Character: There’s a lot in a Name

By Michael Schilf · July 12, 2010

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

This line, brilliantly delivered by Mandy Patinkin as he engages in the climatic duel against Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest) in Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, is one of my all time favorites, but what makes the line so great is not that it’s delivered five times during the lethal swordfight, not the revelation of a murderous tragedy in Inigo’s past, nor is it Inigo’s declaration of the demise of the evil Count. What makes the line so memorable is simply the inclusion of a name: Inigo Montoya.

The Princess Bride, written by William Goldman (adapted from his own novel), is full of fantastic names: Prince Humperdinck, Fezzik, and Vizzini to name a few. And reading Goldman’s script, it’s impossible not to recognize how the use of great character names improves the writing.

And it makes sense. Most parents don’t just pick a name out of a hat when deciding upon what to call their first-born. Some of the most epic battles between husband and wife have come down to naming a child. Your script is no different. It’s another kind of baby – you gave birth to it, and it’s your responsibility to choose wisely when naming your characters.

Imagine The Usual Suspects with the mastermind villain Keyser Soze renamed as Frank McCarthy. It just doesn’t work. Darth Vader, Forrest Gump, Ferris Bueller, Rocky Balboa… all great names. And then there’s Shrek: a five-letter combination of pure genius. So do yourself a favor. Learn from the best: There’s a lot in a name.