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So, you decide to create a work of fiction with some foreign characters in it. E.g., your hero battles two evil generals - a Frenchman and a German. But there's one little problem. You know neither German, nor French, and have no clue about how these wacky foreigners are usually named.
But you've got an idea!
A quick search in the dark corners of your memory reveals some scarce knowledge about French and German history and culture. With local names in it! That's the answer to all your problems!
Half a minute later, you've got names for your villains - Napoleon Dumas and Friedrich-Wilhelm Goethe. That sounds pretty authentic, right? Right?
A Famous-Named Foreigner is a character hailing from some foreign nation who, due to the authors not knowing anything about local naming conventions and/or thinking it would make their nationality more recognizable and/or just being lazy, is named after some very famous person from the respective nation's history or culture. Which most of the time sounds pretty ridiculous to the local ear, due to those names often being quite rare and primarily associated with those same famous persons.
This trope, as noted earlier, is often the result of either Did Not Do the Research, Small Reference Pools or They Just Didn't Care. If the authors care even less, it often results in As Long as It Sounds Foreign. And of course, names do become popular because famous people have them -- for example, "Muhammad" is by far the most common name for Muslim boys (and in fact, is the single most common boy's name in the world).
Compare Named After Somebody Famous, when this is done deliberately as a reference, and not just with foreign characters.
- 1 Albanian
- 2 Australian (Indigeneous)
- 3 Bulgarian
- 4 Chinese
- 5 Czech
- 6 Finnish
- 7 French
- 8 German
- 9 German and Hungarian
- 10 German and Russian
- 11 Greek
- 12 Italian
- 13 Indian Languages
- 14 Indonesian
- 15 Hebrew
- 16 Japanese
- 17 Mongolian
- 18 Norse
- 19 Norwegian
- 20 Pakistani
- 21 Polish
- 22 Romanian
- 23 Russian
- 24 Serbian
- 25 Spanish
- 26 Tibetan
- 27 Turkish
- 28 Korean
- 29 Other / Multiple
- In The Simpsons episode "The Crepes of Wrath", the Albanian exchange student/spy living with the Simpsons in exchange for Bart is named Adil Hoxha.
- Several members of the Bulgarian Quidditch team in Harry Potter bear the names of notable historical figures; Zograf is a 19th-century painter, Levski a revolutionary hero. Krum was a king who killed the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros, and is also famous for being the first to introduce written laws. "Krum" is particularly unlikely as a surname, though it has some popularity as a given name.
- Krumov may be more plausible. It's still a stretch but it's more plausible for a last name. Levski particularly stands out, though, first of all, because it is not at all common, and even then, it was a nickname. Collecting so many weird names in the team crosses the line of Acceptable Breaks From Reality breaks the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
- Mao (as in Mao Tse-Tung) is fairly common, especially in anime. Note that Mao could be written several different ways in Chinese, and is a common enough surname.
- Miss Wenceslas in Sherlock, presumably named for Wenceslaus of Bohemia. Unfortunately for the makers, the Czech version of the name is Václav, which is not used as a family name, and even if it were, would be lacking the "-ová" ending all female surnames that have a noun root.
- In the Night Watch series of novels, there is Czech vampire Vítězslav Hrubín. While "Vítězslav" is common name, this combination is obviously merging names of two famous Czech poets, Vítězslav Nezval and František Hrubín.
- At one point in Wet, Rubi is put in contact with a Czech woman named Kafka Dvorak.
- Early in the movie Swordfish, a Finnish hacker is arrested. His first name, Axl, is not a commonly used Finnish name, but his last name is Torvalds - just like a certain other Finnish hacker.
- St Trinian's school, in the 2007 film, has a French teacher called Miss Maupassant, though this is probably an intentional joke.
- Invisible Kid II from the Legion of Super-Heroes was named Jacques Foccart. For added irony appeal, he was also black.
- The X-Files: Chester Bonaparte (Fresh Bones episode)
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX has a teacher named Jean-Louis Napoleon (Bonaparte in the English dub).
- Inglourious Basterds: The Dreyfus family shares its name with the most famous French Jew in history (not to mention Alfred's relative, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.)
- Also Inspector Dreyfus of the Pink Panther films. The name itself however is originally Yiddish, a language related to German.
- In fairness, Tarantino was just dropping a reference to Julie Dreyfus.
