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Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names
A man with the ridiculous name of "Leland W. Sprinkle"... Alan:
American. He has to be American. Stephen:
An American character, if intended to be comic, may be given a particular kind of over-the-top name. The character may well also be subject to the various American National Stereotyping Tropes
and, of course, all the tropes to which a comic character would be subject. The name will often include one or more of the following:
- A first name that is very much associated with the United States (e.g. Hank, Dwight, Quincy or Hiram), or a quirky nickname (like "Buzz" or "Chip") that would be unusual in another English-speaking country or is somewhat grandiose. Especially if it's originally a surname, the name of one of the Dead Presidents (thus often a sign of Patriotic Fervor), or both.
- A middle initial — often an unspecified Mysterious Middle Initial, or one that stands for a name that sounds exotic and/or is overly long.
- A surname which has a Germanic and/or Jewish sound to it, or made of an unusual and sometimes seemingly-random combination of English words, e.g. "Picklehammer".
- If it's a really over-the-top comedy character, the name may end with "Junior", "Senior" or a Roman numeral e.g. "Hank T. Picklehammer III".
- Compound names like Mary-Beth or Bobby Joe. Ironically, if called Mary-Sue, the character will probably not be a Mary Sue. These names are often used as a shorthand to indicate the character hails from the Southern states or at least a rural area, particularly if the compound name is not hyphenated.
- Deep South or rural characters may alternatively get obscure Biblical names—if male, often ending in "-iah" ("Jeremiah," "Obadiah," "Jedediah," that kind of thing)—perhaps reflecting assumptions about the prevalence of religious belief in those areas.
- Utahns may have first names that look odd even by American standards, even if you ignore the names from Mormon Scripture (which can be pretty odd by any standard, sounding kind of Hebrew-ish but having no direct cognates anywhere elsenote ). Collapsing the names of the parents or grandparents into the name of the child is an Utah tradition (i.e. Renee + Esme = Renesmee) or just making up something completely new.
- Home Town Nickname examples can give an otherwise ordinary name this effect, with "Tex" being relatively common for large, obnoxiously friendly characters in cowboy hats.
Some of the grander names have a ring of the Old West about them, perhaps because Americans Are Cowboys
. If in non-U.S. media, such characters may well be Hawaiian Shirted Tourists
. If so, at some point they will call a foreign location "quaint", even if it's a nuclear power station.
The kernel of truth behind this mostly stems from the New World's origins as a multi-ethnic society.
A Celtic given name combined with a Slavic family name (e.g. "Kevin Zagorski") doesn't sound particularly odd to someone with Celtic and Slavic parents. Each society coming to America brought their own naming conventions and the extent to which they kept those traditions depended upon the extent to which they intermingled with others, hence the survival of patrician names like 'Prescott Worthington Cabot III' alongside more exotic combinations. Some did not come voluntarily and had no choice in what name they received when they got here. Americans do tend to have middle names and traditionally use those initials in formal signatures. Add in the tendency of new immigrants to 'americanize' their names (along with the second or third generation's desire to 'reconnect') with a general American tendency to choose names for sound rather than meaning (to the point of inventing new names when an old one simply just won't do) and names like 'Dirk Pulaski O'Leary' or 'Midori Goldberg' don't seem like much of a stretch.
Compare Gunman with Three Names
, Preppy Name
, and Sesquipedalian Smith
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Anime and Manga
- The now-defunct British comics Whizzer and Chips and Buster had Junior Rotter, a version of Dallas (see below) with child characters. Unsurprisingly, these followed the names of that series, including Sue Helen, J.R.'s sister. J.R. himself, of course, averted the trope in this version.
- A mention must go to the Stane family from Iron Man, where each generation preserves a biblical name - Obadiah, Jedediah, and Ezekiel.
- Marvel Comics once ran a series called US-1, featuring an all-American trucker main character named Ulysses Solomon Archer, and his older brother Jefferson Hercules Archer. This was made fun of in the comic's review by Linkara.
