Last year I wrote a review about a character created by Bill Pronzini, a private investigator whose name went unrevealed to the reader for decades. Although he was known as the “Nameless Detective”, he actually had a name… other characters in the series knew it, and he operated normally in Pronzini’s realistic version of San Francisco. The author intentionally kept it from exposure until the dictates of a story required it, and even after that, it’s been used only as necessary.
He’s not the only one.
There have been other characters who have been part of the public consciousness for years before actually being given a name. Here are a few of them:
The Seven Dwarfs – While they appeared in the fairy tale compilation of the Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s, they didn’t get names until almost a hundred years later. Even at that, they were names like “Blick” and “Flick” in a Broadway play. What are considered their definitive names of Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Doc were pure creations of the Disney film of Snow White. They are typically renamed for new media incarnations because of the justifiable fear of Disney lawsuits, but the animated film monikers have stuck.
The Addams Family – The characters first appeared in some of Charles Addams’ cartoons for The New Yorker in 1938, and continued to make regular appearances as their popularity grew. Addams knew the general personalities of the characters and their place in the large family, and that was all he needed for his often morbid cartoons. He didn’t bother to give them names until almost a quarter of a century after their creation. He decided on those during the development work for the television show.
The Brides of Dracula – Termed merely “sisters” in the original novel, the trio of female vampires in Dracula’s castle have become well-known characters in their own right. They weren’t given names in any notable media interpretations until the late 1990s, when each was given their own book by author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and they were named in the action film Van Helsing. So far, though, none of the individual names has really caught on among the Dracula fans… although a strong case could be made for “Brides” having a post-creation success all of its own, which is why I’m throwing it in here.
Chip & Dale – The pair of clever cartoon chipmunks were created as antagonists for Pluto in a 1943 short film, and were never intended to be used again. They were initially indistinguishable from each other and got Mickey’s dog into a variety of scrapes. A few years later, the pair was revived for another Pluto short which was an Oscar nominee… but they were again left nameless and were expected to be abandoned. Only when Walt Disney was brainstorming the next year for an antagonist in a Donald short did the chipmunk pair spring to mind, and they were finally recognized as more than simply “chipmunk”… the pair were given their distinct names as a play on the furniture maker Thomas Chippendale.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite cartoon short?