If you’re a follower of the Compleat Major Spoilers Experience™, you follow the Major Spoilers crew on social media, and you know that lately I’ve been amusing myself with various mixing and matching super-heroes into themed collections, illuminating even the darkest corners of super-fiction with the light of nerdery… Welcome to Ten Things!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with ‘An Amateur Comics Historian’, and ‘Making Everything More Complicated Than It Probably Needed To Be’ presents:
TEN SUPERHERO NAMING CONVENTIONS!
10) THE GIVEN NAMES
Not everyone who gets bitten by a radioactive wombat has to (or, for that matter, wants to) think of a cool sobriquet like “The Human Backstop.” Some, like Legionnaire Dawnstar, already have a name that sounds like a cool nickname, while Luke Cage chose his own super-cool alias while on the run from the police. Others, such as alien tree-man Groot or super-swordswoman Taarna have an exotic name that serves as one, while Warren Ellis has lately been in a phase of naming his heroes with a first name and a descriptive sobriquet, such as John Horus or Kathryn Artemis, a pattern that can also be seen in Silver Age hero Adam Strange. Most of these heroes have given up the pretense of or have no need for a secret identity, unlike our next category…
9) THE LETTERS/NUMBERS
Unlike heroes like Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, who proudly wears her real name in battle, these supers have chosen to give up their entire identity for a designation that can be typed with one finger. (Number Six would NOT approve.) Though somewhat rare, this naming convention still gave us Generation X’s M, but NOT Japanese cyborg hero 8-Man. (We’ll get to him in a moment.) Occasionally, though, a single letter designation won’t fly, leading us to our next category…
8) THE HISTORICAL REFERENCES
Want to draw on an immediate rep to put fear into the superstitious and cowardly hearts of your foes? Use history to your advantage: Call yourself Merlin, Zeus or Lemony Snicket!
Maybe not that last one, but the point holds true, a large number of super-types, especially villainous ones, trade on the reputations of mythical heroes past. Bonus points if he or she is (or claims to be) the real inspiration for their legendary name, like Marvel’s Thor or DC Comics’ Frankenstein. But, what could be more terrifying than a 19th century vampire?
7) THE PUNS
A 21st century play on words, that’s what! Often considered the lowest form of humor (although Critical Hit’s Rob and I fight that every step of the way), a punny name can be exactly what your hero needs, especially if she’s meant to be a fun/parody of superhero tropes. Captain Carrot and His Zoo Crew may have cornered the market on this type of hero in the 80s, but it’s making a comeback in America, thanks to Robert Kirkman and others… Of course, it’s long been tradition in Japan, where puns, loanwords and portmanteaux are a cultural touchstone, leading to names such as the upcoming Shuirken Sentai Ninninger, a play on “ninja” and “ranger”. Closely related is our next category…
6) THE FIGURES OF SPEECH
As more and more superheroes have appeared, the number of characters who would call themselves The Sentry, The Protector or The Bug have increased, causing many to branch out into meaningful compound words and phrases, as seen with The Ace Of Spades, or the Outlaws Will O’ The Wisp (also a category 8, strictly speaking). Even these have become more and more sparse after 8 decades of superhero naming leading us to what I consider the most inexplicable category…
5) THE ADJECTIVES
In modern times, creators have been forced to scour every corner of language to find new and different names for their characters, leading some to the dark corner of modifiers. No longer is Invincible just Iron Man’s descriptor, now he’s a hero of his own, a trend that is probably going to continue until we find a superhero named “Awesome.”
Actually, given that Kickass already exists, that train has sailed. Next up is one of the oldest traditions of nomenclature among the supernature…
4) THE HONORIFICS
Though the letter “S” is probably more common, the “C” portion of any superhero encyclopedia will be the largest, due to the sheer number of Captains (something for which we can probably credit Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel, the world’s best-selling comic-book hero, back when that meant something.) Doctors and Misters have long been staples of the supers, and we’ve seen a lot of Kid Marvelman type variants, but lately we’ve been seeing the likes of Ms. Marvel, King Tiger and Citizen Steel entering the game as well. Of course, not everyone gets to go to evil medical school, leading to our next category…
3) THE PLAIN OL’ NOUNS
The second most common naming trope, as The Hulk, The Thing, Box, Blade and hundreds of others will attest. The real downside of naming even the most unusual of characters with a simple name is the question of notability. It would be difficult to get away with naming your character The Shadow or El Santo due to the huge presence the original characters have, but anyone who has read comics can tell you there are at least half a dozen characters called The Patriot. How do you remedy that? Glad you asked!
2) THE PAINTED NOUNS
Combine #5 and #3, carry the one, and voila! Turn your shadow into a Red Shadow, and you’re in a whole new world. This doesn’t just work for colors although it is seen most commonly with them, as Blue Beetle, Green Lantern and others will attest. Golden Age hero The Star-Spangled Kid as well as one-shot Marvel future hero The Last Knight also falls into this category, as would the majority of Super Sentai heroes, whose naming convention tends to be “Group Name Color”. Of course, there is another way to differentiate your characters from all the other characters called The Bat…
1) THE SOMETHING-PERSONS
The single most common naming convention of supers, be they hero or villain, thanks to Superman, the trope codifier. The Golden Age of Comics has many examples, such as Fly-Man, while Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the wake of the 1966 Batman cartoon are also awash, with Fluid-Man, Coil-Man, Vapor-Man and many other stalwarts presented. The nature of the person doesn’t matter either, as a Tiger-Girl fits as seamlessly into this convention as a Mighty Mouse. This is, by the way, the category into which I would place the mighty 8 Man, as well as his esteemed colleagues Eat-Man and Devil-Man.
As with any set of guidelines, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, as some heroes defy categorization, or cross lines as well. Where does Space Ghost fit in? Or Booster Gold? Are there any important categories that I have missed? The comments section is there for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!