- Brick Eagleburger from the Adrian Mole books.
- Quincey P. Morris from Dracula. Although he isn't exactly comic, he is a rootin', tootin' and shootin' American man of action.
- Jules Verne would at first glance provide good examples of this trope, but the names of his American characters should be seen in context. In From the Earth to the Moon, there's Impey Barbicane, president of the Baltimore Gun Club, but the names of the other members of the club, e. g. James T. Maston and Tom Hunter, are perfectly ordinary. In Around the World in Eighty Days, there's Col. Stamp W. Proctor, whom Phileas Fogg challenges to a duel; however, "Phileas Fogg" is at least as wacky as "Stamp W. Proctor", if not more so. Jules Verne had a penchant for using odd-sounding names, which even includes a number of his French characters, perhaps none more so than Zéphyrin Xirdal in The Hunt for the Meteor.
- The characters of Good Omens include a televangelist called Martin O. Bagman.
- The hero of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
- To Kill a Mockingbird also naturally has several examples, with the prize going to X Billups, who has no given name other than X.
- Money - A Suicide Note, by Martin Amis features an American actor called Spunk Davis. The book's protagonist tries to explain to him why his name may be a problem for a movie's UK release, but chickens out.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Perseus "Percy" Jackson whose best friends are Grover Underwood (somewhat justified because he's a satyr in disguise), Annabeth Chase, Nico di Angelo (somewhat justified as he was born before World War II), and Thalia Grace. Other characters include Piper McLean, Nyssa, Clovis, Lou Ellen, and Reyna. Even when the completely human Paul Blofis meets Poseidon, Poseidon openly says that is his name, even lampshading it and Paul doesn't bat an eye.
- Aside from the last one, these names may be justified as many were named with the knowledge that they are the children of the Olympic gods and deserve heroic (or at least Greek) names.
- In Auntie Mame, there's a paragraph on the names in Mame's Southern fiance's family (he himself is named after a string of Confederate generals and goes by Beau):
The relatives kept coming. They all had two first names and some of them even had two last names. There were about six men named Moultrie, four named Calhoun, eight called Randolph, and almost everybody had a Lee tucked somewhere into his or her name. To make things even more confusing, about half the women had men's names. There were women called Sarah John, Liza William, Susie Carter, Lizzie Beaufort — pronounced Byew-fert — Mary Arnold, Annie Bryan, Lois Dwight.
- All members of Oscar Wilde's worthy American family in The Canterville Ghost have very American and patriotic names: Mr. Hiram B. Otis is the patriarch of the family and the American Minister, his wife was Miss Lucretia R. Tappan before her wedding, their eldest son was christened Washington, next child is Miss Virginia E. Otis and after her came the twins, who were usually called 'The Stars and Stripes'.
- To the British characters in Derek Robinson's Piece of Cake, the perfectly innocuous Christopher Hart III is a wacky name. Of course, they first mistake "III" (the third) for "ill" (sick). When they eventually figure it out they shorten his name to "CH3".
- The Cruel Sea mentions the appearance (pre-American entry) of "strange-looking destroyers, with long names often beginning with 'Jacob' or 'Ephraim'". American Destroyers were and are named for Naval officers, heroic sailors, and Secretaries of the Navy; British Destoyers for abstract adjectives and nouns (usually with some sort of "theme", or in some classes simple alliteration) and of course the "Flower" class Corvettes were named for Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
Battleaxe: What the devil is a Reuben James?
Reuben James: At least we don't name ships for our mother-in-law
- In James Baldwin's Another Country, protagonist Rufus has a best friend named Vivaldo Moore. This could also be a Multiethnic Name, although the "Vivaldo" seems more like a nod to composer Antonio Vivaldi than an indicator of Italian heritage.
