Celebrity Names Blog

NameCandy Reality Check: Unrealistically Trendy Names in TV and Movies

NameCandy Reality Check: Unrealistically Trendy Names in TV and Movies

If there's one surefire way to make your TV  or movie character less believable, it's to give them an unrealistically trendy name. Unconventional names are wonderful for unconventional characters -- but it can sound contrived when a hot, up-and-coming name that's chosen to match a character's personality traits has only been associated with the aforementioned traits for the past few years. Sometimes, writers seem to disregard the fact that name they carefully chose for their popular/edgy/quirky/whatever character would have been extremely unlikely given the character's background and age. Take the Glee characters, for example.

While Glee, which is set in conservative, suburban high school in Ohio, has never been known for being particularly realistic (nor is realism the reason we can't stop watching it), the names of some of its main characters are not helping the case. Let's examine why. For reference the "age" of the characters below refers to how old they would have been in 2009, when the show premiered.

Fashionably named character #1: Finn Hudson, Quarterback of the football team
Age: 15-16
Born: 1993-1994
Name rank at birth: Not ranked in Top 1000
Name rank in 2009: 343
Name rank in 2010: 300

Would Finn's small-town parents really have named him something so obscure? Unless it's a nickname or a family name, probably not. But Finn, while still outside of the Top 100, was already on a seriously steep upswing when Glee premiered. It was all the way down at 659 just six years earlier.

Fashionably named character #2: Quinn Fabray, Popularity-obsessed cheerleader
Age: 15-16
Born: 1993-1994
Name rank at birth: Not ranked in Top 1000 girls' names
Name rank in 2009: 486
Name rank in 2010: 253

In 2009, Quinn was uncommon, though rising quickly. Like Finn, it didn't even rank (for girls) the year the character was born. An interesting choice, considering Quinn's ultra-conservative family is a major part of her character development.

But wait! Gleeks may recall that Quinn is actually Quinn's middle name. It was revealed last season that Quinn's actual first name is Lucy, which she stopped using when she switched schools and reinvented herself. Though it's highly unlikely that the writers had this in mind when writing the pilot (the "makeover" story line was written to include a character that didn't exist yet, and "Finn and Quinn" were a couple with rhyming names), we'll include it anyway. Just to be fair.

Fashionably named character #2.5: Lucy Quinn Fabray
Age: 15-16
Born: 1993-1994
Name rank in 1993: 431
Name rank in 2009: 101
Name rank in 2010: 75

Like we discussed earlier, Lucy is an old name that's never completely fallen out of popularity, but compared to its current trendiness, Lucy was a bit unusual in 1993.

Fashionably named character #3: Emma Pillsbury, Guidance counselor
Age: 30
Born: 1979
Name rank in 1979: 416
Name rank in 2009: 2
Name rank in 2010: 3

Emma is by no means an obscure name, and really fits the sweet, feminine, and reserved character it was given to. However, isn't the sweet and feminine sound part of the reason Emma was the second most popular girls' name in 2009? On top of that, Emma has never been more unpopular than it was in the 1970s. Therefore, we call shenanigans.

Other Glee characters -- Mercedes Jones, Kurt Hummell, Rachel Berry, Brittany S. Pierce, Lauren Zizes, Tina Cohen-Chang, Mike Chang, Sue Sylvester, Noah Puckerman, Will Schuester -- all have names that are appropriate for the year the character was born. Some, like Brittany and Rachel, were already starting to come down from their high points, while others, like Noah, were on their way up the charts.

Fictional names in television, cinema, and literature tell us more about someone's nature than "real life" names can. The writer has the freedom to choose names based on the traits a person has, unlike parents, who choose names that match the qualities they hope their children have. We expect the name to fit the character, so it's particularly important that, popular or not, it's believeable.

Can you think of any movies or television shows with unrealistically trendy names? We want to hear them!

-- K.L.

Comments

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August 14, 2011 10:36 PM
By Carah (not verified)

YES! Thank! You! This is just what the name obsessed person like me thinks about! These characters stealing really trending names from today! Disney also does it all the time! Teens named Harper? Ivy? Babies yes, teens no. This really bugs me.

