For a lover of names, a Wes Anderson movie is always a treasure trove. The names he gives his characters go along with the overall aesthetic of his films: colorful, deliberate, and quirky. While the characters in his films are often exaggeratedly flawed, he somehow always seems to render them relatable on many levels; at the very least, he goes a long way in capturing the complexity and often puzzling nature of human relationships. He writes, directs, and produces his films, and is known to involved in every step of the process of movie-making, taking care of every meticulous detail, not the least of which being naming his characters.
I’ll start this post with the name of the director himself: Wesley (Wes) Wales Anderson. I’m not sure of the story behind this middle name, but I’d love to know! Was it a family surname or is he named for the country? An interesting place name choice, to say the least!
Max - Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzman) is the precocious and eccentric teenage protagonist of Anderson’s film, Rushmore. His funny, ambitious antics drive the film, which launched the careers of both Anderson and Schwartzman. There couldn’t be a better name for Max, who enthusiastically throws himself into everything (and there are many things) he is passionate about.
Herman Blume: What’s the secret, Max?
Max Fischer: The secret?
Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.
Max Fischer: The secret, I don’t know… I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.
Rosemary – Rosemary Cross is the elementary school teacher who Max develops romantic feelings for (and naturally, hilarity ensues). Her character, once again, is fitting of her name: classically beautiful, intelligent, and kind.
Magnus - how fitting that Max’s nemesis (a brutish Scottish boy) is named Magnus. Both Max and Magnus mean “the greatest” – a nice touch. Of course, Max is a much more accessible name than Magnus, but that didn’t stop Will Ferrell from bestowing the name Magnus on his son! A commanding choice.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
My (and I’d venture to say most people’s) favorite Wes Anderson film follows the lives of three grown up child-genius siblings who must come to terms with their eccentric and absent father and with the disappointments they’ve faced in their lives. They are the Tenenbaum family and their names are fabulous.
Royal – the absent family patriarch (in a Golden Globe-winning performance by Gene Hackman) returns, and struggles to form relationships with the children and wife he abandoned. Royal seems to be the perfect ironic name for this bumbling character – certainly an egoist, but one who tries to reform his ways after suffering through the loss of his fame and fortune.
Etheline - the demure family matriarch (played by Anjelica Huston) is well-suited to the meaning of her name, from Ethel which means “noble maiden”. Ever the calm and patient mother, she also reserves some wit and sass for Royal and others when they need to be put in her place. The -line ending is a lovely way to bring Ethel into the modern day.
Chas – although Charlie gets most of the attention nowadays, Chas is another great nickname option for Charles. Chas (played by Ben Stiller) is the eldest Tenenbaum child, who Royal exclusively refers to as “Chassie”, which I have to say I think is pretty adorable.
Margot - the character who inspired thousands of Halloween costumes, Margot is perfectly suited to her name. Mysterious and vaguely French (the blonde bob, the cigarettes, heavy eye-makeup, large fur coat, and somber facial expressions), Margot (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is the melancholic, mysterious, and beautiful Tenenbaum daughter.
Richie - as far as nicknames for Richard go, I think Richie (and Rich) are the most modern sounding. But Richie is also a very boyish name, fitting for an athlete (played by Luke Wilson) who is struggling to come to terms with grown up life.
Eli Cash - the clingy Tenenbaum family friend (“I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum”) played by Owen Wilson, becomes a wildly eccentric successful author of Western style novels, with a phony accent and Stetson cowboy hat to boot. Again, the name fits fabulously. Eli certainly has a cowboy vibe, and paired with a name like Cash there’s no mistaking the laid back, Western feel of this name.
Raleigh - artfully played by Bill Murray, Raleigh St. Clair is Margot’s neurologist husband. Deadpan and thoroughly academic, Raleigh is an interesting name choice for this character; a decidedly classy name and a viable unisex place name choice.
Henry Sherman – could there be a sweeter, more approachable name than Henry Sherman? Each of these names on their own evokes kindness, and together they are downright cuddly. Danny Glover plays the accountant, who courts Etheline in the gentlest way possible. Henry is German for “estate ruler”; Sherman is an English occupation name from “sheerer of woolen cloth”. Anderson has actually stated that this character was named after his landlord!
Walter - Henry’s son is Walter Sherman. Aren’t Henry and Walter perfectly suited names? They’ make an adorable sib-set too. Walter comes from the German for “powerful warrior”.
Dusty - Royal’s friend and elevator operator is named Dusty – a name that has lost momentum, but not its laid back charm. I love Dusty as a nickname (for boy or girl!) and it’s got that nature-esque, Western vibe that seems so popular right now.
Pagoda - Royal’s deadpan Indian friend/assistant is Pagoda. The name clearly meant to reference the East where the character comes from, though it is certainly not a traditional name in India. No doubt a quirky choice and one that does certainly evoke spirituality, as pagodas are structures built in memory of Buddha.
Ari – one of Chas’s two sons, Ari is a name which might grown in popularity in this age of nicknames-as-first-names. It’s from Hebrew, short for Ariel, “lion of God.” This Ari was named after the nickname of singer Nico’s son Ari (two of her songs are featured in the film.)
Uzi – I love it. Uzi is from Uziah, a Hebrew Old Testament name meaning “Jehovah is my strength”. Yes, I know there’s the violent, gun association there, and in this film the militaristic reference seems like a nod to Uzi’s father Chas’ overprotective nature. But I can’t help loving Uzi! Especially as a sib-set with Ari – adorable.
Buckley – Chas, Ari, and Uzi’s beloved pet beagle is named Buckley. This is an English surname meaning “meadow of the deer”, which might catch on as a first name due to the popularity of surname-as-first-names as well as the jaunty nickname Buck. Anderson actually named this Buckley after singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley.
Mordecai - I can’t believe I nearly overlooked Mordecai in writing this list – the name of Richie’s loyal pet falcon. In fact, Mordecai is the last word spoken in the film! It is Hebrew, from Persian for “warrior”. A very strong, ancient sounding name with interesting nickname possibilities too. Nicknames: Mordy, Cai
Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll cover some more fantastic names from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited!