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"I once knew a man from San Francisco named Holden Gate. Guess where they found him?"

This trope is when a character is put on the spot to name something and can't come up with anything, so they take inspiration from things around them. This can be used to name a bevy of things — babies, teams, places, or pets. It can even be used for aliases, like Code Names, Stage Names, or superhero names, or for people with No Name Given — they may be amnesiac, genuinely unnamed, or referred to with a designation like You Are Number 6. Yet another application is the Meaningful Rename, where someone might name themselves through line-of-sight to remember a particularly transformative place or time.

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Line-of-Sight Alias is a subtrope, for the specific situation where someone is in disguise and comes up with a bad instant pseudonym when pressed for one. Usually, this is a more comedic and temporary variant.

Truth in Television — many locations were named with surrounding landmarks in mind. In many societies, many surnames also came about this way.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Shinichi Kudo in Detective Conan, transformed into a child, comes up with his alias of "Conan Edogawa" by seeing books of mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Rampo. He gets called out for his given name not being one that Japanese people commonly have.
  • Dragonaut: The Resonance:
    • Toa 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.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha:
  • In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Lag gives Niche her name because he found her in an alcove of a train station.
  • Naruto:
    • It's eventually revealed that the titular character of 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 helmet.note 
  • 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.
  • HeartCatch Pretty Cure!:
    • The Innocent Flower Girl of a main character Tsubomi ("flower bud") was named after a budding tree that was by the window of the hospital where she was born.
    • 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
  • A variation of this happens in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. When Shirogane is trying to figure out how to make sure he and Kaguya end up sitting next to each other in the movie theater without directly telling her his seat number, he sees a mascot costume of a character named Pen-tan (who is the star of a show called 12 Great Penguins) and chooses seat G-12, subtly trying to pass on the information to Kaguya by pointing out the mascot after he gets his ticket. Unfortunately, her train of logic goes from Pen-tan to Pentane (C-5 H-12), comes to the conclusion that he's sitting at seat H-12, and picks seat H-13. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Ravages of Time, a modern reinterpretation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, this is how Liaoyuan Huo gets his much better-known name Zhao Yun, after watching some clouds ('yun' in Chinese) go by.
  • In Act 1 of the Sailor Moon manga and Sailor Moon Crystal, newly-minted Magical Girl Warrior Usagi stammers on introducing herself until her cat familiar Luna invokes this by meowing at the moon to prompt her.
  • In One-Punch Man, Saitama's hero name is "Caped Baldy" by the Hero Association due to the fact he's bald guy with a cape.
  • In Kemono Friends, Kaban is named for the bag she's wearing ("kaban" being Japanese for "bag").
  • The title character of Violet Evergarden had no name prior to being transferred under Major Gilbert's supervision. The name "Violet" was actually given to her by the Major, who came up with it on the spot when his gaze fell upon a pair of violets growing across the yard from where they were standing at that moment.

    Comics 
  • 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 have 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 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 a bat". This was expanded nicely in Batman Begins.
  • In the version of Paperinik where he starts out as a member of The Guardians of 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.
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    Fan Works 
  • In REP Is Magic, one of the main characters, Coin, who's struck with amnesia, names himself this after finding a bit with an x engraved in it in his claw.
  • In I Know Your Secret Harry decides to name a charitable corporation he's made up on the spot Fairytale after glancing at a book of wizarding fairy tales in Dumbledore's office.
  • In Blue Sky, the town of Eaden got its name from a "Dead End" sign that was missing the first and last letters due to age.
  • In The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, the Boggart-Boy comes up with his first name (Maximilian) more or less on his own, but is still looking for a first name when he happens to visit Professor Dumbledore, who offers him a sherbet lemon. After a bit of refining on this idea, he ends up as Maximilian Candy.
  • Laven in Anonymoose's Monster Girl Saga can't remember his original name, so he takes a new one from a bed of lavender flowers.
  • While trying to decide on code names in The Evil Queen, Ann accuses Akira of being a complete bore. When Akira protests that he can be funny, Ann sacastically calls him "a real joker." Karasu jumps on the name "Joker" for Akira's code name.
  • The Tyrant and the Hero: Mary takes on the name "Alicetroemeria" when disguised, this being a portmanteau of "Alice" and "alstroemeria". "Alice" is the name that Mary will eventually take when she becomes Monster Lord, while "alstroemeria" is a type of flower (a bouquet of which is in the room).
  • In Ask White Pearl and Steven (almost!) anything, Steven doesn't know White Pearl's name, since she can only repeat back what he says. Eventually they get separated and he winds up with the Crystal Gems, where he obviously notices the similarities between her and CG!Pearl. He wants to hide the fact that his missing friend is a Gem, however, so when asked for her name he glances over at Pearl and responds "Earl."