August 14, 2011 11:11 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Finn and Quinn, but I can give the writers a break on Lucy and Emma. Without knowing very much about the parents of the characters, the writers could certainly explain why the names were given to a certain characters. Perhaps Emma's mother was a die hard Jane Austen fan. Maybe Quinn's parents gave her the middle name to honor someone. I know that there is little to know chance that they will ever explain this, or that they will really need to, but it's something else to think about. After all, it's just a TV show.

August 15, 2011 9:15 AM
By Sarah (not verified)

I agree with the Disney thing. Teens named Jackson, Lilly, and Oliver? Maybe, but there were a lot more babies being named that. I think I love tv shows with amazingly un-trendy names better though. Take Hey Arnold! from Nickelodeon in the 90s. These were fourth graders, 9 year olds, in the 90s and they had names like:

Arnold
Gerald
Helga
Phoebe
Rhonda
Harold
Sid
Sheena
Ruth
Lila
Nadine
Eugene
Patty

Not to mention Gerald's big brother Jaimie O. and little sister Timberly, and Helga'a big sister Olga. I always thought that show had some great names!

August 15, 2011 12:28 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I watch a Covert Affairs on USA network. There characters named Arthur and Joan who look to be in their late 30's. Their names seem inappropriately "old" for them. It bugs me.

August 15, 2011 12:36 PM
By mk (not verified)

I think it makes sense to have a few characters with unusual names for the time they were born. I think mmany know a few people who have unusual names for their birth year (I know a 20 year old Ivy, for example) so why wouldn't shows have that as well?

The only name that would be unbelievable to me on a show is a female named Madison born before the 80s, unless the show addrssed it directly.

August 15, 2011 12:40 PM
By Cassandra (not verified)

Names that come to my mind:

Jordan and Maximillian from the tv-show Crossing Jordan. Where these names popular in the 30/40's and 60/70's which is when I guess the characters were born?

True Jackson from the show True Jackson VP (Nickelodeon). True doesn't seem very likely for a girl born in the early 90's.

And last but not least, Private Practice with names such as Amelia,Sam,Naomi,Cooper,Charlotte,Addison,Dell,Sheldon,Violet and Pete. This sounds like a pre-school class in 2011!

August 15, 2011 2:30 PM
By Kelly (not verified)

Usually the only "anachronistic" character names that bother me are those that would be almost completely unrealistic, such as a 40-year-old Jayden or (like mk said) Madison. Names which were "known" but less popular at the applicable time like Lucy or Emma, Amelia or Oliver typically don't bother me (likewise with a contemporary character being named something more common in the past, like Arthur or Nancy). Now if most or all the characters had "wrong-era" names that might catch my attention, but one or two isn't a big issue; likewise characters in distant-future-set stories having mostly names tied to one particular past era.

August 16, 2011 12:01 PM
By ClaireP (not verified)

As someone with an Emma born in 1994 - we said back then, if you named your girl Emma, it meant that you were over 30 and over educated. I've never seen Glee, but if the mom in question would have met those two criteria when the character was born, Emma would have been a perfectly reasonable name for her.

August 16, 2011 12:47 PM
By Tiana (not verified)

YES! This kind of crap bugs the hell out of me!

@Anon - I watch Covert Affairs & I can tell you neither Arthur nor Joan are supposed to be in their late 30's! Arthur is at least in his early 50's & Joan I would put in her 40's, prob mid! I'd say that their names fit them appropriately. As for the rest of the cast: Annie I would put in her late 20's/early 30's, Auggie (August) in his 30's, & her sister Danielle in her mid-30's... with the exception of Auggie, I'd say Annie & Danielle are right on - though not a matching sibset IMO.

August 16, 2011 1:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I was born in 1978, and I knew a girl named Quinn who was only a few years younger than I. I also knew an Ivy a few years older. Oh, and I knew a Lucy who was about 8 years younger, which would make her born in 1984. So, not totally anachronistic.
And maybe Finn is a family name.

