
  • Evra Von from Cirque Du Freak. He often corrects people that it's just Von.
  • Erast Fandorin's family name is a Russified version of "Von Dorn". Most of Boris Akunin's other novels feature characters who are somehow connected to the same Von Dorn family and have names that are similarly descended from their name (Van Doren, De Dorn, Darnowski, etc.)
  • The von Ulrichs, an aristocratic German family in Ken Follett's novel Fall of Giants. Although the story takes place during World War One, Walter von Ulrich, being one of the main protagonists, is portrayed in a quite personable way. Walter (working at that point in time as diplomat in London) points out that the Brits always erroneously capitalize the von, when sending him letters.

     Live Action TV 
  • Count Von Count, Sesame Street's numerically-obsessed vampire.
  • Baron Von Butcher was the head of the evil organization C.H.U.M.P. on Lancelot Link Secret Chimp.
  • Nina Van Horn on Just Shoot Me!. It's not her real name (that would be Claire Noodleman); her agent got the last name from a porn star in his building.
  • When The Doctor goes to Germany, he usually presents identification that says he is 'Doctor von Wer', literally, 'Doctor of Who'. And no, it makes no more sense in German than it would in English. Pretty much any native speaker would immediately notice and wonder if this was supposed to be some kind of joke. (Germany does feature two or three places called Wehr he could hypothetically claim to be from, but the word isn't particularly related to "wer" and so the pun wouldn't work quite so easily anymore except perhaps as a Genius Bonus.)
  • Serena van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl, whose family runs a Dutch shipping company dating back to the 18th century.
  • The Two Ronnies gave us Otto van Dancer. Pronounce the v with a German f and you get the joke.
  • The eponymous protagonist of obscure British-made Police Procedural Van der Valk is quite difficult to place in this list, as while the series spent a lot of time dealing with the less salubrious side of Freestate Amsterdam, Van der Valk himself was unambiguously Lawful Good.
  • Grace Van Pelt on The Mentalist.

     Musicals 

     Professional Wrestling 
  • Born Rob Szatkowski, Rob Van Dam got his name from wrestler Ron Slinker, because of his resemblance to actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Born Christina Maria Kardooni, Christina Von Eerie's name has no "foreign" elements, as she is billed from "Spook City, USA."

     Radio 

     Video Games 

     Visual Novels 
  • Ilyasviel von Einzbern in Fate/stay night starts off as a villain but turns out to be slightly nicer than she looks. The rest of her family, however, may qualify...

     Web Comics 

     Western Animation 
  • Ludwig Von Drake, Donald Duck's uncle, and a goofy Mad Scientist. In German he becomes Primus von Quack.
  • The Simpsons has Melvin Van Horne, or Sideshow Mel, and Milhouse Van Houten.
  • Scrooge McDuck is known in Danish as Joakim von And and in Swedish as Joakim von Anka, both meaning Joakim von Duck. We guess the translators weren't fluent in German, because it means that he is a duck from Duck. Hm... but then, "McDuck" would mean "son of Duck", so his original name isn't that much better.
  • Velvet von Black from The Haunted Worldof El Superbeasto, though it's unclear whether or not this is a stagename being that she's a stripper and all.
  • The friendly-bully on Phineas and Ferb is named Buford Van Stomm.
  • Jorgen Von Strangle, in The Fairly OddParents.
  • Professor Dinglehopper Von Schlemer, from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Dr. Ludwig von Scientist from Jimmy Two-Shoes.
  • Dr. Otto von Scratchansniff from Animaniacs


     Real Life 
  • The trope name is a pun on the von Trapp family, of The Sound of Music fame.
  • Karl-Theodor (Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester) Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, a politican who was the German Defence Minister until 2011. He used to have a doctorate in law (making his name even longer), until someone found out that he had almost completely plagiarised his thesis.
  • Dick Van Dyke
  • And Dick Van Patten, of Eight Is Enough fame.
  • Professor Sebastian Van Strien at Warwick University. Aside from being The Unintelligible and setting impossible exams, he's not exactly evil.
  • Roman Ungern von Sternberg, crazy tinpot dictator extraordinaire.
  • Erich von Stroheim, an actor who specialized in Evil German roles.
  • Erich von Däniken
  • Dita Von Teese, burlesque model and former fiancee of Marilyn Manson's, presumably chose her stage name for its darker exotic qualities.
  • The famous Dutch football (soccer) player, Marco van Basten, regarded as one of the all-time best forwards in the game.
  • Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the movies The Lives of Others and The Tourist.
  • Architect Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, to seem more impressive, appended his mother's surname, "van der Rohe."
  • Wernher von Braun is a combination of the light and dark. Member of the Nazi party, inventor of the V2 rocket, one of the principal brains (if not the principal brain) behind the American side of the Space Race. (There is still some controversy as to whether he was a willing Nazi collaborator.)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - But wait, why does a German man have a Dutch surname, you ask? It's just so happens Beethoven was of Belgian descent. His birth name was actually "Lodewijk".
  • Erin Van Oosbree
  • Martin Van Buren, eighth President of the United States, came from a Dutch family. In fact, he was one of the few Presidents to be naturally bilingual.
  • Mario Van Peebles
    • and his father, Melvin Van Peebles.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • James Van Der Beek
  • Actor Casper Van Dien played the character Brom Van Brunt in Sleepy Hollow. The Van Diens are reportedly distant relatives of the real-life Van Brunt clan, making a bit of Actor Allusion.
  • Steven Van Zandt, E Street Band guitarist and portrayer of Sil Dante.
  • Also cult country-folk singer Townes Van Zandt (no relation).C
  • The Van Zant brothers, Ronnie (from Lynyrd Skynyrd), Johnny (who replaced Ronnie after the latter's death in a plane crash), and Donnie (from .38 Special).
  • As well as the Van Halen family: Eddie, Alex, and Wolfgang.
  • And country musician Ricky Van Shelton.
  • NFL Hall of Fame QBs Steve Van Buren and Norm Van Brocklin. Other notable NFLers: Bruce Van Dyke, Alex van Dyke, Bob Van Duyne, Billy Van Heusen, Doug Van Horn, Keith Van Horne, Jeff Van Note, Brad Van Pelt, Bradlee Van Pelt (son of Brad Van Pelt,) Alex Van Pelt, Dick Van Raaphorst, and Art Van Tone.
  • Colonel Hans von Luck, a protege of Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel. His autobiography Panzer Commander provides great insight into Nazi Germany's tank operations. When he was captured by the Soviets, the aristocratic connotation of his named decidedly did not work in his favor, and he spent over a decade in a gulag.
  • Invoked with Lars von Trier. The "von" part was a nickname he got in film school. He ultimately decided to keep the nickname to pay homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, who also added their "von" later in life.
  • The world-famous Red Baron was, in fact, a baron — and his real name was Manfred von Richthofen.
  • Longtime baseball announcers Dave Van Horne (Montreal Expos/Florida Marlins) and Pete Van Wieren (Atlanta Braves).
  • NBA coach turned TV anaylst Jeff Van Gundy, as well as his brother Stan.
  • Classical music conductor Herbert von Karajan.
  • Dutch physicist Johannes Diderik van der Waals.
  • Filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk, etc.)


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