We discover something about a character and their place in a story just by hearing their names. The more active the name, the more wide sweeping its expressive capabilities. Russel Crowe, as in: rustle crow. Or Jeremy Irons, who is known for his iron jaw line, his gnashing of teeth. Take apart the last name Willis, and we get will is, which is one actor’s call to creative duty.
In the joy of word play, and with no references whatsoever, I’ve put together a few of my favorite Hollywood etymologies. With time the list may get longer, new posts might come up, and some names may need amended, but for now, I give you:
Jessica Chastain — I love her last name. Chastain. To me it sounds like “Chaste-staying.” And it makes sense! Many of her characters, who I’ve seen in admittedly mainstream movies, stay chaste. She proves her chastity as the captain of the Hermes in “The Martian” when she, and the rather democratic crew, choose to return to Mars for their comrade. She is ‘chaste’ again when, as Murph in “Interstellar,” she spends tireless years working on the equation for gravity that could bring her father home. Then, and this is probably my favorite, in “Zero Dark Thirty” she plays a dedicated CIA officer who completes her years long mission to catch Osama Bin Laden.
Felicity Jones — In a way, Felicity’s name is the opposite to the staying chaste Chastain. Jones wishes it could work out. Jones wishes things could stay the same, but obviously there’s no point to that. We see her jonesing for love and a happy life in “The Theory of Everything” when her husband, after years of being cared for by the saintly woman, leaves her for a bombshell. In “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” she’s been in the dumps since she was dumped as a child. Who wouldn’t jones for a happy family on a distant farming planet? Who wouldn’t want a beach paradise that doesn’t get leveled with atrocious power? Felicity, that’s who.
Jon Bernthal — This has been my favorite name lately, probably because of how great he was in “The Punisher” series. The name is active and dynamic. It can be the name of a character who stands alone in deep depression or who clashes in excitement, in the thick of it, in the heat. He could be a cool dude or a hot shot. He’s a guy somewhere between burn and thaw. It takes the entire season of “The Punisher” for him to thaw, basically until the closing credits, but he eventually comes around. In “Baby Driver” he is the slow burn of a prophecy, a warning, a tempered flare of criminal rage at the outset. The thaw appears literal by the blue camouflage worn at the end of “The Accountant,” starring Be Afleck, excuse me, Aflheck, wow I really have something in my throat, Ahaack Hack lol just kidding. Someone had to be Batman after the Dark Knight.
Matt Damon — Is Plato’s daemon involved? I like to think so. Even if it is, it’s a secret, no doubt. The name reads like a melting pot pairing of the Biblical name, Mathew, and the Platonic, daemon. The problem is, whenever I hear or read the name Matt Damon I hear it in the voice used to play him in “Team America.” It’s just too funny to think about.
Gal Godot — waiting…waiting … waiting …waiting …waiting …waiting for Godot
Who are we waiting for? Wonder Woman, obviously. And the wait is over.
Amy Adams — With the name Adams as a verb, Amy’s characters “man up,” to use the patriarchal lingo, in situations where no one else will. They are characters who take chances to change their lives and the world around them. She adams life obstacles. Like Lois Lane, who finds a too-big story, and despite the odds makes sure she stays at the frontline in “Man of Steel.” Rose in “Sunshine Cleaning” takes responsibility for her entire fucking family without any help from anyone and little more than hope to hope for. Rose adams the shit out of that cleaning business. Mickey in “Trouble with the Curve” watches over her angry, no need for help, father and has some damn difficult conversations to get him through, which is why Amy Adams has an awesome, life conquering name.
In movies the continuity we seek in life is realized. Everywhere, we display our ability to be continuous, in art, in relationships, in work, and everywhere. To know and be known. Names that communicate the characters as known connect the world of a film and of an actor. Sometimes a name is more than just a name, sometimes it’s a nom de plume.