- George de Sand from Mobile Fighter G Gundam. George Sand was the pen name of a woman.
- And meant to sound English -- the French form of "George" is Georges and the French word for "sand" is sable.
- Captain Tsubasa: The two main players of the French team are named El Sid Pierre, and Louis Napoléon.
- Code Geass:
- Arsenic and Old Lace has a Doctor Einstein. Somewhat lampshaded in that Elaine expresses obvious surprise at hearing his name. The play goes even further when Jonathan clears it up for her by revealing that his first name is Herman, not Albert.
- Gunbuster has mostly Japanese characters, named after people on the staff, and one foreign character (Toren Smith) named after a well-known manga translator. When it came to the female German pilot, though, they fell headlong into this trap, ending up with Jung Freud, which is... not exactly a name anyone is likely to have.
- Len Wein has gone on record that he came up with Nightcrawler's civilian name in 1975 by combining the first name of Kurt Waldheim (Austria, then secretary-general of the United Nations) with the family name of Richard Wagner. Kurt Wagner would hardly raise as much as an eyebrow with a native speaker, though.
- Final Fantasy VII has a fat villain named Heidegger, with an annoying laugh. He is in no way to be confused with either the Dr. Heidegger in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story or the eponymous German philosopher, author of "Being and Time," an inquiry into the nature and meaning of existence.
German and Hungarian
German and Russian
- The Castafiore Emerald has Igor Wagner, whose name is quite fitting for an accompanist to an operatic prima donna. Quite probably inspired by Igor Stravinsky as well as Richard Wagner.
- On one episode of American Dad, a Greek butcher named Hercules is introduced. At only one point is the correlation between his name and the mythological hero pointed out, in the form of a pun in his store signage ("Witness the 7 Meats of Hercules!") Otherwise, the name is treated as perfectly normal name. This is particularly noticeable because Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles, and a Greek having the former name ahead of the latter, if either, is quite odd.
- In Eyeshield 21, Panther's all-American, white best friend is named Homer. Not exactly a common name in the States due to who its associated with...
- Ultimate Marvel Captain Italy: Umberto Landi
- Umberto was the name of an Italian king and of polar explorer Umberto Nobile.
- The Italian Vellian Crowler in the Japanese version of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX was named Chronos de Medici.
- In Babylon 5, one of the characters is Michael Garibaldi, despite Garibaldi being an uncommon surname. To reduce the perceived oddity of this choice, in the Italian dubbed version the name becomes Gariboldi.
- There's also the Garibaldi Temple in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. Along with other oddities such as a town named Cordova in the middle of Valachian forests.
- Hadji Singh from the Jonny Quest series. Hadji is an obviously Muslim title, and Singh is obviously Hindu or Sikh. Also, the chances of a guy named Hadji Singh being the prince of Calcutta are about the same as a guy called Kaiser Wilhelm being the king of England or France.
- Actually worse.
- Indians in fiction named "Mahatma". It's not a first name, it's a kind of honorific. Probably, the cause of this is Gandhi.
- In the late 1980s sitcom "Head of the Class", an Indian-American character is named "Jawaharlal Choudhury." Not only do the given name and the family name unlikely to be paired in a real Indian person because they come from two different ethnicities, but also "Jawaharlal" is obviously taken from the name of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Also, naming fashions change from generation to generation in India; thus, to an Indian, someone named Jawaharlal should have been born in the late 19th century, not someone who is a teenager in 1986.
- Mahomet Singh in the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of The Four. The Penguin Books annotation calls this a solecism, and blandly remarks that "the two names would not be found together." This annotation should be accompanied by bells, whistles, flashing lights, and a maroon. Especially a maroon.
- Subverted in the Strangers with Candy movie, when Jerri's new friend introduces himself as "Megawatti Sukarnoputri. Not that Megawati Sukarnoputri."
- Where else but Demi Moore's Striptease, where a stripper "from Israel" is introduced as Ariel Sharon? Admittedly though, the name is gender-neutral (although in Hebrew it is strictly male), and in this case likely a stage name.
- In the Gabriel Allon novels involving an Israeli spy/assassin, his superior is named "Ari Shamron" which is one letter and an abbreviation away from Ariel Sharon.