- In the 18th Famous Five book by British children's writer Enid Blyton, Five on Finniston Farm, an obnoxious father and son from America, fulfilling some of the most negative stereotypes about Americans, are long-term guests on the eponymous farm in Dorset, where the Five are also staying on holiday, and the farmer and his wife somewhat unwillingly allow the Americans to stay on owing to the much-needed income they bring to the farm. The father is identified as Mr. Henning, and his spoilt brat of a son is identified as nothing more than "Junior" - not only addressed or referred to as such by other characters (including his father), but also called thus in the narrative - exactly as if he had no first name other than "Junior".
- This is Moran's reaction on encountering Elder Enoch J. Drebber of Cleveland, Ohio in The Hound Of The D Urbervilles:
"Enoch J. Drebber - why d'you think Yankees are so keen on those blasted middle initials?"
- Tarzan of the Apes has Absent-Minded Professor Archimedes Q. Porter and his assistant Samuel T. Philander.
- Sinclair Lewis' novel Babbitt, wich satirizes American society and culture has supporting characters with names like Vergil Gunch, Professor Joseph K. Pumphrey, Chester "Chet" Laylock, Mat Penniman, T. Cholmondeley "Chum" Frink, Tanis Judique and Carrie Nork.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's novel Big Money, an American millionaire is called T. Patterson Frisby. (The T stands for Torquil.
Live Action Film
- The Marx Brothers (specifically Groucho) loved this trope, perhaps enough to make them Trope Codifier if not Ur Example:-
- Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup.
- Otis B. Driftwood in A Night at the Opera.
- Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush in A Day at the Races.
- Wolf J. Flywheel in The Big Store.
- S. Quentin Quale in Go West.
- Waldorf T. Flywheel (again!) in Groucho and Chico's radio show Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel.
- Set in Georgia, Smokey and the Bandit centres on the doings of Bo "Bandit" Darville, Cletus "Snowman" Snow and Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
- Overlaps with Code Names since "Bandit" and "Snowman" are Citizens' Band (CB) radio 'handles'.
- The Coen Brothers are good for illustrating the different flavors of this trope, because their movies all take place in different, very atmosphere-heavy, uniquely American settings. For example:
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? has the Southern versions. Vernon T. Waldrip and Ulysses Everett McGill come to mind.
- Fargo has the Scandinavian-derived Minnesotan surnames (Gunderson and Lundegaard).
- The Hudsucker Proxy has the Germanic captain-of-industry names (Waring Hudsucker and Sidney J. Mussburger), plus Norville Barnes for the small-town protagonist.
- Ruggles Of Red Gap involves Ruggles, a valet who could not be any more The Jeeves if he tried, coming into the employ of a loud and wacky, if well-meaning, Nouveau Riche American named "Egbert Floud".
Live Action TV
- Possibly invoked by English country singer and dentist (yes!) Hank Wangford when he adopted his stage name, especially given the closeness of "Wangford" to the derogatory term "wanker".
- Rich Hall's touring musical persona Otis Lee Crenshaw.
- Dr. Phineas Waldorf Steel isn't just wacky - he's Crazy Awesome.
- In Anna Russell's How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, the wealthy American patriarch is named Parnassus Q. Vanderfeller.
- Yes, Prime Minister on the ZX Spectrum had an American envoy by the name of Hiram P. Goldbladder.
- Travis Touchdown of No More Heroes is a bizarre example - in Japan, his name sounds really awesome, but in the U.S. it sounds over the top and weird.
- Fallout 3 has a robot in the National Archives who is named after (and believes he is) Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence on behalf of Georgia.
- "Brains" in Thunderbirds goes by the names Hiram K. Hackenbacker and Ray Hackenbacker, although his true name is not actually revealed in-universe.
- From Toy Story and its sequels, the all-American astronaut toy Buzz Lightyear.
- A lot of characters in The Simpsons have eccentric names.
- President Sir Lord Quentin Trembley, III, Esquire, the 8½th President of the United States and the founder of Gravity Falls.