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 their expressive quality. Russel Crowe, as if rustle crow. Or Jeremy Irons who is known for his iron jaw line. Take apart the last name Willis, and we get will is, an actors call to his creative duty.
In the joy of word play, and with no academic 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 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,” which says her characters stay chaste. She is chaste 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 movie of hers, 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 the opposite to the staying chaste Chastain, Felicitiy wishes it could work out. She 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–and who wouldn’t want a better life, even as they deal straight with what’s at hand? 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, 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 or clashes in excitement. He could be a cool dude or a hot shot, one somewhere between a burn and the thaw. It takes the entire season of “The Punisher” for him to thaw, basically until the closing credits, he eventually comes around to the somewhat fatherly Robert De Niro in “Grudge Match,” and in “Baby Driver” he is the slow burn of a prophecy, a warning, tempered flare of criminal rage.
Matt Damon — Is Plato’s daemon involved? It’s a secret, no doubt. It 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
Who are we waiting for? Wonder Woman, obviously.
Amy Adams — Characters who “man up” in the patriarchal lingo. Characters who take chances to change their lives and the world around them. She adams life obstacles. Lois Lane who finds a too-big story makes sure she stays on the frontline in “Man of Steel.” Rose in “Sunshine Cleaning” who takes responsibility for her entire fucking family without any help and little hope. She adams the shit out of that cleaning business. Mickey in “Trouble with the Curve” who watches over her angry, no need for help father and has some damn difficult conversations.
The best of Hollywood names carry a special meaning. The actor’s name smooths out the edges of a character who finds a dynamic position outside of their films, who can be an aspect of a personality too complex to be summed up in one movie so they have to spread across projects, who themselves transform in each new space to actualize the art form as an expression of the inexpressible in us all.
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, we fall short of what we were really after in the first place. 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.