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Hollywood Spelling

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In television and movies, due in part to The Law of Conservation of Detail, no matter how many ways to spell a name there are, the person in question will always spell it correctly, first try, even if only told the name over a telephone or even a bad radio transmission. This includes slang words, given names, surnames, chemical names, astronomical names... there is never a need for a spell-checker in Hollywood.

Many given names and surnames can also be legitimately spelled in various ways (Claire, Clare, Clair...) and are seldom disambiguated. This is especially evident when the name is an example of Psmith Psyndrome or My Nayme Is...

This trope is less of an issue in languages that have spelling systems that provide less ambiguity than English, but may still manifest itself to some degree. And in some languages, such as Japanese, the issue is even worse.

Examples (Note: Aversions are listed separately below)

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    Fan Works 
  • Lampshaded in this Castlevania fanfiction, where Mina experiences some Past-Life Memories in the form of dreams, and tries to check if they're legit by looking up the people she saw. She immediately realizes that she's never seen Mathias Cronqvist's (pronounced Cronk-vist) surname written down, but spells it correctly because those past life memories are real.

    Film — Animation 
  • In FernGully: The Last Rainforest, when Zak starts to carve Crysta's name in a tree trunk, he somehow knows to spell it "Crysta" rather than "Crista", "Krista" or any other variation, despite never having seen it written.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • There's a scene at the end of the film The Cowboys, where a man is being commissioned to make a gravestone. Despite never asking, he somehow knows how the name on the stone should be spelled (it's a fairly common name, spelled in an unusual way).
  • In the Syfy original movie Scream of the Banshee, two characters watch a video clip of a man who mutters something that sounds like "bean see." One of them jokes that it might be Spanish for "beans, yes" but the other promptly types it into a search engine and - in about two seconds - informs him that it's Gaelic for "banshee." The problem with this is that the "see" part of that Gaelic term is spelled "sidhe", and "bean sidhe" is in any case pronounced "banshee". There's no way she could have Googled it that quickly (if at all) if she didn't already know that.

