Character names that become distracting in reruns

Watching old reruns on TV today, and there was a Matlock episode with a character named Drew Carrey. Immediately afterwards right now there is a Six Million Dollar Man episode with a character named Barney Miller. And one of the Troll movies has a character Harry Potter.

Not quite distracting as completely changing the joke, but there’s an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine is dating a man with a same name as a serial killer. It keeps becoming an issue so they try to brainstorm a name change for him. At one point she recommends “O.J.” The episode came out 6 months before OJ Simpson was arrested.

I always wondered if “Cardassians” in Star Trek was some kind of Hollywood in-joke.

Yes, me too!

Not a TV show, but the character of Mrs. Peniston is distracting to read in the novel The House of Mirth.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, the cop and the cab driver are named Bert and Ernie. You don’t really think about it until they show up to George’s “Honeymoon,” and George says “Bert! Ernie!” and the whole theater laughs.

But then upon subsequent viewings of the film, it’s distracting.

I sometimes find Chandler’s name on Friends distracting, because it wasn’t a name until the show came out, then not only did a lot of people apparently borrow the name from the show, but in the 2000s, there was a fad for medieval occupations as names: suddenly all the little boys were Fletcher, Hunter, Thatcher, Connor, Chandler, Baylor, Bishop, Mason, Reeve, or Tanner.

Anyway, it’s hard to think of someone my age as being named Chandler. I realize the first little Chandlers are finishing high school now, but I still think of it as a little kid name.

While not extremely popular (and it definitely got a big boost in the 1990s), it looks like “Chandler” has been in the top 1000 boys names in the US since 1969, according to Social Security Administration babynames site (it’s fun searching names sometimes to see how their popularity rose and/or fell).

Well it bothered the 6MDM folk, too, because when his character made a return, they changed his name to Barney Hiller to avoid reference to the cop comedy.

How could it have been?

As is the character in Bleak House named Michael Jackson.

Forget Barney Miller… The fact that the main character is named Steve Austin is a stone cold distraction.

When the movie The World According To Garp came out in 1982, a character played by John Lithgow was named Robert Muldoon, a transsexual (as was) who went by Roberta. At the time, the Prime Minister of New Zealand (where I lived) was named Robert Muldoon.

I’m no expert on the Kardashians but isn’t the patriarch of the whole clan a high-powered Hollywood lawyer? (He was on OJ’s defense team, right?) I’m sure he was well-known at the time of ST:TNG and DS9, even if the rest of the family had not yet achieved notoriety.

And even if it wasn’t intentional, it’s certainly distracting now.

There was an episode of the 1950s Western series Trackdown where a con man named Trump tries to swindle a town into building a giant wall. (Source)

A popular childrens’ book from the middle of the 20th Century (James Garfield’s “Follow My Leader”) has a main character named Jimmy Carter

It didn’t get mentioned very often, but the Professor’s name on Gilligan’s Island was Roy Hinkley. The Greatest American Hero debuted in 1981 and the studio named the lead character Ralph Hinkley as an homage.

Both of these became problematic when John Hinckley shot President Reagan. Gilligan’s Island was off the air except for syndicated reruns and they rarely used the character’s name anyway. But The Greatest American Hero was in the middle of its first season. They waffled over the name situation, briefly changing the character’s name to Hanley before changing it back, dubbing over some dialogue, and having the other characters begin calling the character Mr. H.

This one is funny - Julian May’s book “Intervention” was written in the 1980s. Part of it takes place in New Hampshire’s “Presidential Range” - mountains named after US Presidents. In the section where one character notes that people still call one of the mountains by its old name even though it was renamed Pierce (in honor of Franklin Pierce), a 21st century rereader will be startled - because the old name of the mountain was Clinton.

The 1985 TV biopic “John and Yoko: A Love Story” was slated to star an actor going by the name Mark Lindsay, until Yoko nixed the choice upon finding out that Lindsay’s real name was Mark Lindsay Chapman (Lennon’s murderer was named Mark David Chapman).

IIRC the actor had changed his professional name because there was another actor in the guild/union with the same name, not because of the association with Lennon’s murder.

Filthy minds aside, when characters are given bizarre names it destroys credibility for me, to the point that I will avoid buying a mystery novel where the hero is named “Napoleon Stryke” or “Dogsbody Fistula”.

Authors can get around this problem by not naming their lead character at all, as in the case of Bill Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective”. Or you can follow the example of Harlan Coben, who offers to name characters in his novels after real-life people, if those people donate a big chunk of $$$ to a charity of his choosing.

I know. I keep confusing him with the author of the book; Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Single Malt Whiskies of Scotland.