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

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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

NBC

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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May 30, 2014 - 1:00pm
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