Isn't it crazy how hard it is to remember someone's name? You meet a person, they introduce themselves and minutes later, you've got nothing. How do filmmakers expect you to remember dozens of characters after only spending a couple of hours with them? Does it even matter? Who cares what a character is called as long as what he or she is up to is interesting?
Recently, a friend suggested that names are losing their meaning. Think about it; pick two or three of your favorite films from last year and there's likely a key character whose name you just can't recall. Come to think of it, I can't even remember the name of a primary character in a film I caught just a week ago. But does that affect your opinion of the film? Do you enjoy it any less even if the name doesn't stick? There are so many different ways to consider the issue, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint an exact answer to the title of this article.
To start, let's talk generic names. You'd think it'd be a smart option considering they're mainstream and perhaps easier to remember, but in the cast of 'The Kids Are All Right,' that's not quite true. What are the names of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's characters? Jules is the one that comes to my mind; not Nic. And what about the kids? How could anyone forget a name like Laser, especially compared to Joni? Perhaps this is just me, but in this case, it's the more unique of the bunch that's easiest to recall.
On the other hand, resilience of a name is also often due to character development. Taking another Oscar potential, not only is the name Nina memorable, but her last name, too, Sayers. And that's without any help from the 'Black Swan' IMDb page. It's just like in real life; the more you get to know a person, the more you remember their information. The same is true for film. A properly delivered multi-dimensional character is hard to forget whereas a cookie-cutter leading man in a romantic comedy is nothing special. What's Ashton Kutcher's character's name in 'Valentine's Day?' What about in 'What Happens in Vegas' or 'Killers?' Kutcher isn't the only guilty party; this list can go on and on with a number of actors and in any genre.
So, unique names and memorable characters seem to do the trick, but where are these names even coming from? It's quite nice to hear a filmmaker's name game doesn't just consist of drawing options out of a hat, but sometimes, deliberate choices can feel, well, a bit unnatural. Take 'Inception;' not only does that film have a rather lengthy cast, but each character's name seems to have a purpose.
Just to name a few, Mal means "bad" in French, Ariadne is the name of the daughter of King Minos of Crete who helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur, and Eames is the last name of a famous architect couple, Charles and Ray Eames. These connections arose from Internet speculation, but the parallels are too strong to be a mere coincidence. So, what's the result of this additional thought as compared to haphazard branding? In the case of 'Inception,' it's really tough to tell because the characters themselves are so well designed. Ariadne certainly doesn't suit a young college girl and feels a bit awkward to say, but you eventually get used to it because she's a great character.
In the end, a good name is really just an added bonus. All roads lead to character development. If you show an audience a dull, two-dimensional person, there's no reason to remember them. You can get as creative as you want with your titles, but it should not and could not ever be the name that makes the character, rather the reverse. Hannibal Lecter, Vito Corleone, Norman Bates, Ferris Bueller, Ellen Ripley, Juno MacGuff, Jason Bourne; they roll off the tongue not because they're common, not because they're unique, not because they have some deep meaning, but because they're worn by some fantastically intriguing people.