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Ominous Mundanity

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A perfectly mundane or simplistic name is used for dramatic and sinister effect. When the writers don't want to invoke Doomy Dooms of Doom, this makes a nice substitute. Something about a realistic name brings the plot closer to home and if done properly, a name like "The Cliffs" is scarier than "Spiky Cliffs of Evil Soul-Crushing Damnation". (Often, if the name is taken out of context, it wouldn't sound scary at all.)

This trope is also the reason you ought to watch out for anyone named "John Smith". Unless he has a blue box. No, especially if he has a blue box. Frequently overlaps with Capital Letters Are Magic. Compare Tom the Dark Lord and Special Person, Normal Name, two versions specific to people, and Trouble Entendre, which is casual conversation with sinister hidden meanings.


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  • Area 51, a famous American Air Force base that has become the root of any number of alien conspiracies.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: the story's Japanese title, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni translates to 'When the Cicadas Cry', which essentially holds the implication of 'in a hot summer day', while still holding a vague hint of menace, since the Japanese word 'naku' has the same double meaning as the English 'cry'. Unfortunately the English translation went with much more unambiguously creepy title, When They Cry - mostly because large parts of the Western world don't have that sort of cicada, meaning the implications fall completely flat.

  • District 9 is named after a ghetto for alien refugees in Johannesburg, with all the squalor, gang violence, and Fantastic Racism that that entails.
  • John Wick, a seemingly mundane name that causes criminals all over the world to quake in fear and stockpile as many weapons as they can.
  • Exploited in advertising for Men in Black, which promoted its lead actors as Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith.
  • You Only Live Twice: both the film and the novel it was based on had the very competent head of the Japanese intelligence agency that assists Bond be named "Tiger" Tanaka. "Tiger" is rather distinctive, but Tanaka is one of the most common Japanese surnames out there and conveys a sense of "average Japanese civilian" in its identity, about on par with "John Smith" in the United States.

  • The Black Company: The Big Good (relatively speaking, in relation to the Villain Protagonists) of the first story arc, the greatest sorceress alive and ruler of a vast empire, is known simply as the Lady. The Black Company itself also counts, being a very plain name for her feared Elite Mooks who the Rebel have never once defeated.
  • Room 101 in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Trope Namer for one nightmarish form of Industrialized Evil.
  • Shoreless Isle in Fablehaven. The name comes nowhere near expressing the island's true purpose. Not to mention the first impression you would get from seeing it... paradise, at first glance.
  • Ian Fleming named the character of James Bond after the author of Birds of the West Indies. A keen ornithologist, Fleming felt a secret agent should have an unassuming name, and thought the author of the 1947 field guide had the perfect one:
    I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find. 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers'.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Mandalorian has the titular Mandalorian, a mysterious badass Mandalorian bounty hunter who refuses to let anyone see his face or know his name due to his cultural beliefs, and his cultural beliefs are in itself a mystery as they don't match what we already know about Mandalorian culture. Everyone just calls him the Mandalorian or "Mando" for short. As his mystique fades, revealing the human beneath, so do the mysteries: his name is Din Djarin, he's part of a fringe, radical cult even other Mandalorians find odd, and he has a bad case of hat hair when the helmet finally comes off.
  • The X-Files has The Syndicate, which is the show's Omniscient Council of Vagueness, and things associated with it sometimes.
  • The Man in the High Castle has SS Obergruppenführer John Smith.
  • Star Trek has Section 31, the top-secret black-ops division of Starfleet. It's clear from their introduction that they're The Unfettered when it comes to protecting The Federation.
  • The Prisoner (1967) is full of this, set mostly in The Village, which is located between The Mountains and The Sea. This keeps it very unclear where The Village is located, and, therefore, which side of the Cold War its masters are on. It also conveys to the various prisoners just how small their lives will be now that they're here: The Village doesn't need a name because it's the only one they'll ever see.