- In the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal Rising, Hannibal Lecter has a Japanese aunt-by-marriage named Lady Murasaki Shikibu. The historic Murasaki Shikibu is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, one of the world's earliest novels as well as one of the most famous and significant works of Japanese literature. The character in the book is said to be a descendant of the historic author, but this doesn't make the name much more plausible because "Murasaki Shikibu" was the author's pen name. The author's real personal name is unknown, but she was a member of the Fujiwara clan. "Shikibu" isn't even an actual Japanese family name, it was a reference to the court position held by the historic author's father.
- Pretty much every 'foreign' character in WWF at least through the Attitude Era, what with Mr. Fuji, that sort of thing. To be fair, Mr. Fuji's real name is Harry Fujiwara.
- Averted with Kenzo Suzuki, who originally was going to be called Hirohito and come in as if he was related the the Emperor of Japan.
- The protagonist of Shaena Lambert's novel Radiance is called Keiko Kitigawa, just one letter different from the name of actress Keiko Kitagawa. Incidentally, "ti" is not a Japanese phoneme and would never show up in any real Japanese name, though it is an entirely legal rendering of a 「ち」 syllable in the official Kunrei romanisation system. (The better known Hepburn system renders it as "chi".)
- Clarence Yojimbo in Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater. Subverted as he's not actually Japanese but Venusian.
- World Heroes: G.Karn, who is Genghis Khan's personal bodyguard.
- One of the Indiana Jones novels has two Mongolian characters named Jamukka and Bortay.
- World Heroes: Erick, justifiable in that Erik is still a very common Norse name.
- Celty Sturluson of Durarara, who came from Ireland and now lives in Japan, but ended up with a Scandinavian name along the way. Kind of runs into problems because Sturluson is a patronymic, not a last name.
- X-Files, in the episode set in Norway, introduces the Norwegian fisherman... Trondheim (also the name of one of Norway's biggest and most important cities, and a former capital). While naming kids after cities or places is not unusual in the States, it is not a part of Norwegian naming conventions at all, neither as given names or surnames. On the other hand, Trondheim is stablished as having been born in Pensacola, which is in Florida...
- The Pakistani boy who comes to live with the American family in Aliens in America is named Raja Musharraf.
- Blackhawk Janos Prohaska. Note that Blackhawk is Polish, the RealLife Janos Prohaska was Hungarian, the surname is Czech (Slovakia was part of Hungary until 1918), and the first name isn't Polish either (that would be Janusz).
- Plus a Polish name ending with -ska would be feminine.
- The creators of the strategy video game Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord decided to be nice enough to give Polish soldiers Polish names (every individual in the game had an individual name). They gave them ones they could find in the Internet quickly, though. So you could commandeer Marian Krzaklewski, Jerzy Buzek, Aleksander Kwasniewski. It could be quite fun for some people to send them to their death, as the first two were not so popular at the time. Good enough that they didn't use Karol Wojtyla.
- In Medieval: Total War (I and II) the characters actually have names you could find in a history book, only sometimes assigned to wrong gender or forming strange combinations (like "Jagiellon Jagiello" a century before the reign of the dynasty founder). The last installment, Empire, reportedly uses the name of somewhat more obscure Polish politicians (but still fun to see them time-slipped).
- The random name generator in Europa Universalis III will occasionally churn out a name that belonged to a famous historical figure, not least because the Polish surnames in the generator's data file all belonged to figures of note in Renaissance Poland.
- The Anti Christ from the Left Behind series is named Nicolae Carpathia. To be absolutely fair, his other name is "Jetty" (?!?!) and this is hardly the only offensive moment in these novels.
- Perhaps best used in Work Time Fun in the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Tournament mini-game. The Romanian character in the world league championships is named "Mayor Dracula." In fact, just about every opponent in that minigame falls under this trope, including "Victoria Potter" from England and "George Spielberg" from America.
- James Bond:
- General Gogol.
- General Pushkin.
- General Orlov.
- Valentin Zukovsky.
- Tatiana Romanova. This one, at least, was lampshaded/justified in the original novel. The Soviets viewed her with suspicion because of her surname, even though she wasn't actually related to the ex-royal family (a bit of Did Not Do the Research, since "Romanov" is a pretty common surname and so the Soviets would have had no reason to suspect anyone solely because of their surname).
- Chilly Beach also had a Russian hockey player named Gogol.