    Film — Animation 
  • 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.
  • Variation in How to Train Your Dragon 2:
    Hiccup: [adding a new location to his map] So bud, what shall we name this? [sees Toothless scratching himself] "Itchy Armpit" it is.
  • In A Monster in Paris, Lucille names the eponymous 'monster' Francœur after a street sign in the alleyway where she first meets him.
  • The Boxtrolls get their names from whatever words and images are depicted on their box, leading to names like Fish, Shoe, Fragile, and Knickers. The protagonist, a human boy raised by the boxtrolls, gets the name "Eggs".
  • SCOOB!: When Shaggy first met Scooby-Doo when he was a stray pup, Shaggy tells a cop trying to catch him that the dog belongs to him. He is promptly asked for the dog's name to prove it, so he looks down at a box of Scooby Snacks and says his name is "Scooby". He's then asked for a middle and last name, so he improvises "Dooby" and "Doo".
  • This is how the main character gets his name in Rango, when he walks into a bar and is asked who he is. The bottle of cactus juice he was holding said "DURANGO" on it, so he called himself Rango. Up to this point in the movie, the audience doesn' tknow his name.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In The Battle of Algiers, Colonel Philippe Mathieu is asked what he wants to name the military action he is overseeing. After pausing to look out from a balcony, Mathieu sees a billboard for champagne. He says he'll call it Operation Champagne, to which another military officer responds "Why not?"
  • In Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins: Used by the protagonist's new boss as he recovers in the hospital. The boss says:
    Boss: Your new name is Williams... Remo Williams... We put a lot of thought into that. [... while casually looking at the imprint on the bottom of a bedpan: Williams Hospital Supply, Remo, AK.]
  • When the protagonist of Top Secret!, Nick Rivers, is asked about his name, he says that his father thought of it ("Nick") while shaving.
  • Paddington gets his name from the train station where the Browns meet him. Though in the film it's played for laughs a bit, since the station name isn't the only thing in line-of-sight initially, leading to some confusion:
    Mrs. Brown: Oh Henry, it's perfect!
    Mr. Brown: ... You want to call him "Ketchup"?
    Mrs. Brown: No!
    Mr. Brown: "Ketchup the Bear"?
    Mrs. Brown: Paddington!
  • Captain Marvel (2019):
    • Carol got the name "Vers" (pronounced "Veers") among the Kree after they found half of her broken dogtag only showing the last "Vers" in "Danvers".
    • Nick Fury renames his PROTECTOR Initiative when he sees Carol's callsign on her fighter, "Avenger", to the Avengers Initiative.
  • In Rocketman (2019), Reginald Dwight presents "Elton" as his stage name; when asked his last name, he looks at a Beatles poster and chooses "John." (In reality, he was honoring Long John Baldry.)
  • In Yojimbo the hero calls himself Kuwabatake Sanjuro. Kuwabatake means 'mullberyy field,' like the one outside the window which he was looking.
  • In Jackass: The Movie, one of the skits has Johnny Knoxville dressed as an old man shoplifting in a store. When he is promptly pushed out, he declares to the man: "I was Lon Chaney's lover!". He'd just seen his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at that very moment with no knowledge of the actor.
  • In The Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint tells several stories to the chief of police about people he once knew. However, the end of the movie reveals that Kint was making up the stories on the spot, pulling names of people and places from the bulletin board behind the chief. This is also parodied in an episode of Key & Peele.
  • Buddy from Elf gets his name when the elves read the label on his diaper: Little Buddy Diapers.

    Jokes 
  • An old joke tells of a young Native American boy who is curious about his given name. The boy's father explains the longstanding tradition in their tribe that when a baby is born, the father steps out of the tepee to look around, and the first thing he sees, he must select as the name for his child. The punchline: "Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking?"

