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Unfortunate Names

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This trope is under discussion in the Trope Repair Shop.
Truly the Butte Monkey of American towns! note 

"Make sure that all the C's are destroyed, so that the rascals can have no further means of abusing my name."
George Cockburn,note  Royal Navy Rear Admiral, destroying a U.S. newspaper's office during the burning of Washington, D.C. in War of 1812.

An Unfortunate Implication where a name of a character, person, or thing unintentionally offends.

If you ask someone their name, and they give you an answer that fits this trope, chances are you won't take them seriously. You will then find out that yes, that really is their name. No joke. Or it may be a joke, but it still is seriously their name.

Characters under this trope are saddled with a name that realistically, you wouldn't expect a parent to name their kid or, for someone who's of a certain name, they'd choose to go by. This is the kind of name that gets kids made fun of in school — which leads them to snark "Never Heard That One Before" when the jokes continue into adulthood.

Yet, it also happens to be Truth in Television, in many unfortunate cases. Generally, when imposed (fictionally or otherwise) on someone, this will lead to a Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?. Real Joke Name is another possible outcome. If the name is unfortunate because it might accidentally hit an automatic word filter, then it's called the Scunthorpe Problem.


Comes in a variety of forms:

  • Cross-Cultural Kerfluffle — The name is okay, maybe even good and auspicious in its own language, but doesn't travel well. Maybe it sounds like a curse or a pronoun; bonus points if it's shouted dramatically in the work. Eg. Wang — "King" in Chinese, dick jokes galore in English due to the name's mispronunciation.
  • Double Entendre — The name sounds like something sexual or otherwise offensive. Eg. Pussy Galore
  • Embarrassing Initials — the initials spell something silly or offensive. Eg. Hiram Ulysses Grant, or H.U.G. Small wonder he changed his name to U.S. Grant once in military school.
  • Gender-Blender Name — Many names (at least, in American English) were once relatively common and unremarkable as names for male children, but in recent years have become more common for girls, sometimes with minor spelling differences. In the real world there are male Stacys, Danas, Courtneys, Kellys, and Ashleys, and yet you only see those names in fiction on women (on the other hand, there are female Chrises, Pats, Lees, and Terrys and yet, they're only male names in fiction). So someone with old-fashioned parents, or simply a desire to name a baby after an ancestor, might wind up with a "girly" name, such as Mary. Conversely, unfortunate women may end up with a "guy" name, though they are mostly more fortunate.
    • A custom in France, francophone countries, and Catholic Germany is to give children a second "saint's name" drawn from the hagiography. This can be given regardless of matching the gender of child and patron saint, so that a man might be named, for instance, Erich Maria Remarque. This can sound odd outside these areas and even to the locals themselves on occasion, at least to those from younger generations that aren't as familiar with this cultural quirk. Try and find a German teenager who didn't at least snicker the first time Remarque's full name popped up in high school.
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  • Have a Gay Old Time — Linguistic drift can hit names quicker than some folks would like. If a name later gets adopted for a sexual or offensive term, those who had the name before the drift run afoul of this (those named after, however, run into one of the above issues instead). Examples include Dick, Fanny, Nimrod and Gaylord.
  • Ironic Name — The name references a trait that is the opposite of the character. Eg. Horatio Hornblower is tone-deaf.
  • Phrase Name — Where the first name and/or last name may sound perfectly normal on its own, but put them together and they make an unfortunate sounding phrase, I.e. Ima Fraude.
  • Pop Culture Name — Someone named after a famous pop culture character whose name would ordinarily not enter consideration for use. In this case, the name is already popular, but it isn't something you'd think to name a human being under regular circumstances. Can result in an even more unfortunate name if the pop culture source's popularity is not enduring. Eg. Khaleesi
  • Repetitive Name - The first and last (and any other) names sound similar, or are exactly the same. Eg. Wolfe Wolf
  • Rhyming Name — The first and last name rhyme with each other. Eg. Lance Vance
  • Unfortunate Coincidence — A regular name happened to match coincidentally with real-life famous or infamous figures, or otherwise notable events named after people. Eg. Adolf, Isis, Katrina
  • Unfortunate Meaning — someone thought the name sounded nice, but apparently had no clue that the name they gave their child describes a disease or a woman's genitalia. (The vast majority of these are either urban legends or outright maliciously racist lies; usually, the more defensive the teller gets about these, the more likely he knows they're lies.)