- Marvel Comics:
- Natasha Romanova.
- Piotr, Illyana, Mikhail Rasputin. A recent recton reveals that Colossus and family are in fact descended from the "Mad Monk".
- As far as his first name goes, Piotr is most likely named after Peter the Great.
- Also lampshaded by Hank McCoy when Piotr came back from the dead; "Boy's named Rasputin. Should have known he wouldn't be that easy to kill."
- Also Lampshaded in a What If where Natasha, Piotr and Illyana are part of a Stalinist Fantastic Four; Stalin claims to tell a lot about people by their names, and to be rather suspicious of these ones. "My own name means - " taps Colossus " - Man of Steel."
- Boris Turgenev (Crimson Dynamo II).
- Alex Nevsky (Crimson Dynamo III).
- Dmitri Bukharin (Crimson Dynamo V).
- Tania Belinsky (Red Guardian, Starlight).
- Star Trek the Original Series: Pavel Chekov.
- Stargate SG-1: Colonel Chekov.
- Bubblegum Crisis:
- World Heroes: Rasputin. Note that this character is not the Real Life Grigoriy Rasputin, as some may think. According to The Other Wiki, the World Heroes Rasputin is "a philosopher of XIII century Russia, was also a known alchemist and sorcerer".
- Wild CATS: Adrianna Tereshkova (The Void).
- Fiends of the Eastern Front: Grigori Eisenstein. Eisenstein is actually Jewish name, but still...
- The ship that took Luna Volves and Death Guard loyalist captains Iacton Qruze and Nathaniel Garro to Terra is also named after the famous filmmaker -- or, rather, a pale shadow of his memory.
- Another 40K reference is Lord Inquisitor Fyodor Karamazov, Pyrophant Judge of Salem Proctor.
- Simon Brezhnev of Durarara.
- There's a fairly important character named Mayakovsky in The Magicians. Especially irritating because the characters in the book are supposed to be highly educated and you'd figure one of them would have noticed that.
- Eye of the Red Tsar also features a Mayakovsky, as well as a Kirov, a Kolchak, and a Kropotkin.
- Airwolf featured a General Kirov as well
- Hetalia's Ivan Braginsky aka Russia.
- Draza, one of Lazarevic's lieutenants in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was almost certainly named after Drazha Mihailovic, the leader of the Chetnik "resistance" movement during World War Two.
- Soul Series:
- Street Fighter:
- Dragon Quest 4:
- Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door:
- The pirate Cortez.
- Marvel Comics:
- Fabian Cortez.
- Warhammer 40000:
- Sealab 2021:
- Marco's full name is Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Note that this is a horrible mangling of actual Spanish naming practices, but then, Rule of Funny.
- Sunset Riders:
- El Greco, though the character appears to be Mexican. (Grecco-Mexican?)
- The Doctor Who serial The Abominable Snowmen, which was set in a Tibetan monastery, had characters with the names of prominent historical figures in Tibetan Buddhism.
- As did Thief of Time, set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version.
- Tenzin, the Tibetan villager that helps Nate in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, was most likely named after Tenzin Gyatso, the religious name of the 14th Dalai Lama.
- Pearls Before Swine once used Ataturk as a name for a Turkish diplomat. It's uncertain whether the author realized that this was the nickname of Turkey's founder.
- The real name of the Marauders mutant Scrambler is Kim Il Sung, after the communist revolutionary leader.
Other / Multiple
- Jerry Jenkins has admitted to consistently using a variant of this to name foreign characters: first name of a famous foreigner, then a notable location in their country as a last name. When this fails, it really fails (e.g. Nicolae Carpathia.)
- Apparently Jerry Jenkins and Ann M. Martin took the same creative writing class. Mallory of the Babysitters Club gets a boyfriend in Australian Ben Hobart.
- Harry Potter has the Wronski Feint, named for a Polish Seeker. Wronski is pronounced the same as Vronsky, Anna's lover in Anna Karenina.
- Although in this case there is also a "Wronskian" in math. (Yes, invented by some guy named "Wronski". Jozef Hoene-Wronski, in fact.) It's pronounced "Vronsky" as well.
- According to Word of God, Survival of the Fittest character Clio Gabriella was originally going to be named Ava Gardner. Yes, that Ava Garnder.
- that doesn't count, it's his actual name