    Literature 
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot: When Jeff purchases the titular robot, it looks like a dingy barrel with the old label "Norb's Nails" still on it. The robot admits that it had been named Macko by the spacer who repaired him. Jeff suggests Norby based on the label (which has now fallen off of him).
  • Because of Winn-Dixie: Opal encounters a stray dog at the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, and tries to pretend it's hers so that it won't be taken to the pound. It comes to her when she calls: "Here... Winn-Dixie!", so she keeps that as its name.
  • Bridge of Birds implies that this happened by accident to Li Kao when he was born. His mother, just before dying of an arrow wound, pointed in the general direction of her just-born child and said with difficulty, "Kao! Li...kao...". The monk watching over her thought she was trying to name her child and didn't realize until after she died that she might have been trying to gesture instead to the kaoli drink that the midwife had been drinking.
  • Discworld
    • Reaper Man: In "One-Man-Bucket"'s tribe, newborns 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.
    • The rats in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents have names like this; when they learned to read, they picked names off of things they read, with little understanding of what words were names or even went together logically, hence there being a rat named Dangerous Beans.
  • Ann Jungman's Lucy and the Big Bad Wolf: When Lucy insists on having a name to call the wolf by, he decides he'll take the name of the train on which they're travelling to Lucy's grandmother's house, expecting something dashing like "Flying Scotsman" or "Golden Arrow". Lucy tells him that as far as she knows the train is just called "the 2:15", and 2:15 he remains for the rest of the book.
  • Alethea Kontis's Enchanted: An unusual form occurs 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.
  • In Mr. Pottermack's Oversight, a Dr. Thorndyke novel, the protagonist flees across the Atlantic after being accused and convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Pondering what name to begin his new life under, he chooses to adapt the name of the ship he's travelling on: the SS Potomac.
  • The Maze Runner: Thomas received his name because a WICKED member who took him from his mother saw a light bulb in his house, and Thomas Edison immediately crossed his mind.
  • In the K. J. Parker novel Savages, one of the main characters is introduced as simply "He" and no name is given, and in the very first chapter, he has his position usurped and his family slaughtered in front of him. After that, he starts wandering, and when a stranger in the forest asks his name, he doesn't know how to answer because of a That Man Is Dead attitude toward his previous life. Then, he sees a raven on a tree and decides to call himself Raffen. The character's real name is revealed late in the novel when his allies restore him to power, but he ends up picking a new name which can be conveniently shortened to Raffen.
  • Shadow Police: Ross picked her new surname from a refrigerated van she saw overturned in a ditch.
  • 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 Osmund 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.
  • According to Star Wars: Kenobi, when Obi-Wan Kenobi arrives on Tatooine to begin his exile and needs an alias, he picks "Ben" off the name of a mesa on a map. Why Ben and not some other named mesa? Because it's also an old nickname that Satine (from Star Wars: The Clone Wars) used to call him.
  • Tofu from Super Minion. While there wasn't any tofu in actual line of sight when he chose to pseudonym, he had recently eaten a really good tofu burger.
  • The Supernaturalist: This is explicitly the method by which John Does are named. For example, protagonist Cosmo Hill got his name because he was found on Cosmonaut Hill.
  • In Warrior Cats, Tribe cats are named for the first thing their mother sees or perceives when they are born. Lampshaded by the character Rock in Cats of the Clans, when he wonders why Tribe cats aren't all therefore named "Wall of Cave" or "Roof of Cave" or "Floor of Cave".
  • In A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Rayona gets her name from the tag of her mother's hospital gown (made of Rayon) because Christine was originally intending on calling the child Ray if it was a boy, but when it turned out to be a girl and Elgin wanted to call her Diane, Christine insisted on Ray and had to find a good feminine form of the name from somewhere.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World: Cory named his band "The Exits". This is lampshaded in the season 2 episode ("Band on the Run") because before seeing the Exit sign, Cory glances at better names (like a flier for a 'Blood Drive'.)
  • In The George Lopez Show, when Benny is caught stealing money, she claims she has to pay off a guy named Mike.
    Benny: Yeah, Mike Rowave. Let me tell you, he heats up real fast.
  • 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.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: The Solomons are revealed in one episode to have taken their last name off the side of a truck. Harry comments that they could have ended up as the Wal-Marts.
  • 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 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).
  • In 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • According to MacGyver (2016), Angus MacGyver got his name from a billboard advertising a steakhouse that was across the street from the spot where his mother and aunt were forced to pull over and deliver him in the back of the family truck. A steakhouse that sold steaks made of Angus beef.
  • Mighty Med: The name of Skylar’s civilian persona, Connie Valentine, came from an advertisement for the upcoming school dance Kaz saw that said “Carnival Time” when trying to come up with a fake girlfriend to take to the dance to make his crush jealous.
  • In one episode of Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish, Dave talks about adopting a stray cat and taking it to the vet to see if it's been microchipped by a previous owner. When the vet's receptionist asks for the cat's name, Dave can't think of anything and looks to a newspaper containing an article about the British monarchy for inspiration. To this day, even though his family now call the cat "Clancy", in all correspondence with the vet she's referred to as "HRH Queen Elizabeth".
  • Kimmy Schmidt has to make up a name to explain her step-father to her new boyfriend, so picks the first three sings she sees - a bag of potatoes, a sewing machine, and a box marked 'Say Say Say'.
    Kimmy: Kaiser. Sew. Say. Keyser Söze!

