We don’t particularly think of Woody Allen as a cutting-edge filmmaker, but there is one area in which he has been—if unwittingly—prescient, and that is in giving some of his characters names that would later become trendy choices for babies. (Though there are no babies in his films—children hardly exist in Woody’s World.)
For those characters he created for himself, he chose, with a few exceptions, pretty ordinary, sometimes nicknamey names—Alvy, Sandy, Mickey, Lenny, Larry, Jerry, Sid, Gabe, Sheldon, Isaac. But for others, he did come up with some inspired choices:
Alfie—You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, 2010 (Anthony Hopkins). A fittingly British choice for a British character—but it’s doubtful if Woody knew that Alfie was the fourth most popular name for UK baby boys born in 2010.
Emmett—Sweet and Lowdown, 1999 (Sean Penn). Emmett is one of the rapidly climbing E-boys’ names; in this film it’s used for a quirky 1930’s jazz guitarist who rates himself second only to Django Reinhardt.
Fielding—Bananas, 1971 (Woody Allen). Fielding Mellish is one of the more unusual names Woody (born Allen) used for himself in one of his earliest films, playing a (what else?) bumbling neurotic who gets swept up in a surreal adventure.
Holden—Everyone Says I Love You, 1996 (Edward Norton). An instance when the writer-director was right on trend: In 1996, Holden had begun its rise up the ladder towards it’spresent rank of Number 299.
Judah—Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989 (Martin Landau). In this weighty, non-comedic film an Old Testament name was given to a guilt-ridden character who returns to the religious teachings he had rejected.
Luna—Sleeper, 1973 (Diane Keaton). He was a real predictor on this one— used decades before Luna Lovegood debuted in Harry Potter and started the name’s climb. The perfect choice for a futuristic socialite-poet.
Maxwell—A MidsummerNight’s Sex Comedy, 1982 (Tony Roberts). In 1982 no one would have foreseen Maxwell as a hot boy baby name—and even less that it would have been used for a girl, as it was by Jessica Simpson.
Miles—Sleeper, 1973 (Woody Allen)—An unusually sleek and smooth name given to his rumpled self. Both Miles and cousin Milo are definitely on the upswing; Miles is now 430 places higher than when this film was made forty years ago.
Nola—Match Point (Scarlett Johansson), 2005 and Celebrity, 1998 (Winona Ryder). Another name used for two different characters—and previously by Spike Lee as the heroine of the 1986 She’s Gotta Have It.
Olive—Bullets over Broadway, 1994 (Jennifer Tilly). In 1994, Olive had been off the Top 1000 since 1950; now, with the popularity of Olivia and its use by two major celebs, it’s well into the Top 500.
Zelig—Zelig, 1983 (Woody Allen). Yes, Zelig is the title character’s last name—Leonard being his first—but this distinctive name, a version of the German and Yiddish Selig, will be forever identified with him.
So how did Woody do in the character naming department? Which ones do you like?