Movie Character Names: They had monikers then

I’ve always been intrigued with the names of the characters played by movie stars, especially the iconic figures of the Golden Age—the interplay between actor and character name, and the roles those names played in establishing and perpetuating their screen personas.

It certainly comes as no surprise that John Wayne played numerous heroes named John and Jim or that Cary Grant portrayed three Nicks or how many good girl Pollys and Pennys there were, played by the likes of the young Shirley Temple and Judy Garland.  But there were a lot of interesting aberrations– for example, though to most of us Clark Gable will always be Rhett Butler, he was also Ace, Blackie (twice), Candy, Duke and Patch; Humphrey Bogart may live on eternally in video heaven as Rick, but he also answered to Baby Face, Bugs, Turkey, Duke, Gloves, Chips and Rocks, Joan Crawford was Bingo as well as Mildred Pierce, and Bette Davis was Fluff Phillips as well as Margo Channing.

Looking over some vintage cast credits, one thing that jumps out is the number of current trends that were anticipated in the movies of the 1930s, forties and fifties.  For example:


In addition to those mentioned above, there were:

ACECary Grant

AGGIE —  Linda Darnell

ALLIEJoan Crawford

ARCHIEClark Gable

BUCKJack Benny

BUNNYBette Davis,  Katharine Hepburn and Lana Turner

BUSTERLoretta Young

CHIPFrank Sinatra

DUSKY – Marilyn Monroe

DUSTYJohn Wayne, Gary Cooper

DUTCH –Spencer Tracy, James Stewart

EMMY —  Olivia de Havilland, Alice Faye

FRANKIEAnn Sheridan

FREDDIE —  Betty Grable

GEORGIE —  Grace Kelly

HUCK —  Fred Astaire

JERRY —  Alice Faye

JOSIE —  Marlene Dietrich

KATIE —  Alice Faye

KITLana Turner

KITTYAva Gardner, Paulette Goddard, Ginger Rogers

FLIPGinger Rogers

JIGGS – Kirk Douglas

LETTIE —  Loretta Young

LANK – Henry Fonda

LINKGary Cooper

LUCKYFred Astaire, Dorothy Lamour

LUTIEKatharine Hepburn

MIDGEKirk Douglas

RANDY —  Ann Sheridan

RIPJames Stewart

ROXIEGinger Rogers

RUSTY —  Rita Hayworth

SAIRY—Judy Garland

SCOTTIE —  James Stewart

SMOKEY – Olivia de Havilland

VINSteve McQueen

VIRGIE —  Shirley Temple

WINNIE —  Betty Hutton


Just in case you thought this was a new thing, it was also a rampant trend in Hollywood’s heyday, with such examples (in addition to those above) as:

BILLJean Arthur

CALAnne Baxter

CARY —  Jane Wyman

CECILLinda Darnell

CHRISTOPHERKatharine Hepburn

DENNYJane Wyman

HANKAnn Sheridan

JOHNNYGinger Rogers

LLOYDShirley Temple

MIKEJane Russell, Margaret O’Brien

PETERIda Lupino


REGGIEAudrey Hepburn

REMYAva Gardner

ROYOlivia de Havilland

STANLEYBette Davis

TEDDYVeronica Lake

THEOLana Turner

VANCEBarbara Stanwyck

WALLYJanet Leigh


In just about every World War II movie, it seemed that every ship and every squadron had at least one guy called Brooklyn, and a couple of Dakotas and Detroits.  Of course these were nicknames based on place of origin, but still—Golden Age films were filled with place-name characters, including:

ALABAM  —  Carole Lombard

ALABAMA —  Bette Davis, Jane Wyman

ALBANY —  Dorothy Lamour

ALGERIA  —   Linda Darnell

CHINA —  Jennifer Jones

DAKOTA —  Rory Calhoun

DALLAS —  Bette Davis

KANSAS  —  Dan Dailey

NEVADA —  Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd, Steve McQueen

PHILADELPHIA —  Shirley Temple

PITTSBURGH  —  John Wayne

RENO —  Robert Ryan

RIO —  Jane Russell

SIERRA NEVADA —  Barbara Stanwyck

TEXAS —  Gary Cooper

TULSA —  Elvis Presley

VIENNAJoan Crawford

One thing that has changed is the perception of some specific names.  In the olde days, when W. C. Fields and Groucho Marx were looking for character names sure to produce a guffaw, they would come up with choices like Otis, Rufus, Quincy, Quentin, Augustus and Ambrose—names that now sound like handsome and perfectly acceptable names for babies.

Tomorrow look for some unusual monikers from vintage films that could make interesting choices today.

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