  • The English translation of the novel Rasen lampshades this as a plot point: Ando unconsciously writes down the kanji for "Asakawa", and Mai realises that she's never learned to spell the name.
  • Used as a plot point in Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary, featuring Tommy and Tuppence. A note allegedly written by Tuppence is shown clearly to be a forgery when her name is misspelled "Twopence".note  Not only that, but Tommy is able to identify the novel's culprit based on the misspelling, because one of the two main suspects had seen Tuppence's name written down while the other hadn't.
  • Zigzagged in Shadows of Self. Wax meets an attractive socialite who introduces herself as Milan, and the narrative spells it as such. After saving his life, she repeats her name without spelling it, but this time Wax recognizes her name is MeLaan.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of CSI: Miami involving a "Black Dawg Productions".
  • A bizarre version on Game of Thrones; Daenerys is told her scouts have discovered a city called 'Qarth', and when she meets its envoys she mispronounces it 'Kwarth' (as if it were spelled Qu- instead of Q-) and gets corrected. This is a common misspelling among fans, but makes very little sense for a woman who's only ever heard the name spoken aloud and never seen it written down.
  • Barbara has perhaps the most impressive example of this on Gotham. She's attacked by a terrifying assassin, only ever hears his name, never sees it written, and writes Jim Gordon a note saying she's leaving him. Partly because she's so traumatised by "Zsasz".
  • In Greek, Lizzi points out that her name is spelled "With two Zeta Beta Z's!"... but neglects to mention the actual potential for misspelling, the final 'i' instead of the more common 'ie' or 'y'.
  • Nobody in the recent series The Invisible Man ever mistook Darien Fawkes for a Darian Fox. (Though to be fair, Fawkes and Fox are occasionally pronounced slightly differently, depending on the speaker's accent.)
  • Not a name, but a minor plot point in the first series finale of Life on Mars involves a man's last word being "key"... or possibly "quay".
  • The Lone Gunmen had a character going by the alias Yves Adele Harlow, an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. Her name was never spelled out until the Gunmen made the connection, despite there being at least four different ways to spell the names involved. For one thing, "Yves" is usually a men's name, and is pronounced exactly like the women's name "Eve".
  • MacGyver (1985): Somehow, MacGyver apparently knows the correct letter case for and space in the password in "Ugly Duckling", though this may be justified thanks to the particulars of the system in question (Mac canonically knows his way around computers) and basic logic regarding English, respectively.
  • In an early episode of Stargate SG-1, O'Neill is adamant about the correct spelling of Teal'c's name, including the apostrophe. This despite the fact that Teal'c himself comes from a culture that doesn't seem to use the Roman alphabet, and the episode takes place before he's learned practically anything about Earth culture. You wouldn't think his name would even have a standard spelling yet, let alone such a weird one.
    • O'Neill constantly insists that everyone, including aliens, spell his name with "two L's", which is a Shout-Out to the fact that the character's name in the original film was spelled with one L, and also the fact that Richard Dean Anderson is nothing like Kurt Russell.
    • They also, in one episode, insist on the correct spelling of "Goa'uld", despite the fact that they almost never pronounce it like it's spelled, usually slurring it into "Goold" instead.
  • Comes up frequently on Without a Trace (a show on which - at least in the early seasons - the writers often seemed to forget that the main characters don't actually get to see witnesses' flashbacks or receive copies of the script) but a particularly egregious example was in an episode where a witness tells detectives about an African activist and then, upon returning to headquarters, one of them tells someone who wasn't present when the man was first mentioned (so even if the witness spelled the name off camera it wouldn't matter) to search for him in the FBI records. The detective promptly types the name in and rattles off the details of the man's life. The camera then shows the screen the detective is reading. This is the point at which the viewer realizes that the man's name is "Adisa Teno" and not "Adis Ateno", which is how everyone has been pronouncing it to this point.
  • On the same note, The X-Files, constantly. The trope is further highlighted by the deliberately odd names possessed by apparently everyone in the X-Files universe. (The cast of new characters in the first movie, for instance: Alvin Kurtzweil; Ben Bronschweig; Jana Cassidy; Darius Michaud; Conrad Strughold.)

    Video Games and Visual Novels 
  • Critical to the plot of Heavy Rain is that the Origami Killer uses the name "John Sheppard." Several characters only hear this name but miraculously know how it is spelled.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has a weird example - Master Xehanort's plan is to create a superweapon with a Punny Name: the "X-blade", which uses the greek letter "Chi", making it sound exactly like "Keyblade". This confuses Ventus, and Xehanort actually interrupts his supervillain speech to clarify it, even conjuring a glowing letter as a visual aid. This explanation is only offered in Ventus's storyline, however - in Aqua and Terra's, it's almost like they can read the subtitles and pick up on the difference themselves.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Fillmore! episode "Codename: Electric Haircut" the heroes search for a student who does not seem to exist, despite people remembering her. When the computer expert they ask for help searches for her in the school's system, she only tries one way to spell the name (despite only hearing it) before saying this student isn't in the system. Justified or maybe subverted (though, since it never comes up, maybe not on purpose) since the computer expert actually IS the missing student and of course can spell her own name.


    Anime and Manga 
  • Averted a few times in Death Note because it's relevant to the plot and because Japanese contains a very high number of homophones. When Misa learns the kanji of Light's name, she spends much time wondering how it is pronounced.
    • Greatly complicated by the fact that Light's name is Gratuitous English instead of a standard Japanese name.note 
    • A rule of the Death Note is that, if you misspell a victim's name four times, they become immune to that Note. Light does most of his work by looking up his victim's names on the Internet; when he's testing the Note near the beginning on an asshole biker, he writes six different spellings of the guy's name just to make sure (his first one's correct, funny enough).
    • The wielder of a Death Note can make a deal with the shinigami who owned it, gaining "shinigami eyes". This gives the wielder a form of Stat-O-Vision that shows how long someone has left to live - and more importantly, their name, exactly as they personally spell it. While invaluable to anyone who intends to use a Death Note seriously, the cost is extremely high - half one's current lifespan. If the wielder then loses the Death Note, they lose the shinigami eyes in the process, but they don't get their lifespan back.

