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Trillian's avatar

Do different names lend themselves to different character traits?

Asked by Trillian (21062 points ) May 19th, 2012

I just finished watching a silly Steven Segal movie (reduncancy alert!) The main bad guy was Screw Face, which, to me anyway, doesn’t really inspire terror. Then in the credits, I saw his real life name is Basil. Really? Basil? I can’t even see it in print without hearing Prunella Scales spitting it.
I got to thinking, the hero of The Princess Bride explained that it was the name that inspired fear; “No one would surrender to the dread pirate Westley”.
So, is it true? Can you seriously be intimidated by a bad guy if he has a nerdy name like Bernard?
Or how about physical anomalies? Years ago my boyfriend was yelling at me about something, and when he paused for breath I told him that I couldn’t take him seriously when he had spit in the corners of his mouth. He was completely derailed.
Is it just me, desperately looking for physical or other reasons to dismiss male intimidation? Or is there some validity to the name/appearance thing? What if the cowboy stalked up to the bar but instead of thudding menacingly in his boots, he scufffed up wearing raggedy old slippers? Intimidation factor goes way down right?
What do you think? Am I on to something here?

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21 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

There are many people who live in fear of a mere sneer by me. It completely unhinges them. They talk about it at dinner parties for hours.

This is not intentional on my part, but there it is. It seems I cannot help the gesture. I don’t think it would matter if I was wearing bunny slippers or if my name was Snively. I have a rep. I scare people I am certain you would be scared, too, if you had to cook for me.

I would be ever so nice. I would tell you it doesn’t matter how you do. I’m not judging you. I would praise you effusively, but my lip would betray me, and all my good intentions would send me to hell, and you would be reduced to tears in your bathroom, wondering why you ever had such a stupid idea as to have me over for dinner.

Yeah. Fearsome Wundy! No. It’s not the name. Not the name at all.

rebbel's avatar

For a reason I would be more frightened to face a fight with John than I would be of Gaylord.

ratboy's avatar

Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone intimidated a couple of folks despite his sissy moniker.

Coloma's avatar

Well..the guy that runs my local feed store is named “Floyd” ya gotta admit, classic hillbilly name. But Floyd is really nice and he still has teeth, and boy can he tote that sack o’
grain and lift that bale of hay. haha

zenvelo's avatar

@ratboy That’s why he went by “Al”.

There are some names that seem to impose themselves over the personality, ones that can’t be changed into anything more imposing. Like Todd or Scott. And some women’s names have a similar issue- when was the last time anyone thought Bertha was hot?

Coloma's avatar

@zenvelo Haha….yes, Bertha don’t you come around here any more…..Grateful Dead “Bertha”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Any exaggerated performances of masculinity are impossible for me to take seriously, name or no name.

gailcalled's avatar

I had uncles named Elmer, Lyman, Arthur and Milton. I wished I had asked my grandmother how she came up with those.

Coloma's avatar

@gailcalled Maybe it should just be one long name, Elmer Arthur Lyman Milton. I like that!
My dads name was Ralph Arthur…Ralph is pretty well..Ralphie. haha

Trillian's avatar

I was referring to threatening behaviour, which can be exhibited by men or women. And names. Those of us old enough to remember Prisoner, cell block H, can remember Bea. If you pissed her off, she would “thump ya”. But would she have been able to have that rep of badassery if she had been known by her (most likely) fill name; Beatrice? Hmmmm.

bkcunningham's avatar

My family and friends call me Bea. You gotta a problem with that name?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The name Wolfgang has always struck me as someone who is destined to become talented and often renown for whatever field they choose.

Trillian's avatar

Um..n-n-n- no Bea. Here, let me light that cigarette for you,

filmfann's avatar

I have often thought that my love of whimsy was due to my nickname of Archie.

Trillian's avatar

^^ Shouldn’t you have a love of Betty and Veronica?

filmfann's avatar

I did once date a Veronica. When we were introduced, she met me as Jack (my real name).
After the date did not go well, I did mention it, and we didn’t date again.

augustlan's avatar

Hey, my adult step-son is named Bernard (after his grandfather). He goes by Bernie. Sounds nerdy and old-fashioned, right? But he’s a very cool dude, and I’ve seen that boy fight. He takes shit from no one. So, I guess it depends on both the name and the person carrying it. He and his fiance are having a baby boy in June, and he wants to pass the name on to his son, making the baby Bernard the 3rd. Clearly, he’s ok with the name. ;)

But I do get what you’re saying… my very first boyfriend was nicknamed “Junior”, rather than using his real name, which was Arnold the 2nd. When we got to high school (we’d long since parted ways), he tried to get people to start calling him “JR” (Jay Arr) because he thought he’d be taken more seriously as a JR than a Junior. Sadly for him, Junior stuck. I’m sure he’s still called that, well into his mid-forties.

ucme's avatar

It’s true, if Jack Nicholson peered through that shattered bathroom door in The Shining & said, “Here’s Nigel!” That’s not going to send anyone into hysterics, well maybe with laughing so much.

Trillian's avatar

@augustlan right and that’s another thing, people age. A name that fit on a child does not always translate to an older persons name. And vice versa. Zach seems like a name for a toddler, or an early 20’s guy. Henry is a good old man’s name, but a little one? I personally don’t see it. Or Jeremy. What is an old man doing with a name like Jeremy? And how long has it been since Kid Rock was really too old to call himself “Kid” anything?

ucme's avatar

Here in england town, old people have names like Fred, Stan, Ethel & Betty.
Future generations will have to get used to the likes of Chelsea, Tiffany, Tyson & Brody.
Can’t wait!

Kardamom's avatar

Severus Snape instilled fear in those Harry Potter kids. If he had been saddled by his childhood nickname of Snivelous, he would not have been as successfully authoritative.

And of course, Harry Potter sounds so sweet and likeable and wholesome. If his name had been Rex Savitch, we might not have sympathized with him.

And if Hermione had been called Britney, would we have thought of her as as intelligent as she was?

On the other hand, Dumbledore didn’t really seem to fit. Bravedore would have been more apt.

And speaking of brave, would we have still rooted for Mel Gibson if his nickname had not been Braveheart, but instead, Sighcojewhaderantingeffup? Although he did look cute in that kilt, but I think This Outfit would be more fitting.

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