Top 10 Greatest Character Names- and Why!

“What’s in a name?”

You ever just hear a name and there’s nothing else to say but: “What a great f—ing name?

Growing up, certain artists’ names jumped out at me, like Trent Reznor, Laurence Fishburne, Delroy Lindo, Rip Torn. What makes these names so awesome…?

Recently I’ve been meditating on the most legendary character names in movies and why they stand out above the rest. I came up with a list of Seven attributes that seem to do the trick.

A) Alliteration

B) The Plain w/the Bold

C) Syllabic Echo

D) Rolling off the Tongue

E) Ending Strong

F) Describing Essence of Character

G) Initials

(NOTE: Often times, a single name can fit into more than one category) 

…Lets break em down.

 

A) Alliteration

The occurrence of the same consonant in two adjacent words can be pleasing to the ear. Its almost as if the first word sets the stage and the second word repeats a consonant in a connective way that makes you go “They make sense together.”

~ Tyler Durden

~ Keyser Soze

~ Holly Golightly

Its especially effective when they share the first consonant.

~ Dirk Diggler

~ Donnie Darko

~ Ratso Rizzo

(notice with the ‘TS’ and the ‘Z’ its the sound made by the letters, rather than consonants themselves)

   

B) The ‘Plain’ w/the ‘Bold’ 

Taking an ‘Average Joe’ name and coupling it with something particularly fancy or bold can make for a relatable character who is simultaneously special.

~ Indiana Jones

~ Sam Spade

~ Sweeney Todd

This also works by mixing a common profession with a fancy name.

~ Dr Strangelove

~ Nurse Ratched

~ Professor Snape

  

C) Syllabic Echo

Probably the easiest way to make a name sound pleasing is to mimic the stressing pattern in each word.

~ Sidney Falco

~ Charlie Babbit

~ Ellen Ripley

~ Sarah Connor

~ Norma Desmond

     

D) Rolling Off the Tongue

Then there are those jam-packed with syllables that just flow out beautifully.

~ Rollo Tomasi

~ Inigo Montoya

~ Napolean Dynamite

~ Royal Tenenbaum

     

E) Ending Strong

You can almost put anything in front of a strong sounding single-syllabic last name and it will work.

~ Barton Fink

~ James Bond

~ Atticus Finch

~ John Shaft

   

F) Describing Essence of Character

It can be effective to use a word that captures the essence of your character (adjective or noun)

~ Donnie Darko

~ Han Solo

~ Ethan Hunt

~ Ratso Rizzo

~ Chester Rockwell

or the more obvious “nickname” approach

~ Tony Rocky Horror

~ Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting

~ Teddy KGB

or single word characters (arguably more memorable for the characters themselves rather than their names)…

~ Lurch

~ Gollum

~ Maverick

  

F) Initials 

For some reason adding something as simple as initials to a name can provide a certain flavor, even with no other connection.

~ Frank TJ Mackey

~ JJ Hunsecker

TE Lawrence

My Top 10 Favorite Character Names

This was tough. There are a lot of great names out there. I left out many that will surely make people angry (and tried to avoid Star Wars). I also strived to pick my favorite character names over the characters themselves. These are the ones that stuck out to me (and which of the seven categories they fulfill.)

10) SAM SPADE

This is a vert simple, straight-forward name that captures Bogart’s detective character in The Maltese Falcon. It also plays off the Queen of Spades image they use in the film.

a) Alliteration

b) Plan w/the Bold

c) Syllabic Echo

e) Ending Strong

f) Describing Essence of Character

 

 

 

9) TYLER DURDEN

Brad Pitt as Ed Norton’s lovable alter ego. Granted, part of what makes this legendary character name so “household” is due to the character itself. But it always pops in my head as a great character name. I’m not one to ignore my instincts.

a) Alliteration

c) Syllabic Echo

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 ) DONNIE DARKO

Another character that always haunted me well after the movie was watched. I attribute a large part of this to the name.

a) Alliteration

b) The Plain w/the Bold

c) Syllabic Echo

F) Describing Essence of Character

 

 

7) RATSO RIZZO

Hoffman as the sickly little rat-like con-man in Midnight Cowboy.

a) Alliteration

c) Syllabic Echo

F) Describing Essence of Character

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) BARTON FINK

This name just perfectly captures this schlubby, misunderstood, intellectual playwright, played brilliantly by Turturo. When going over my list with my wife, Autumn, she expressed her distaste for this choice… which reinforces my love for it even more! I can’t even describe what makes it work so well for me… “He’s just such a Barton Fink.”

e) Ending Strong

f) Describing Essence of Character

 

 

 

5) ATTICUS FINCH

I don’t recall the symbolism with the mockingbirds and finches in To Kill a Mockingbird but there’s a reason he’s named after a bird. I have a soft spot for characters- like Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch- that stand up for their ethics when society isn’t ready for it. For that reason, I almost named my soon-to-be born child ‘Atticus’. However, I’ve been informed its pretentious; so I learned never to share names with people before the birth.

e) Ending Strong

f) Describing Essence of Character

 

 

 

4) KEYSER SOZE

In case people haven’t seen the film, this is the best representation of the devil-spawned character- who is only spoken about- in The Usual Suspects. If that’s the premise of the character, he’d better have a kick-ass name!

a) Alliteration

c) Syllabic Echo

d) Rolling off the Tongue

 

 

 

3) ROLO TOMASSI

There actually is no picture available for “Rolo Tomassi”, an invented persona described by Pearce’s character in LA Confidential. (yes, I’m leaving it at that). Much like Keyser Soze, an unseen character talked about throughout the story better have a kick-ass name. This name only fits one of the categories but for some reason it just sticks in my mind.

d) Rolling Off the Tongue

 

 

 

 

2) SIDNEY FALCO

God- I love this name. It just rings perfection to me. It so captures this slime-ball opportunist press agent, played by Tony Curtis, in Sweet Smell of Success. To me it even captures his piercing “falcon-like” determination. Having a great name helps you go along for the ride with this love-able villain. 

a) Alliteration

b) The Plain w/the Bold

c) Syllabic Echo

F) Describing the Essence of the Character

 

1) INIGO MONTOYA

Almost synonymous with thinking of The Princess Bride is… “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Makes me smile every time.

a) Alliteration

c) Syllabic Echo

d) Rolling Off the Tongue

  

  

I know what you’re thinking: Where are all the great female names?” That’s what I wanna know! It was a struggle to find ones that really stood out.  I’m hoping someone reminds me of one that can replace one from my Top 10!

What are your favorites?

(Try to pick your favorite CHARACTER NAMES over your favorite characters.)

~ JW

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7 Comments

  1. All time favorite character name: Victor Kiriakis

    As for female names:
    Buffy Summers (Really is there a more iconic name that sums up the character and is so identifiable?)

  2. You have to go with Pussy Galore from Goldfinger! That was in like 1964 and it still wasn’t censored!

  3. I can’t seem to look at this post from my smartphone!!!

  4. I just seen a link to this page and thought I’d have a read, surprisingly I enjoyed It although I don’t know half the characters probably because I’m only 15 and the films where before my time, hahah, but the one about atticus finch will help with my english exams! Thanks 🙂

  5. i like my name is….. lokendra

  6. This is wonderfully helpful!! I came up with a name I find fitting for my character. Vincent Newell. I tried following some of the steps. I’m definitely saving this information!! 😀
    And I LOVE Princess Bride!! haha Inigo is amazing.


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