Given human nature, quite a few fairly common names or words wind up as slang terms. Simply having one of these isn't really an example of this trope, unless it forms a particularly bad combination with the rest of the name.

This trope can be divided into subtropes Embarrassing First Name, Embarrassing Middle Name or Embarrassing Last Name, if just part of the name is unfortunate. Will frequently intersect with Punny Name. When other people pronounce them counterintuitively (whether in an effort to save themselves the embarrassment or not), they'll feel compelled to inform people that It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY".

This only goes for examples where the name is the character or person's legal given name, or the name they most commonly go by. If a character chooses this name as a superhero alias, stage name, or temporary disguise, it's Atrocious Alias. If a product or brand instead of a character is unfortunately named, it's Bite the Wax Tadpole.

This trope is the opposite of Awesome McCoolname, while Special Person, Normal Name lies in between these two. There's also Names to Run Away from Really Fast, where your name isn't so much embarrassing as deeply scary.

Example subpages:

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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: The fact that Huo Haha's name sounds like laughing seems like something that would lend itself to actual laughs at his expense. This is directly lampshaded in the first episode of Season 8 by way of a Who's on First? joke when Big M. and Little M. meet him for the first time.
    Huo Haha: Hi. I'm the magician who attacked the president, Huo Haha!
    (Big M. wallops Huo Haha, resulting in a Hit Flash and a Cranial Eruption on Huo.)
    Big M.: Enough! Do you think I was joking? Be serious!
    Huo Haha: But I didn't laugh. My name is Huo Haha.

