The Surprising Inspirations Behind Movie Character Names

Annoy the wrong director and you could have an ugly cockroach man named after you.

Galaxy Quest General Sarris

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

It’s not easy naming your movie characters. Do you go boring (James Bond), awesome (Snake Plissken), or just plain stupid (Flipper Purify in Jungle Fever, Cole Trickle in Days Of Thunder, Ying Yang in The Expendables…)? If you’re not picking names out of a phone book, you have to base them on something, or someone, and a surprising number of movie characters have been inspired by real people, pets and places. 

Some of them are nice nods (who wouldn’t want their dad to write them into Star Wars?), but most of them definitely aren’t. The best revenge, it seems, is served up on the end credits…

The Eborsisk – Willow

George Lucas didn’t really like film critics. When New Yorker writer Pauline Kael said watching Star Wars was “like taking a pack of kids to the circus,” she found herself written into Willow as the skull faced baddie, General Kael. She came off better than her fellow critics, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, though. The pair (who actually generally liked Lucas’ films) ended up as the film’s warty two-headed dragon, a monster that doesn’t even have hands to give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” In his review, Ebert gave the film a measly two and a half stars, but did have one nice thing to say: “So, OK, the dragon is well done…”

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Mayor Ebert – Godzilla 

Roger Ebert’s public humiliation for writing down his own opinions didn’t stop at Willow, either. Roland Emmerich’s films have never had a particularly easy time from the critics, and Ebert (who, again, has never been that harsh) took the brunt of his anger when he needed a name for the fat, stressed, over-reacting mayor in the infamous 1998 version of Godzilla.

further reading – Godzilla 1998: What Went Wrong?

To make the reference clearer, Emmerich called the Mayor’s sidekick “Gene.” Ebert gave the film a pasting when it came out, but seemed quite pleased by the name shaming. “Now that I’ve inspired a character in a Godzilla movie, all I really still desire is for several Ingmar Bergman characters to sit in a circle and read my reviews to one another in hushed tones.”

David and Walter – Alien: Covenant

Before Alien: Covenant, everyone assumed that the franchise was just running through the alphabet with its robot names. Ash, Bishop, Call, David… and then we had Walter. Maybe the original plan really was to stick to the alphabet (Edgar?) and Ridley Scott just decided to mess it up, but David and Walter were actually named after the film’s producers, Walter Hill and David Giler. “They don’t know,” Scott told Digital Spy. “because I didn’t ask them.” 

Qi’ra – Solo

Qi’ra actually started out as “Kira”, and Kira started out as “Keera”, and Keera was the original name for Rey. “[JJ Abrams] told me it was meant to be Keera,” Ridley told V Magazine. “And then, when we were already shooting in Abu Dhabi, he told me that he was thinking of going with Rey, which I thought was frickin’ awesome.” So what happened to Keera? Writer Lawrence Kasdan worked on Solo after The Force Awakens, and it looks like he took his favorite name with him after Abrams changed it. 

Michael Myers – Halloween

John Carpenter’s serial killer is stitched together from two different references. His trademark mask, obviously, comes from an inside-out William Shatner, but his name is an obscure nod to a British film PR who worked on the European distribution for Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 (1976).

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further reading – Halloween: The Ingredients of a Horror Classic

There’s no indication that Carpenter and Myers didn’t get on (in fact, Assault On Precinct 13’s screening at European festivals really helped Carpenter’s career), so Myers shouldn’t be worried. In fact, Carpenter named Laurie Strode after his first girlfriend, again without any ulterior motive. 

Bruce – Jaws

The shark in Jaws is not called “Jaws” (neither is the alien in Alien called “Alien”), despite what a lot of people seem to think. It wasn’t given a name in the script but it was known as “Bruce” on set – named by Steven Spielberg after the entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer.

further reading: How Jaws Went From Bestseller to Blockbuster

It might have just been the old “all lawyers are sharks” joke that started it, but there’s nothing to suggest that Ramer was actually that ferocious. In fact, he might have had a constantly malfunctioning, expensive, frustrating rubber prop named after him, but he still represents Spielberg today. So does he mind being called a shark? “Only if it’s a positive thing to be,” he once said. “I think sharks serve their purpose. But it still has a slightly pejorative ring to it, don’t you think?”

General Roth’h’ar Sarris – Galaxy Quest

Another film critic who got written into infamy for his opinions, Andrew Sarris (who worked with Pauline “General” Kael at The New Yorker) found himself in Galaxy Quest after he laid into producer Mark Johnson’s 1984 baseball drama, The Natural. To be fair though, The Natural is a bit slushy, and it’s pretty likely that a genocidal alien warlord who looks like a moulting cockroach wouldn’t have liked it much either.

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Gojira – Godzilla 

Godzilla is only called “Godzilla” because it’s slightly easier to say in English than his original Japanese name, “Gojira”, and he’s reportedly only called that because producer Tomoyuki Tanaka is a bit of a bully. A mix of gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale), the filmmakers apparently named the giant lizard man after one of the publicists at Toho who happened to be a bit fat. It’s one thing being called a “hairy whale” behind your back, it’s another thing to have media franchise about a giant radioactive sea creature named after you. Kimi Honda, the widow of director Ishirō Honda, later discounted the story in a BBC documentary, but other crew members still back it up in other interviews. Cruel joke or movie myth?  

Ernst Stavro Blofeld – From Russia With Love

According to cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, Ian Fleming named James Bond’s arch nemesis after his dad, Thomas Robert Calthorpe Blofeld, who went to Eton with him. If true, it doesn’t sound like little Blofeld was very nice to little Ian – and there’s a good chance he spent all his time at school sitting with his back to the other kids, silently stroking a white cat.

Indiana Jones – Raiders Of The Lost Ark

As everyone already knows, Indy was named after the dog. Slightly less known is the fact that Indiana Jones was actually named after the dog in real life too – with George Lucas picking the name as a nod to his Alaskan Malamute.

further reading: How Raiders of the Lost Ark Continues to Influence Pop Culture

The “real” Indiana got a very meta cameo in The Last Crusade as the fictional Indiana (the dog) who the fictional Indiana (the man) was named after. To cross the streams even further, Indiana (the dog) was also the inspiration for the look of Chewbacca, which probably makes him the most influential pet in pop culture history. 

Dexter Jettster – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones

You can imagine the conversation around the breakfast table: 

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George Lucas: Hey son, I’ve got a neat surprise for you. Jett Lucas: Really dad? Are you killing off Jar Jar Binks?George Lucas: Hmm. No. I’m naming a Star Wars character after you.Jett Lucas: Oh wow thanks Dad! Is he gonna be a cool bounty hunter? A kick-ass Jedi? The new Han Solo?George Lucas: Well, no. He’s a huge greasy fish man who works in a diner.Jett Lucas: Um. Okay. Thanks Dad.