    Comic Books 
  • Averted in the second issue of Cable & Deadpool: Cable phones Irene, a friend of his on the Daily Bugle, and asks her to look up three would-be anarchists with complicated names.
    Spell those.
    You're on your own.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in this Mega Man X fanfiction, where Dr. Cain tells X about a new Reploid named Colonel. X thinks his name is Kernel at first, and his dialogue uses that spelling.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Adrian Mole: In Cappuccino Years, one of the staff at the restaurant asks Adrian what to name the cat. Out loud, Adrian suggests "Humphrey"; and the member of staff buys an engraved cat collar, spelled "Humfri".
  • Averted in Stephen King's The Green Mile, where John Coffey, whenever having to tell his name, always clarifies that it's not spelled "like the drink".
  • Averted in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Anne often introduces herself as "Anne Shirley. Anne—spelled with an E", to ward off those who would misspell it.
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, the main character notices someone spells her name wrong, but doesn't correct him.
  • Generally averted by Spenser, who when he gives his name notes that it is spelled with an "s." People who recognize that this is "like the poet" are viewed favorably.
  • In Bigend Books, a minor character averts this when giving his name to the police with the air of a man who is tired of questions.
    My name's Daniel Pease. P-e-a-s-e. As in "pudding hot".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Buffy realizes that recurring villain Ethan Rayne is in town again, Riley phones the Initiative and asks for a search on hotel registrations matching his name. "Ethan Rayne, R-A-Y-N-E." (Probably intentional: the entire sequence is about contrasting Riley's down-to-Earth soldier demeanor with Buffy's supernatural methods.)
  • Doctor Who (the new series) averts this trope — multiple characters introduce themselves by pointing out a spelling eccentricity with their name (Lynda-with-a-Y, Tallulah, three L's and an H, Rattigan with two T's…).
  • Not a name, but a minor plot point in the first series finale of Life on Mars involves a man's last word being "key"... or possibly "quay".
  • Averted on Lost. When Hurley takes his census, he confirms the spelling of Ethan's last name (Rom, not Rahm or Rohm) before writing it down. Of course, this is so the audience can figure out that "Ethan Rom" is an anagram of "Other Man".
  • Monk:
    • Inverted in "Mr. Monk and the Election", where a threat letter addressed to Natalie Teeger misspells her last name (forgetting the R in her last name). This turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun.
    • There was another episode where someone pronounced her name wrong while reading it off a piece of paper and she corrected him.
    • Used in another episode, where someone misspelled Natalie's last name on a package containing a voodoo doll (this time, with an A instead of a second E). Again a Chekhov's Gun, when Natalie notices that the same mistake is made by her paramedic, who turns out to be the murderer.
  • Averted in the Our Miss Brooks episode "Suzie Prentisss", where the eponymous Suzie misspells her last name by giving it an extra "s".
  • On one episode of Seinfeld, George tries to impress people with his uncanny ability to guess how their names are spelled. When he tries it with the head of the TV network they're trying to impress, he's coldly informed that he's "not even close".
  • Averted for laughs in Smart Guy. TJ's been trying to find records of a "Baby Boy X" and is frustrated to find out he's really looking for "Baby Boy Ecks".
  • Averted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Remember Me. Data, being very thorough, goes through every possible spelling variation of Dr Dalen Quaice's name.
  • Averted in Survivor, where misspellings are par for the course at Tribal Council. Under the circumstances, it would be a major mistake to ask how a name is spelled - why would you need to know unless you're going to make a move against them?
  • Torchwood:
    • In Children of Earth, Ianto (manning the computer) is instructed by Gwen to search for a person called "Clement McDonald", but with the note to try both Mc/Mac spellings as she only heard the name spoken, not written down.
    • And again in the eighth episode of Miracle Day. When getting info on the mysterious three families, the CIA analyst asks them for the spelling of the names.
  • Averted rather reasonably on The West Wing when Josh asks Donna for information on an Indonesian official named Rahmadi Sumahidjo Bambang. She immediately asks if he can spell the name; he replies "not correctly, no."
  • Averted, of course, in an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, when Chip and Wayne sing a song for an audience member named "Derek" (or some spelling thereof). As they're doing the song in the style of The Village People, they decide to make it a Spelling Song, a la "YMCA". It is only after they get to "D-E-R" that they have a brief "Oh, Crap!" moment when they abruptly realize that they don't know which way to spell his name. They settle for "Derrick".
    • Also averted in what is widely considered one of the show's funniest moments. In a different singing segment (this time with a person called "Howard"), the players again do a "YMCA"-style Spelling Song. However, Laura Hall (the pianist) accidentally hits the wrong button on her keyboard, and the song's tempo is doubled - and "YMCA" is already a quick-tempo song. Forced to rush, they end up spelling his name "H-O-R-W-A-R-D".
      Wayne: It's hard to spell at 200 beats a minute!