  • The Bruce Springsteen song "Nebraska" is sung from the perspective of a Serial Killer awaiting execution. The only time Nebraska is even mentioned in the song is that one of his crimes took place in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2: City 17 and the Combine themselves.
  • The Resident Evil series sees many mini-Zombie Apocalypses and countless other bioweapon atrocities, courtesy of the Umbrella Corporation.
  • The chief Republic spy agency in Star Wars: The Old Republic is the prosaically-named "Special Information Service", which sounds about as dry as the Government Accountability Office or countless other tell-the-Senators-the-facts bureaus. (This is in stark contrast to their nemeses, the no-nonsense Imperial Intelligence.) The in-game codex entry suggests that, every so often, the Republic espionage community gets in some scandal or another and reinvents itself with an even-more-innocuous name to avoid people thinking of them as a danger.
  • The Covenant from Halo, which is named for the pact (i.e. a covenant) forged between the alien conglomerate's two founding species, the Elites and Prophets. Despite the voluntary-sounding name, the Covenant is a theocratic and authoritarian empire, with most of its member species having been forced to join on pain of death. Also, their religion tells them to kill all humans and activate ancient superweapons that will kill all sentient life in the galaxy, including themselves.
  • Grim Fandango has "The Meadow", where Hector Le Mans keeps the bodies of what must be hundreds of people he's "sprouted", either for getting in his way or failing him.
  • Dragon Age: Origins takes the Warden and their friends to the mountain village of Haven. It sounds like a pleasant place, like a religious retreat or something. It's actually home to a murderous Ax-Crazy cult of dragon worshipers. (By the time of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which returns to the same location, it's become much more like what the name would imply.)
  • Tooth and Tail has "The Kitchens", which are the headquarters for the military faction. Sounds like a very unfitting name, unless you know that all the characters are cannibals. Similarly, the player character in charge of the Kitchens is just called "The Quartermaster". This would be a low rank in most armies, but in light of the aforementioned fact, "in charge of stored food" translates to "in charge of prisoners, who will be eaten" and by extension Intelligence.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe makes several uses of this trope:
    • "Burgundian System" is a mundane and euphemistic name for an unimaginably extreme form of totalitarianism envisioned by Heinrich Himmler, which effectively turns an entire society into a massive concentration camp.
    • If Russia is reunified by the Black League of Omsk, it becomes the Russian National Reclamation Government. To explain, what the Nation is trying to Reclaim is their lost pride from WWII. And the only way to reclaim that pride is to exterminate the entire Reich, and Germany in general as a nation and idea, thermonuclear war be damned.
    • After Sergey Taboritsky reaches the superregional stage, a unique mechanism known simply as "The Clockworks" appears. It represents the regent's sanity faltering as he slowly realises that no matter what he does, the Tsarevich Alexei is dead and will never come back. At midnight, Sergey dies from the epiphany and the Holy Russian Empire he built collapses.
  • Subverted in Undertale. The first and final levels of the game are 'Home' and 'New Home', respectively. In-universe history books lampshade this by explaining that King Asgore is really bad at naming things.
  • Control is full of this. Your Swiss-Army Gun is called the Service Weapon, the government organization you've accidentally ended up in charge of is the Federal Bureau of Control, the Bigger on the Inside setting of the game is the Oldest House, and the Enigmatic Empowering Entity is called the Board.
  • Inscryption has the OLD_DATA directory on the game's disc, which sounds like a generic junk folder on a pre-used disc. Characters and the ARG imply it's actually a digitized form of the devil, along with the code for activating a Nazi Doomsday Device.

  • The closest that Girl Genius has to an overarching Big Bad would be an entity known only to the general public as "the Other" (eventually revealed to be Lucrezia Mongfish, Agatha's mom). The novelizations explain that "the Other" was named this because of a series of attacks on Europe with an unknown perpitrator, and all the suspects were killed by them, so the only thing known about them is that they were some other party.

    Web Original 
  • THE MONUMENT MYTHOS: Special Tree sounds like an entirely normal, almost childish term by itself. But Special Trees are ill-understood things that only vaguely look like normal trees, right until they curve in half, form an arc, and shunt everything nearby into another universe.
  • SCP Foundation practically has this trope as it's basis. The Special Containment Procedures (SCP) Foundation keeps track of various strange objects, unnatural beings, and other anomalies. It does so in a fairly dry style, such as giving their prisoners numbers for names (e.g. SCP-049, SCP-106, SCP-682, etc.) and writes about alien horrors in the style of matter-of-fact entries.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A particularly bloody period of sectarian/political violence in Ireland in the late-20th century was known as The Troubles.
    • Similarly, the Colombian Civil War lasted from 1948 to 1958 and claimed at least 200,000 lives. It is often referred to simply as La Violencia, "The Violence".
  • A common practice in any real-world Hellhole Prison. Alcatraz was famously called 'The Rock' for short, South Africa's most secure (and dangerous) facility is C-Max, solitary confinement in general is often merely called 'The Hole' and so on.
  • The Manhattan Project, the development of the most devastatingly powerful class of weaponry the world has ever seen.
    • Any top secret project, really. This is done very deliberately to ensure that the name gives away nothing about the project.
  • The US Army training ground at Ft. Polk, Louisiana carries out the grueling Exercise Rattlesnake (which is a different trope) in a hellish, hot, mosquito-ridden area of swamp just called 'The Box.'
  • El Capitan is a 3000 foot granite cliff in Yosemite national park, and climbing it is Not Easy. One of the hardest sections is known as "Boulder Problem."
    • The most difficult and deadliest climb on Earth is the mountain known mostly by its prosaic designation K2.
  • Death by scaphism might be one of the most horrific tortures imaginable (WARNING: link is extreme Nightmare Fuel). It is also known as "the boats."