Analysis: The Most Popular Character Names in Movies


Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet plays Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic, from Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.

Anyone who's ever written fiction will know the challenge of finding a good name for a character. Many articles have been written and hours spent on the subject over the years, and the challenge always remains: how to come up with a name that captures the character without distracting the audience with something too unusual.

I thought it might be interesting to look at our database, which contains over 80,000 acting credits, to see what the most common character names are. The results show not only some of the most common first names, but also the bit parts that show up again and again and again. They also reveal that movie writers generally stick to the rule of never having a character's name end with the letter S -- there's only a single instance in the top 100.

See below the fold for the list...


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A few things stand out immediately. First, there's an obvious gender bias: three times as many "Himself"s as "Herself"s, and a preponderance of male names at the top of the list. Jack is a handy winner, although Sam doesn't do badly at all, partly because it's both a male and female name. As you get down the list a bit, you start to find occupations popping up as well as names. "Doctor" is the first, followed by "Bartender" and "Security Guard". I'm not sure if "Mother" counts as an occupation, but it's not far behind (and has an equal number of credits to "Dancer").

One thing I thought would be interesting is to see the domestic vs. international split of box office for each character name. Presumably typical American names will have more domestic box office, proportionately, than names that are rare in US. By this measure, "Larry" is the most American name with (thanks to an anomaly in the database) a total of 102% of box office credited domestically. "Laura" is the least US-centric name, with domestic box office accounting for only 42% of the total.

Here are various top tens pulled from the list (some of these names are outside the top 100 above):

Male names: Jack, Sam*, Paul, John, Frank, Charlie*, David, Michael, Tom, Joe, Mark, Alex*, Nick. (Names marked with a * are also sometimes female names, at least in my experience.)

Female names: Sarah, Mary, Lucy, Claire, Alice, Maggie, Rachel, Lisa, Kate, Anna.

Occupations: Doctor, Bartender, Security Guard, Mother, Dancer, Priest, Reporter, Nurse, Waiter, Detective. ("Death Eater" is in the top 20, by the way.)

Others: Himself, Herself, Narrator, Additional Voice, Additional Voices, Various Roles, Additional Muppet Performer, Archive Footage, M, James Bond. (M beats Bond by a single movie... quiz question: name that movie!)

Update:

Most "American": Larry, Jenny, Brian, Marie, Danny, Bill, Nick, Charlie, Mother, Matt

Most "International": Laura, Additional Voices, Molly, Eddie, Rose, Marty, Katie, Alice, Anna, Additional Voice, Emily, Jane, Sam, Linda, Lucy

Bruce Nash bruce.nash@the-numbers.com


Date posted: 2012-12-06