  • Averted in The Odd Couple, where Gwendolyn tells Felix how to spell her last name:
    "You don't spell it like Walter Pidgeon. You spell it like 'Coo-Coo' Pigeon."

    Video Games and Visual Novels 
  • Used as a plot point in the video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All. In the first case of the game, a key piece of evidence is a message scrawled on the ground, apparently by a murder victim. The message is the word "Maggie", and the prosecution claims he was identifying his killer as his girlfriend. Phoenix realizes the message was not written by the victim, as the accused spells her name Maggey, and if anyone knew how she spelled her name it would be her boyfriend. In the original Japanese script, Maggey's name is Mako Suzuki, and the mistake is that the person who wrote her name used the standard kanji for it, while the kanji she uses are noticeably different.
    • Used the exact same way in the first case of Layton Brothers: Mystery Room; here with the victim's lover is named "Felps" and the killer plants a clue framing "Phelps".
  • George Stobbart of Broken Sword is fond of introducing himself as "Stobbart - George Stobbart. That's two b's, and two t's". This tends to just confuse people, as while there are two t's, they're non-consecutive.
  • Averted in Mass Effect 2. At one point, Shepard will receive a message from a prisoner he/she shot at during a prison riot. The prisoner spells his / her name "Shepherd". Of course, judging by the spelling of the message, the prisoner was slightly illiterate.
  • Averted in the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Expansion Pack, Shivering Isles, where you can find a journal written by an adventurer. He writes about the 'Tsaesci', a race of snake people from Akavir, but because he's only heard the word spoken, he spells it 'Sayessie' (telling players how to pronounce it) until a scholar gets a look at the journal and insists on him writing the correct spelling.
  • Averted in Red Dead Redemption 2, where Arthur and John, in the epilogue will write Jean Marc's name as "John Mark" in the journal, due to not knowing French and never having any sort of formal education. If Arthur/John chooses to spare him, they'll realize their mistake due to being sent a letter with his name properly written. If Arthur starts the questline, but John is the one to finish it, then John will actually poke fun at Arthur's misspelling, writing "It ain't John Mark. It's Jean Marc, Arthur".
  • Used as a plot point in Catherine, where the heroines are named Katherine and Catherine, along with a third, Qatherine, in the Updated Re Release. To preserve the mystery of which one they're talking about, the voice acting will say the name -atherine out loud, but the subtitles will substitute 'she' or 'her'.
  • Played for Drama in Baldur's Gate III. Shadowheart's church erased almost all of her memory, including that of her birth name Jenevelle Hallowleaf. When her parents tell her her original name, she's distressed to realize that it's no longer part of her, to the point where she had to look up how it was spelled.

  • Unsounded: Almost everyone misspells Sette's name as Setty, including her father which raises even more questions about her uncertain origins. Sette herself is not literate though Jivi, Matty and Sara do try to teach her how to spell her own name.

Alternative Title(s): Always Spelled Correctly