The Original Names of Famous Film Characters


Our friends at Mental Floss published an article yesterday revealing a list of literary characters that almost had entirely different names. We agree that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bladorthin the Grey wouldn’t have rolled off the tongue as nicely as Gandalf the Grey does and felt relieved that J.K. Rowling, Raymond Chandler, and other writing giants had the good sense to wise up.

The list left us wondering about the original names of film characters. The best fictional heroes and villains aren’t remembered solely for their names, but a creative and original moniker can make an otherwise forgettable figure truly stand out. It’s also a great way to shed an interesting light on a character’s backstory. Click through to find out what disastrous, cinematic names directors and screenwriters evaded throughout film history. If you know of a particular lemon we didn’t cover, drop it in the comments below.

Luke Skywalker

George Lucas culled the name of his space hero in Star Wars from a variety of sources — including his own name — but in the early drafts of the 1977 movie, Luke was originally a girl named Starkiller. Later, Lucas swapped genders and used Starkiller as Luke’s surname, but execs at 20th Century Fox weren’t fond of it. The director also toyed with making Luke a 65-year-old General rather than an inexperienced Jedi, which probably would have warranted another name change from the filmmaker.

Buzz Lightyear

While it’s true that Toy Story’s space ranger action figure Buzz Lightyear is named in part after Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, he started life known as Lunar Larry. Thankfully that never happened, since Larry doesn’t fit Buzz’s epic adventurous spirit.

Indiana Jones

Before George Lucas developed Star Wars for the big screen, he wrote a screenplay called The Adventures of Indiana Smith. After trying to pitch the concept to several filmmakers, he teamed up with pal Steven Spielberg — who at the time wanted to make a James Bond film. Lucas convinced him that his character — inspired by the adventurous film serials of the 1930s and ‘40s — was similar to Bond, minus the sports cars and fancy gadgets. Spielberg loved it, but hated the name. Lucas suggested Jones since that was the name of his Alaskan Malamute. It’s amazing two common, plain surnames could describe Indy so differently, but they certainly do.

Ellen Ripley

Although Alien’s Nostromo Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley’s name change isn’t as dramatic as some of the other characters, she was originally written to be a man simply known as Ripley. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett wanted all of the characters to have unisex names so they could be cast as men or women, but they admitted to seeing Ripley as male. Also, the film was almost titled Star Beast, the ship Nostromo was dubbed the Snark, and the crew almost became Captain Chaz Standard, Executive Officer Martin Roby, Navigator Dell Broussard, Communications Officer Sandy Melkonis, Mining Engineer Cleave Hunter (wow!), and Engine Tech Jay Faust.

Jackie Brown

It wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without a few QT revisions to pop culture history, and in the case of 1997’s Jackie Brown, those changes have to do with the name of his leading lady. The film is adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch and pays homage to the 1970’s blaxploitation era. One of the subgenre’s best known films is Jack Hill’s 1974 movie Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier — also the lead in Jackie Brown. Leonard’s character was named Jackie Burke, but QT swapped it for Brown — revitalizing the actress’ career and making a smash hit in the process. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Doc Brown

Even though we all know Doc is just a title, it became the name we know Christopher Lloyd’s eccentric inventor by in the Back to the Future series. The original script called him “Professor Brown,” which doesn’t do the passionate, quirky character justice.

Margo Channing

The acerbic, talented, witty Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve was inspired in part by a Mary Orr short story called The Wisdom of Eve. Although the director reportedly considered keeping the name Margola Cranston, he switched it to the snappier and more sophisticated sounding Margo Channing — befitting of a true screen star.

Van Helsing

Although the 2004 filmic incarnation of Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing isn’t particularly famous, the character is one that has appeared in movies since the early days of cinema. Filmmakers thought swapping an old fashioned name like Abraham for Gabriel would make Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing more relatable to their young target market, but it didn’t save their film from being a critical bomb. We wanted to include this name switcheroo to illustrate that sometimes sticking with your original pick — even when it’s borrowed — is best. Classics are just that for a reason, and the name is just one way this movie tried too hard.