Monthly Archives: July 2014

Miscellaneous Post: Action Hero Names

Like many people, I’ve noticed the trend in action films to name the main hero “John.” There’s John McClane, John Matrix, John Rambo, and many others. Yahoo recently compiled a list of the “toughest” action hero names, and I thought I’d weigh in on the list.

Their list is ranked by the sound of the name alone, and not necessarily the character him/herself. It makes it both easier and harder to evaluate the list, because names can be so important that it’s hard to separate them from the character. I can’t think of “John McClane” without remembering him shooting terrorists and killing a helicopter with a car, for example.

They started off with “least intimidating,” which kind of limits the list even though it claims to be “exhaustive”; by the writer’s reckoning, there are only 50 action movies out there, or they just picked the “weakest” names to put at the bottom of the list. Why not have a separate list of weakest names, is my point. Regardless, it’s amusing to see Forest Taft on there, both because the name is weird due to the obvious environmental message, and because thinking of On Deadly Ground makes me laugh. Those fringe jackets… Not sure what it means that Steven Seagal has two characters in the bottom ten–Casey Ryback, no love for you either.

In the other direction, it’s kind of funny to see writers go way overboard to make the character name sound super cool and match his/her actions, such as with Marion Cobretti in Cobra, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max, and Frank Bullitt in Bullit. Dudes, you are trying way too hard. Or you named the characters when you were twelve.

A lot of names on the list are originally from books, like Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Jack Ryan, and Jason Bourne. I doubt the writers of the books were thinking “action movie names” when writing the books. Cool, memorable names, sure, but not necessarily “action movie.” “Katniss” and “Lisbeth” certainly don’t have the one-syllable thing going for them, just the fact that they’re strange female names.

I was surprised to see three “Harrys” on the list; that’s not normally a name associated with coolness or machismo. Especially considering in the last decade and a half it’s become associated with a little wizard boy with a scar on his forehead.

Really, any one-syllable name with a hard “A” sound—Cane, Cage, Rage, Gauge—just sounds cliché-actiony and hard to take seriously. The crowning example of this is the ridiculously terrible—or terribly ridiculous—name of Cypher Raige, the main character in After Earth. How the heck is anyone supposed to take a movie seriously when its main character is named Cypher Raige, even with the extra “I” for flavor? It’s like the naming equivalent of a Rob Liefeld drawing. …meaning cringe-worthily over-the-top, with terrible anatomy, and of course lacking feet.

What makes a name really impressive is the use of it and everyone knows who you’re talking about. Consider Rambo, Ripley, Indy (short for Indiana Jones), Shaft, etc. Sure, two of them are right in the titles of the movies, but still. They’re short, stand out, and are memorable.

It’s hilarious that there are two characters named “Jericho” on the list, but part of that may be a result of the incredible percentage of “J” names. There are 6 Johns, 3 Jacks, 2 Jerichos, and then a JJ, Jason, Jimmy, and James. Out of 50 names, 15 begin with “J.” Most are also one syllable. With the naming trends of recent years, I’m sure there will soon be movies starring heroes named Jace and Jaden.

It’s interesting that the names are for the most part old-fashioned and not “trendy,” though whether that’s due to their overall commonness, the period in which the movies were made, or the general lack of “trendy” names until the last couple decades in unknown. Granted, “Jennifer” and “Steven” were, I suppose, trendy in their time, though I doubt anyone fifty years ago would spell it Genyphyr or Styphyen. The women’s names, with the exception of Katniss, are also all fairly old-fashioned–Lisbeth, Sarah, Evelyn, Lara, and Ellen. Sarah is still pretty common, and I think Evelyn is becoming one of those old-lady-names-that-are-vintage-and-therefore-cool names, but I dunno when “Ellen” is going to top a baby name list anywhere.

I’m trying to think of names that are on the list and are actually cool and not over-the-top trying to make a point, but it’s hard to separate the character from the name. I like Martin Riggs (though I’d like it shorted to Marty Riggs), Korben but spelled Corbin, Jason Bourne, Chance (though it’s kind of reminiscent of the dog in Homeward Bound), and Solo (without the Han part).

WTF kind of name is Snake Plissken? We need action movies with characters that don’t sound like they belong in Mortal Kombat.

I’d like to note a few names that didn’t make the list, such as Major Dutch from Predator, Machete from Machete, or Sean Archer from Face/Off. “Dutch,” “Machete,” and “Archer” are all short and are either easy to remember or have a harsh, masculine sound. Someone in the comments mentions Dalton from Roadhouse, Jack Reacher from Jack Reacher, and Riddick from the Riddick series.

Actually, reading the comments makes it apparent that people didn’t read the text of the article, which says that the names are ranked least-to-most intimidating, hence Forest Taft towards the top and James Bond towards the bottom. Commenters are saying the list isn’t in any sort of order. Come on, people.

Anyway, it’s fun to think about names—I might have a small obsession with the science of baby naming—and how they can affect a person’s perception of a film. While a name might not necessarily make or break a film, it might have a hand in how well it and its characters are remembered. Would people remember “Harry Callahan” if his nickname and the name of the movie weren’t “Dirty Harry”? No way to know.