    Music 
  • Japanese band Sukima Switch took their name from a gap (sukima) in the windowsill and a pull light switch in Tokita's apartment.
  • "Blue Like Mars" by Lloyd Cole was inspired by a NASA photo with this title he ran into.

    Poetry 
  • In the 1893 poem "A Bush Christening" by Banjo 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.

    Theatre 
  • In the Heights: How Usnavi got his name.
    Abuela Claudia: It was engraved on a passing ship the day your family came! Your father said "Usnavi! That's what we'll name the baby!"
    Usnavi: It really said "US Navy," but hey! I worked with what they gave me, okay?
  • In Noah Smith's stage version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde gets his name this way, from Hyde Park.
  • One Man, Two Guv'nors: Stanley, desperate for an alias and seeing a dustbin outside a pub, introduces himself to Alan as Dustin Pubsign. He claims it's an old Anglo-Saxon name from the families that painted pub signs.

    Video Games 
  • In Advance Wars: Days of Ruin the amnesiac Isabella first wanted to be called Cattleya (her name in the Japanese and European versions) after Will gives her a (plastic) cattleya isabella Orchid (a natural hybrid that in real life is 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(presumably to hide his identity as Eric Lecarde). But then the wind blows, and he decides you can call him "Wind".
  • 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. If not, the way she asks about the dagger is vague enough that it could be hand-waved as just a random question rather than one in preparation to create an alias.
  • 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. Once he regains his memory, he's revealed to be Horatio Torquemada Marley, Elaine's grandfather.
  • 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).

    Webcomics 
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, when Bugsy is explaining that former fairy students can be rewarded with names, she recalls the time she got her own name. Cue Flash Back of some bored guy (who she doesn't even remember properly) glancing at a shelf of DVDs and telling her "Umm ... your name can be ... Bugsy."

    Web Original 
  • On Neo Pokeforum, this is how the Crow comes up with names for all her pokemon. Zexy's name is a shortened version of nearby printer's brand, while Dirty Harry got his after she spotted dirt on his fur.
  • In episode 94 of the second campaign of Critical Role, Nott declares that her parents' names are Ashley and Travis when asked by Yasha and Fjord (played by Ashley Johnson and Travis Willingham respectively).

