What’s in a Name? The Secret Identities of Superheroes

I believe it was an in old Marvel comic featuring Stan’s Soapbox (that was a column Stan Lee used to answer reader’s questions) that Stan Lee revealed his technique on naming many of his characters.  He gave a lot of the original Marvel characters alliterative names for their secret identities.  That means that the first and last names began with the same letter.  The funny thing was, Stan has said that he wrote them that way so that he could remember their names!  He was writing so many different things simultaneously that it’d be easy for him to forget names, except that he gave them the mnemonic device of alliteration.  Here’s some examples of early Marvel characters with alliteritive names.  There’s probably more.

Reed Richards.  Sue Storm.  Bruce Banner.  Peter Parker.  Scott Summers.  Moira MacTaggert (although she wasn’t created by Stan Lee).  Warren Worthington (Angel, who was part of the original X-Men lineup).

What’s kind of funny is that Marvel isn’t the only company to use the alliterative name technique–Stan Lee was just the only writer I know of who was frank enough to reveal his methods (you have to love Stan for that).  A lot of early DC characters had alliterative names, such as:

Dinah Drake (original Black Canary).  Zatanna Zatara.  J’onn J’onnz (The Martian Manhunter).  Wally West.

Then keep in mind just about all of the original Superman characters had alliterative names.

Lois Lane.  Lex Luthor.  Lana Lang.

In a more recent issue of Superman, Luthor even jokes to Supes that all of the important people in his life have L names.

There’s characters too whose names aren’t technically alliterative, but feature similar sounding consonants at the start of their Christain name and surname, such as:

Clark Kent.  Jean Grey.  Jay Garrick (original Flash).

I’ve also noticed that oftentimes, when a character’s name isn’t alliterative or nearly alliterative, it will consist of a two syllable first name and a one syllable last name, or vice versa.  Just about every other superhero secret identity is like this.  Just some examples–there’s tons more.

Hal Jordan.  Alan Scott (original Green Lantern).  Hank McCoy (Beast).  Harvey Dent (Two-Face).  Dick Grayson (original Robin, then Nightwing, then Batman, and soon Nightwing again).  Carter Hall (Hawkman).  Wesley Dodds (Sandman from JSA).  Johnny Storm.  Matt Murdoch (Daredevil, also alliterative).  Guy Gardner.  Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze).

My theory as to why so many Golden and Silver-Age comic heroes have short two-to-three syllable first and last names is that it suggested the characters were All-American.  The more syllables you ad, the more foreign a name sounds.  If you think about it, a lot of the characters who are supposed to be foreign are given longer names.  For example, since Wonder Woman is supposed to be Greek, her name is Diana Prince (4 syllables).  Speaking of foreign characters, it seems if they are from a different country, the writers try to make it very clear what country they hail from.  For example, Nightcrawler is Kurt Wagner, a name that makes people think of the famous classical composer Richard Wagner, who’s German, and so, by a mnemonic device, is Nightcrawler.  The most ridiculous case of this is Colossus.  His secret identity is Piotr Rasputin, his surname belonging also the “Mad Monk” of Russian history, Grigori Rasputin.

When the Bronze and Modern Ages of comics rolled around, it was no longer so important to seem All-American, so now characters often have longer and more varied names.  The problem, is the names of relatively newer characters are hard to remember, like I have a hard time remembering that Hush is Thomas Elliot, or that Black Cat is Felicia Hardy, and I’ll never remember without looking it up that Black Mask is Roman Sionis.  So it seems then that the clever names go both ways; they help both the creators and the readers remember just who these heroes are under the mask.

Interesting side-note: Do you notice how so few characters have names starting with vowels?

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Are there any curious or humorous secret indentity names I didn’t mention?


2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? The Secret Identities of Superheroes

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