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The Surprising Origins of TV Character Names

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What's in a name? More than you'd think, especially when it comes to TV's most beloved characters. Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, and here are some examples of how deep show creators had to dig.

1. Springfield's Citizens Are From Portland

When Matt Groening was designing characters for The Simpsons, he drew inspiration from his own childhood. Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, and Kearney are all named after streets in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.

2. The Simpsons Have Real Familial Roots

Matt Groening didn't stop at street names when it came to using his upbringing as inspiration. The Simpson family themselves are named after Groening’s own family: His father Homer, his mom Marge, and his sisters Maggie and Lisa. Bart, meant to represent Groening, is an anagram of “Brat.”

3. Homer's Middle Name

The "J" in Homer J. Simpson comes from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Rocky and Bullwinkle share the middle initial “J" in honor of Jay Ward, the show's producer.

4. Phillip Fry Wasn't Originally Phillip

Phillip J. Fry of Futurama is named for actor Phil Hartman, who was cast for the role Zapp Brannigan before his death in 1998. Fry was originally going to be named "Curtis," but the switch was made to honor Hartman.

5. Bender's Brat Pack Past

20th Century Fox / Universal Pictures

The name for Futurama's Bender was chosen by Matt Groening as an homage to The Breakfast Club’s resident “criminal” John Bender. (In fact, The Breakfast Club's John Bender told the high school principal, "Eat my shorts," an eventual catchphrase for Groening creation Bart Simpson.)

5. A Futurama Name From the Past

Also from Futurama, Doctor Zoidberg is named after an Apple II game that series co-developer David X. Cohen created in high school called "Zoid."

6. Big Bang Tips Its Hat to a Sitcom Legend

Sheldon and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory are named after The Dick Van Dyke Show producer Sheldon Leonard.

7. 30 Rock's Citrus Star


The name Liz Lemon was chosen to encapsulate the personality of Tina Fey’s character: bright and sour. Lemon's middle name, Miervaldis, is from a friend of Fey's who is of Latvian descent.

8. Kramer Was Always a Neighbor

Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer is named after Larry David’s former neighbor Kenny Kramer. When Kenny found out they were using his name, he contacted Castle Rock Entertainment with a list of demands including the chance to play Kramer on the show (a scenario that was recreated on Seinfeld itself). He also conducted the "Seinfeld Reality Tour," a sightseeing bus tour that made its way to the sitcom as well.

9. The Truth is Out There

The X-Files’ Fox Mulder is not named after the Fox Network, but rather after a childhood friend of series creator Chris Carter whose name was Fox. When choosing a name for Mulder’s partner, Carter chose Scully in honor of his favorite sportscaster, Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

10. Inspiration From the Diamond

M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine also drew on the Dodgers for inspiration when naming patients for the army hospital. According to Levine, “The seventh season we just used the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers roster. When you watch those shows you’ll find private Garvey, Cey, Russell, Sutton, Rau, Rhoden, etc. By the end of the season we were down to coaches, announcers (Scully), and even the owner, O’Malley.”

BONUS: A Common High School

What do Freaks and Geeks, The Wonder Years, and Glee all have in common? William McKinley High School. According to an interview with The Huffington Post, Freaks and Geeks producer Judd Apatow said the name was chosen, “because it was the only president's name which was legally clearable… We didn't realize it was used on The Wonder Years. I assume they used it for the same reason."

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated.

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The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Star Trek theme song is familiar to pretty much anyone who lived in the free world (and probably elsewhere, too) in the late 20th century. The tune is played during the show's opening credits; a slightly longer version is played, accompanied by stills from various episodes, during the closing credits. The opening song is preceded by William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) doing his now-legendary monologue recitation, which begins: "Space, the final frontier ..."

The show's familiar melody was written by respected film and TV composer Alexander Courage, who said the Star Trek theme's main inspiration was the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon." In Courage's contract it was stipulated that, as the composer, he would receive royalties every time the show was aired and the theme song played. If, somehow, Star Trek made it into syndication—which, of course, it ultimately did—Courage stood to make a lot of money. And so did the person who wrote the lyrics.


Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, wrote lyrics to the theme song.

"Beyond the rim of the star-light,
my love is wand'ring in star-flight!"

Why would Roddenberry even bother?

The lyrics were never even meant to be heard on the show, but not because the network (NBC) nixed them. Roddenberry nixed them himself. Roddenberry wanted a piece of the composing profits, so he wrote the hokey lyrics solely to receive a "co-writer" credit.

"I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches."

As one of the composers, Roddenberry received 50 percent of the royalties ... cutting Alexander Courage's share in half. Not surprisingly, Courage was furious about the deal. Though it was legal, he admitted, it was unethical because Roddenberry had contributed nothing to why the music was successful.

Roddenberry was unapologetic. According to Snopes, he once declared, "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not gonna get it out of the profits of Star Trek."

In 1969, after Star Trek officially got the ax, no one (Courage and Roddenberry included) could possibly have imagined the show's great popularity and staying power.

Courage, who only worked on two shows in Star Trek's opening season because he was busy working on the 1967 Dr. Doolittle movie, vowed he would never return to Star Trek.

He never did.


If you're looking for an offbeat karaoke number, here are Roddenberry's lyrics, as provided by Snopes:

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.


In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.


Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”


The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.


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