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Invoked twice in Gargoyles:
    • 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".
  • 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".
    • Grimlock and Wreck-Gar also get their names in a similar way, with Wreck-Gar getting it as a nickname from Angry Archer, and Grimlock getting it as a result of something Megatron said.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • 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, concludes that he'll call her Annie.
  • The Tick: Tick's famous Battle Cry of "Spoon!" came about because he was holding a spoon at the time.
  • 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 really is the baby's father. And he decides to keep the baby's name as Choking Victim
  • Denver the Last Dinosaur: How the titular dinosaur gets his name when Shades sees a Denver, Colorado ski resort bus ad.
  • The protagonist of Hamilton Mattress, an up-and-coming drummer, takes his stage name from a billboard advertising bedding.
  • In Carmen Sandiego, Carmen bases her alias on the name of haberdashery who made her trademark hat ("Carmen's") and the city where it's located ("San Diego").
  • The Adventure Time episode "Horse and Ball" reveals that James Baxter the Horse came up with his name from seeing a box labeled "Games" and a sign reading "Bookstore".
  • In Steven Universe: Future, Steven gets annoyed by the fact that Pearl and Pink Pearl both have the same name, and decides Pink Pearl needs a nickname. He dubs her "Volleyball", after one of the Quartzes hits him in the head with a volleyball.
  • In Infinity Train, after escaping the train with Jesse, Mirror Tulip rechristens herself "Lake" after seeing her reflection in a nearby lake, the first reflective surface she's been able to look at without fear of the Flecs chasing her.
  • An episode of Regular Show has Rigby use this method to come up with his new name;note  the first things he sees are a trash can and a painting of a boat, so he goes with Trash Boat.
  • In Spongebob Squarepants, when the Flying Dutchman visits Mr. Krabs in episode "Born Again Krabs", the latter denies to be Eugene Krabs and calls himself "Harold" (then he looks at the flowers at his night desk) "Flowers". The German dub manages to combine this trope with an Actor Allusion to Mr. Krabs's German voice actor, by changing the name "Harold Flowers" to "Benjamin Blümchen" ("Blümchen" means "blossom" or "little flower").
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Michelangelo needs to distract the recently mutated Ivan Steranko and Anton Zeck in order to rescue hostages, so he fake surrenders and offers to give them 'mutant names'. He then looks at various stalls of the abandoned carnival they're at, and comes up with "Pork Rind and Chili Cheese Fry", "Sprinkles and Hot Sauce", "Royal Weenies" (which goes over so badly they almost attack him right then and there) before seeing "Bebop and Rocksteady". Anton immediately calls him out on his lack of creativity, but Ivan actually likes being called "The Rocksteady".
  • TaleSpin: In "Save the Tiger", Shere Khan owes Baloo a debt after Baloo saves his life. Baloo asks for $50,000.00 to buy the Sea Duck back from Rebecca, and when he presents the money to Rebecca, she asks him where he got it. Since Baloo promised Khan that he wouldn't tell anyone about the rescue, Baloo sees a vacuum cleaner, and says that his Uncle Happy Hoover gave him the money.
  • Bart comes up with two of these in a row in an episode of The Simpsons. To get into a woman's house, he pretends he's looking for a lost turtle; when asked what the turtle's name is, he looks at the woman and comes up with "Apron Boobs Face". When asked for his name, he comes up with "Shoes Butt Back".
  • We Bare Bears: In "Escandaolos", Baby Grizzly and his brothers become luchadores, and he gets the name for their team from seeing a telenovela magazine headline reading "¡Que Escandaloso!" ("How scandalous!"), introducing themselves as "Los Escandalosos" (which also doubles as a nod to the Latin American Spanish dub's alternate title).
  • Played for Laughs on Family Guy. Peter attempts this, and the first three things he sees is a pea, a tear falling from someone's eye, and a griffin. He thus confidently declares himself to be Peter Griffin before suddenly realizing the problem.
  • Implied to be the case in Disenchantment where Gordie Stewson aka Alva Gunderson is implied to have picked his alias from a sign in the background of his first scene that reads "Stew's On.
  • In Ben 10: Omniverse, when reuniting with Kai, Ben lies about changing the name of his "Benwolf" form, then looks to see Wolf Blitzer on a TV and renames the form "Blitzwolfer".

