I couldn’t really think of a better way to phrase the title, but I’m talking about when a character’s name reflects their personality or some other component of the story. It can be in literature, tv, or whatever and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fact that the creator intentionally chose that name; it could just be the association that you made up.
An example is the lead characters from the tv show Will and Grace.
Will Truman - True Man. The character is a genuinely good guy and always manages to redeem himself on the few occasions he acts like a jerk.
Grace Adler. She’s somewhat addled and also causes others to be addled.
Another example is from the movie The Ring. The family name of the ghostie girl is Morgan, which makes me think of morgue and, obviously, death.
My first example I’m pretty sure is intentional on the writers’ part; the second probably not. I notice this kind of thing all the time and yet I can’t seem to recall any others at the moment.
Peggy Lipton’s character on Twin Peaks was named Norma, and I’m pretty sure it was deliberate, because she was the only character without some kind of quirk, sub-clinical mental illness, anger issue, and not harboring weird beliefs-- in other words, the only normal person in the town.
In the first adaptation of Harris’ novel Red Dragon his name is given as Hannibal Lektor. Not only is it spelled differently, but there’s no suggestion that he’s a Cannibal – they started calling his “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the second film to use the character, Silence of the Lambs. It’s been a while, but IIRC, Lecter isn’t described as a Cannibal in Harris’ original novel, either. Just a psychopath.
So the name isn’t obvious appropriate, unless you think he resembles a Carthaginian general.
Of course, “Hannibal the Cannibal” was too good to pass up, once you thought of it. When they remade the film Red Dragon, Lecter was definitely a cannibal.
When I first saw the Star Trek (original series) episode All our Yesterdays I thought that “Mr. Atoz” was just a weirdly alien name to give to the Librarian. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was “Mr. A to Z”. Duh.
(It was while looking over something about Analog to Digital converters, where they were referred to as “AtoDs” that revelation struck.)
On MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, the sleight-of-hand expert was named Hand, and the record-breaking weightlifter with strong arms was named Armitage. And when they added a doctor as the team’s pumping-people-full-of-drugs specialist, his initials were of course DR, because, well, they’re not really characters so much as set-of-skills placeholders.
When I saw Jupiter Asc ending you couldn’t help but notice that the animal people have names that suggest their animal derivation. Thus Channing Tatum’s Dog-Man in Ca[n]ine Wise and Sean Bean’s Bee-Man is Stinger Apini, Og help us. (“Apis” is latin for “bees”).
When I saw the Elephant-headed guy, I said “His name’s gonna be Ganesh.” And damned if they didn’t address him as “Nesh”. Close enough.
This follows in the grand tradition of somehow indicating the animal ancestry of animal people. Cordwainer Smith did it with an initial letter indicating the animal followed by an apostrophe. Marvel comics used obvious designations for the High Evolutionary’s creations (“Sir Ramm”)
I don’t recall if Jack Kirby’s “Kamadi” used the same trope – I think it did. But H.G. wells, who arguably started all this with his novel the Island of Dr. Moreau, avoided this idea (or didn’t think of it), and the various filmed versions didn’t use it.
In the TV show The Avengers, when they were casting a new partner for John Steed, they were trying to find a character with “Male Appeal.” Someone wrote on the blackboard, “M. Appeal.” So they chose “Emma Peel” as the name of the character. Clearly, they chose well.
Dickens went out of his way to make up names that had the right sound, and often weren’t actual names of people. Ebenezer Scrooge being a great example. “Ebenezer” was a nice Biblical name, but I don’t think “Scrooge” was a real surname before Dickens thought it up. But it perfectly describes the character, suggesting “scrounge” and “Squeeze” and other similar associations.
“Uriah Heep” has already been mentioned. My high school English Lit. teacher loved the way it conveyed the soul of the character “your 'umble servant”. Right.
“M’Choakumchild” is about as extreme an example as Dickens ever came up with. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer, and no one could ever imagine it as a real surname.
I almost gave up when Dickens came up with “Peerybingle” as the surname for his main characters for “Cricket on the Hearth”, his follow-up Christmas book after “A Christmas Carol”. It’s just so unbearably cute. You could see some plush stuffed bear being named “Mr. Peerybingle”, but not a human character in literature.
Wait, what? Thomas Harris refers to Lecter as “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the very first chapter of Red Dragon in the first couple pages. It’s literally one of the very first things you read in the book.
Actually, Ebenezer is the perfect first name for Scrooge. “Eben” (or Evan) means “stone,” and “ezer” means “help,” so it actually describes his transformation-- the stone that helps. In the bible, it’s a place name, not a person’s name, and I’m sure Dickens knew what it meant.
If Dickens knew the meanings of Hebrew names, it does seem strange that Uriah Heep would have a first name that means “light of G-d,” but perhaps Dickens chose the name from the character in the bible. Uriah the Hittite is one of the unluckiest, most trodden-on people in the bible, and that certainly is how Uriah Heep sees himself, whether it’s true or not.
Did he revise the book after Silence of the Lambs? Because I saw the first film, then read Harris’ book, and I don’t recall any suggestion that he was a Cannibal until I saw Silence. (There definitely was no suggestion of it in Manhunter)But I might be wrong.
In Death of a Salesman, the name “Willy Loman” is almost certainly intended to remind us that the character is short (in the original script, Willy is called “a shrimp,” but the phrase is regularly changed when Willy is played by a big, burly actor like Brian Dennehy or Lee J. Cobb), and to make us think of the old saying “Low man on the totem pole.”