August 16, 2011 3:24 PM
By Shadelit (not verified)

Have to agree with mk. Some names are more inseparably products of their times, such as Madison, Kayleigh, Nevaeh. Names like Emma, Lucy, and Quinn--I can give a pass on those. I'm in my late thirties, and I went to school with three Emmas, two Ellas, a Lucy, a Finn (short for Finnegan) and a Quinn (whose name referenced her mother's surname). I also have several age compatriots with names mentioned in this thread as inappropriate for teen or adult characters: Violet, Amelia, Ivy, are a few of those mentioned that I can recall. Granted, I do live in an area where slightly unusual or old-fashioned names have been popular for a long time, but just because something was not in the top 1000 doesn't mean it went entirely unused, there is a starting slope to every bell curve, and Lucy and Emma have been in use for hundreds of years--albeit to a much lesser degree than now.

August 16, 2011 5:06 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I apologize about getting Arthur's and Joan's ages wrong. I guess I gave them the benefit of the doubt. :) Since Arthur peaked in the 1880s at the rank of 14 and Joan peaked in the 1930s at the rank of 7, (according to Namevoyager) they sounded "old" to me. Even more so now that I realize they are in my age group. (I am 49 and the only Arthur I knew growing up was parent of a friend, and I didn't know any Joans) However, I see that in the 1950s Arthur was ranked 55 and in the 1960s Joan was ranked 110, so I guess they are not out of the realm of possibility. I agree with you about Annie and Danielle not matching as a sibset. (I also don't like the diminutive Annie, but would prefer Ann or Anne, but that's just my taste). Auggie is probably not correctly named, but I love the character, so I cut him a break!

August 16, 2011 5:14 PM
By With an E (not verified)

I'm 48--no Arthurs or Joans in my classes, ever.

August 16, 2011 5:18 PM
By With an E (not verified)

I'm 48--no Arthurs or Joans in my classes, ever.

August 16, 2011 5:50 PM
By Lisa (not verified)

For what it’s worth I was born in 1991 and grew up with two girls named Lucy. One was Lucia (loo-see-uh) nicknamed Lucy, the other was just Lucy. Both came from affluent, more conservative families which is the type of family Quinn is from on Glee. Granted, I’m from an urban area, but still.

I also tend to give TV writers a break when considering character names. More often than not they're goal is not realism, but marketing. A character named Quinn seems hip and edgy, will turn heads (and ears) and cause a name to jump 234 spots in one year. Now that's some good PR. I think most, if not all, commercial TV shows are guilty of this (as are many movies, particularly those geared toward kids). But then again, I can't really name many TV shows that accurately represent the world, so, in theory, why should the names of the characters?

Not saying it's right or good, just throwing it out there.

August 16, 2011 8:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I was born in 1982, and there were at least three other Emmas in my grade (including myself) I don't think Emma is too much of a strech, but I am from Australia and maybe it was more popular here back then.

August 16, 2011 11:03 PM
By Cabo (not verified)

Quinn Cummings was a popular child actress in the 70's (Family, The Goodbye Girl) so the name doesn't seem particularly wrong for a teenager to me. If I'd had a girl in the early nineties I would have considered Quinn without a doubt. Quinton was sort of popular for boys around then too as I remember.

August 19, 2011 7:12 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm thirty, and there was a girl named Quinn in my preschool gymnastics class.

Romance novels do this a lot too, especially giving heroines trendy surnames as first names. My (very) naive impression is that it's even more common in romance novels (and maybe soap operas?) than in TV or movies. I honestly wouldn't mind if it were occasional, because I know plenty of people my age or older with unusual names, but when at least half the leads have names like this, it bugs me.

August 23, 2011 5:04 PM
By Stephanie (not verified)

Disney shows are the worst when it comes to non-generational character names. I have never seen Glee, nor do I want to. The very thought makes me irritated. But those character names do not seem too bad when you consider the names on Disney shows. On Good Luck Charlie the main character's name is Teddy and her best friend is Ivy. Her little sister is Charlie which is supposed to be short for Charlotte, so that is a little more believable, I guess. Wizards of Waverly place has Harper as Alex Russo's best friend. Her boyfriend is Zeke. The main siblings are pretty realistic though- Alex, Max and Justin could be from any recent generation, pretty much. Hannah Montana's brother's name was Jackson and her friends were Oliver and Lily. Shake It Up features characters named CeCe, Rocky, Deuce and Ty. ANT Farm has characters named China, Olive, Fletcher, Lexi and Cameron. China, Olive and Fletcher are supposed to be 12 or something but those names are more common on kindergarten. It doesn't stop me from enjoying the shows with my girls, but it is interesting as a name guru to think about.

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