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • Surname examples:
    • 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.
    • Swedish nobility have a certain amount of this trope, 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 surroundings or to local vegetation and sometimes the myth tells that all surnames of this kind are New Christian. There are no studies that might prove such a tale and at least one Portuguese genealogist claimed to almost have a stroke when reading such nonsense. 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.
  • 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".
  • In an interview with Wild Cartoon Kingdom #1, John Kricfalusi said that he instantly conceived his character, George Liquor, upon seeing a sign for a (now long gone) liquor store in Van Nuys, California which was named George's Liquor (although the S had fallen off by the time John saw it).
  • 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.
  • When riding home from an audition in need of a stage name, the future The Phantom of the Opera star saw a truck pass by which said "Crawford's Biscuits Are Best". From then on, he was Michael Crawford.
    • Like Caine, he once joked in an interview the it turned out better than it might have — if a different biscuits lorry had gone by he could ended up as "Michael Peek Freans."
  • 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 Pet Shop Boys singer 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".
  • 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 as Zhongshan and it is now the most common name used for him— at least in Chinese. note 
  • 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 "fashion review", "hurried fashion" or "fashion dispatch") later but liked it anyway.
    • The Hollies was half this and half Named After Somebody Famous — although they idolized Buddy Holly, as did virtually every other British Beat band at the time, it also happened to be Christmas.
    • 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.
  • Oasis:
    • The album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants came from an Isaac Newton quote that is on the £2 coin (except that it is "shoulders", but Noel Gallagher was drunk when he wrote the title).
    • Follow-up Heathen Chemistry comes from a T-shirt Noel saw. Lead single "The Hindu Times" was also seen somewhere (it's an actual newspaper), but Noel can't remember where.
    • The band name itself is picked from a poster as well.
  • According to this forum post, the name of ADV Films (originally known as A.D. Vision) was one of these, named after the AD Police from Bubblegum Crisis.
  • Stephen King came up with a last name for his pseudonym while listening to Bachman Turner Overdrive and reading a novel by Richard Stark (pen name of Donald Westlake). Hence, Richard Bachman.
  • 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. More specifically, they started with a Spoonerism, "Bilwaukee's Mest", then shortened it.
  • Ever wondered how Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 got its name?
    "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. The spelling variation is due to technical limits; in 1979 Toronto still used stamped street signs which were in all-caps and had a hard character limit before an expensive longer plate was needed (so it appeared as "DEGRASSI ST"), by the time they went to screened ones that allowed mixed-case and the extra space the franchise had long since committed to "Degrassi" as one word.
  • 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.
  • Luther Ronzoni 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 name for Clu's Dragon. 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.
  • 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 from the liner notes of an album in his collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
  • An interview with Milk Morinaga reveals the story of how she got her pen-name:
    Milk Morinaga: 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. And her mother named her Winona for the nearby town of Winona, Minnesota.
  • Born William Jason Reso, pro wrestler Christian Cage, better known simply as Christian, took his name from his two favorite actors, Christian Slater and Nicolas Cage.
  • 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.
  • J. J. Abrams got the name Cloverfield from a freeway exit in Santa Monica.
  • 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!"
  • According to one teen magazine, actor Penn Badgley was so named because his parents were trying to think up a name for their new baby, while Badgley's mother was bouncing around a Penn tennis ball. It became Hilarious in Hindsight as Badgley (about 8 years prior to his work on Gossip Girl) ended up doing some minor voicework for, of all things, Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64.
  • It is possible to invoke this trope while playing a drama improvisation game, commonly called "The Detective" but does have other names. It can be invoked by the people playing the singular criminal upon being asked "What is your name?"
  • Mary Doria Russell named the protagonist of The Sparrow (Father Emilio Sandoz) after the manufacturer of her son's cold medication.
  • Diablo Cody took her stage name from listening to the Arcadia song "Diablo" in her car while driving through Cody, Wyoming.
  • Italian comic book artist Zerocalcare in his youth needed a handle to register to an Internet forum and he chose this nickname in reference to the ads of a then-popular descaling product. The nickname stuck and became his pen name as a published author years later.
  • Alice in Chains got their name from an episode of The Honeymooners that the band watched one day, where Ralph remarked that he'd like to see his wife (whose name was Alice)... well, in chains.
  • The Flemish satirical consumer affairs show Basta once tried to expose that Belgium's copyright royalty society SABAM had been attempting to collect royalties from non-existent musicians. They literally made up musical acts from the names of items in a kitchen ("Kenwood", "Kimberly Clark", "Mr. Cocktail and the Party Mix", etc.) and recorded songs for them. Then after they received a bill for playing their music at en event, they went to SABAM's office to try and have their "artists" sign up to receive the royalties. Of course, this was when SABAM realized that they had been trolled.
  • A fake ending of Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles has the introduction of a character named Jenkins. Burnie Burns stated the name came from the Jenkins 2.0 font that the show used for its logo and title cards. (And in a Hilarious in Hindsight moment, he'd later be engaged to Ashley Jenkins.)
  • The cult Memphis Power Pop band Big Star took its name from a supermarket across the street from the Ardent recording studio.
  • This is common trend among 2010's Emo-revival bands. Title Fight and Modern Baseball both took their names from random books lying around their home, and other bands such as Citizen and American Football are along similar lines.
  • Stevie Nicks saw a road sign for Silver Spring, Maryland from Fleetwood Mac's tour bus, thought the name was beautiful and later used it to title the song "Silver Springs."
  • Country Music singer Kippi Brannon got her stage name this way: her real last name was Binkley, but she changed it after seeing a store called Brannon Auto Parts.
  • Bono of U2 took his stage name from a hearing aid store called Bono Vox.
  • When L. Frank Baum was writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he got the name for the Land of Oz from a file cabinet containing "O-Z".
  • Older Than Feudalism: Sappho of Lesbos (the one you're thinking of) was apparently married to a man named Kerkylas of Andros, mentioned in a few texts. This is most likely a joke, as "Kerkylas" is derived from the greek word for "Penis" and "Andros" is derived from "Man". Kerkylas of Andros could thus be translated as "Dick Allcocks from Man Island".
  • Halfway through recording his first (and ultimately only) album Big Harvest, Gordon Peterson drove from California to Mexico one day, and noticed that the last town he passed through before crossing the border was called Indio. He likes the sound of the name and decided the album shouldn't be classified as a solo effort, so it was released under the name Indio.
  • Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit found their name by randomly flipping through an English dictionary.

 
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