Jon Williams and I sit down together for an hour or two every month to brainstorm ideas for our DVD product, Feature Presentation. We don’t fully map out the scripts in these meetings. We come up with basic ideas that we’re left to run with on our own.
As a result, I might sit down to write knowing nothing except that I’m trying to tell a Bible story or principle loosely in the style of the 1989 cult classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Before I even start writing about two time-travelling kids who aren’t terribly bright, I come to the roadblock that every writer must face when writing an original script. What are the characters’ names?
I mean, I could just call them Bill and Ted, but that seems to lack creativity and may even be considered plagiarism. I could go the rhyming approach and call them Will and Fred or Gil and Ned or Phil and Ed, you get the idea, but that doesn’t appeal to me either. And I refuse to pick names at random! I absolutely refuse! So, instead of beating my head on the desk for hours trying to find the perfect names, I’ve developed a complicated, perhaps crazy, system for naming people.
Let’s take Bill from Bill and Ted, for instance. Bill is short for William. The first famous person named William I thought of was William Wallace. Wally is short for Wallace, so Bill is now Wally. Then there’s Ted, short for Edward, which led to actor Edward Norton, which brought me finally to Nort. So now we have two characters named Wally and Nort that we feature frequently, including in this month’s Feature Presentation.
It’s become a game for me to see if anyone can figure out why the characters are named the way they are. Sixty Minutes host Morley Safer became Four and a Half Minutes host Lesley Mordangerous. Charlie Rose became Eddie Snapdragon. Marlin Perkins became Pike Rogers. Howie Mandel is Winnie Boyd. Fran Tarkenton is Ollie McElhenny. Peter Graves is Martin Plotz. And Mandrake the Magician became Vondruke the Magician.
The names are not all exceptionally clever and usually have no impact on the stories or the kids who watch them. Even so, I’m going to keep doing it this way because it brings me joy and keeps me from getting stuck on a name. This way I can save beating my head on the desk for when I have to come up with an idea for a blog post.