    Fan Works 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has Dr. Brainstorm, whose Obviously Evil name is lampshaded:
    Calvin: That's a dumb name. Why not something interesting? Like Doctor Doom, or Doctor Chaos, or Doctor Chaotic Doom?
  • Mi Tru Lov has two major antagonists called Vommy and Snoteleks.
  • My Immortal: Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way. The author was presumably trying for an Awesome Mccoolname-cum-"Darkness von Gothick" Name, but she ended up with a name which, translated to Layman's Terms, is "Black Black Senility Bird Direction". That's before you take into account the author's apparent inability to spell it the same way twice (to the point she's usually referred to by snarkers as "Enoby").
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse has its main character Trixie Lulamoon, who always wishes to be addressed by her first name (unless she is drunk, then her second name). Apparently, there is a childhood rhyme that is the cause behind the name being unfortunate.
  • In the Fallout: Equestria universe it is something of a tradition for named Steel Rangers to have embarrassing food-based names such as Cottage Cheese and Butterbean.
  • Golden Retriever, Twilight's assistant in The Demesne Of The Reluctant Twilight Sparkle. Twilight eventually grants her a literal license, "as a civil servant of the highest order", to kick the flank of anypony who teases her about her name within the bounds of the demesne.
  • Gensokyo 20XX has Ren's brother Baka and Ren could never really figure out why and always thought it was because he wasn't very bright, though he also did note that, according to his father, that was the name only he responded to and the name stuck. However, true to his name, he isn't really very bright.
  • A.A. Pessimal's fics:
    • The Big Bang Theory and Discworld crossover The Many Worlds Interpretation: A visiting Assassin from the Discworld encounters members of the Los Angeles Police Department called Krupke, Dibble and Captain Trunk. Apparently there is an Inspector Columbo in the murder squad and a mounted policeman who is called Officer McLeod.
    • In a different fic, Vetinari has to reassign a diplomat sent to Far Überwald with the unfortunate name of Mr Goughnow. He discovers there is also a Mr Fafunckelloe in Brindisi and a Mr Footsack in Rimwards Howondaland. The unfortunately named diplomats are recalled and re-assigned to other countries, and the part of the Palace Secretariat dealing with diplomatic postings receives a stern note and a helpful dictionary of international profanity to guide their thought processes.
    • A young girl called Emma Roydes has passed selection exams to the Assassins' Guild School with flying colours. The Guild believes at the age of ten years and nine months, she has already had ample cause to display commendable fighting skills and an admirable aptitude for applied aggression. Seen as a new first year student, she has a best friend who affectionately nicknames her "Piles". And gets away with it.
  • Saetwo's Story: Just like in the game, one of the cave guardians is named Ignorameous, which all the Zoombinis find hilarious.
    Ignorameous: Why does everybody always laugh when I say that?!
  • ''Half Jack'' is a fic of Horatio Hornblower by faantine (BreathingSpace). Horatio Hornblower doesn't quite like his name in canon, especially his Christian name, but in this fic, it's his surname that earns him some lighthearted scoff.
    Archie: Sub-Lieutenant Kennedy. Archie.
    Horatio: [they shake hands] Sub-Lieutenant Hornblower.
    Archie: [grins] Hornblower? Fuck me, that’s unfortunate.
  • A Diplomatic Visit:
    • As noted under Fantastic Naming Convention, the wolves of the Packlands are named after a trait the elders observe in them. One of Swift-Pad's litter-mates is Giggle-Snort, who would love to forget that he was named for the noise he made when he was first being groomed as a pup.
    • Subverted by the wolf Aargh. He thinks his name is hilarious, and so does pretty much everyone else when they hear the story of how he got it. (Short version: It's what another wolf yelled when young Aargh, acting in defense of his mother and litter-mates, bit him on the butt. They bent the rules a little in his case.)
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Due to RWBY's use of Fun with Acronyms, the team of Cinder, Mercury, Emerald, and Neo is called Team CMEN. It's supposed to be pronounced "Cinnamon," but Professor Port doesn't bother. He keeps making loud Double Entendres during his role as announcer for the tournament, even as Oobleck tries to keep him in line.
    Mercury: I knew we should have changed it.
  • Mistblossom from Moonlit Path: Disloyal Hearts learns from her Clan's medicine cat that her kit has a special destiny. Mistblossom misinterprets this prophecy as meaning that her daughter is destined to become a powerful Clan leader and names her daughter "Moonkit". Using a "Moon" prefix for a kit's name is a very sacrilegious amongst the Clans because it's considered disrespectful to their ancestors in StarClan. Several of Moonkit's Clanmates avoid calling her by name because it's such a taboo name.
  • In Bucky Barnes Gets His Groove Back & Other International Incidents, Sam Wilson's parents' labradoodle is named Bartholomew Zebulon Wilson. Sam calls him Barf.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • The Bible
    • To demonstrate His wrath at idolatrous Israel, God has the prophet Hosea give his children symbolic names. The first son, Jezreel, is named for a valley where Israel's evil kings have shed blood, and where God promises they will be punished in turn; his daughter is named Lo-ruhamah, "not pitied," because God is through being merciful; and the youngest son is Lo-ammi, "not my people," to foretell that God will eventually send Israel into exile among the nations.
    • The prophet Isaiah named his younger son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means "spoil quickly, plunder speedily," again to foretell Judah's coming doom. His older brother Shear-Jashub ("a remnant shall return") lucked out and got a happy prophecy.
    • Ishbosheth's name means 'from the mouth of shame'. A very early translator had changed it from Ishbaal ('from the mouth of God') due to concern about Baal worship.
  • Kopreus was an uncle of king Eurystheus of Mycene, who had the job of delivering Eurystheus' orders about what the next Labour was going to be to Herakles. "Kopreus" means "dung-heap".
  • Also Uranus, father of the Titans, although not in the original language. In Greek, Uranus (or more properly Ouranos) means "sky" or "heaven", and pronunciation is more like "ooh-rah-nos". Ironically, it was one of his private parts on the opposite side that got abused in a famous myth.
  • The name Nimrod was not an unfortunate name in Bible times, but has become so these days because of its association with dimwittedness from Bugs Bunny. note 
    • May be Older Than Print, actually, since in Dante's Inferno he is shown to be one of several giants guarding the pit of Hell. He can only utter meaningless gibberish, and Virgil taunts him as being stupid.
  • In Chinese Mythology, the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea can be transliterated (i.e. in pinyin) as Dong Hai Long Wang. It's not funny in Chinese at all, when consulting someone with Chinese as a mother tongue, in case anyone's wondering.
  • Aversion with Lot. Lot (spelling varies) who preaches in the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where the citizens are violent, lustful, and where homosexuality is rampant. The last part is the reason you don't find anyone named Lot (spelling varies) in any Abrahamic religions. Doubles with What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?.

    Stand-Up Comedy 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Unfortunate Name, Other, Embarrassing Name


Suq Madiq

Stephen Colbert acknowledges Suq Madiq, Liqa Madiq, and Munchma Quchi.

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Example of:

Main / UnfortunateNames

Media sources:

Main / UnfortunateNames