Villains' Names

It's hard work making villains.
It's hard work making villains.

So you want to name your villain characters and you're stumped: what's the perfect name? You've thought of Bradford Brumley, Flipworth Pillington, and Ted Danson, but they've all left you cold. They're not sinister enough. Then you thought of Sinister Sucksack, but realized it's way too obvious. Well, there are a lot of possible approaches that the great novelists have used throughout the ages and I'll be glad to outline 'em for you. Let's have a look-see.

1. Aristocracy

One key to coming up with a villainous name is to use your readership's preconceptions. We live in a democratic world. Aristocrats are naturally viewed with suspicion. Bradford Brumley might not strike fear in the heart, but Count Bradford of Brumley is a little more threatening. Okay, a 'Bradford' is never going to get much of a rise. That's beside the point. The villainous Count Fosco of The Woman in White wouldn't have been quite as menacing had he been Squire Fosco or Mr. Fosco the Swineherd. The fact that aristocrats are mysterious, threatening in their privileged social status, makes aristocratic names instantly suspect.

An aristocratic name needn't even include a title like 'Count.' 'Montgomery Burns' of The Simpsons is a great villain's name. So is 'Maximillian', the villain of Tiny Toons. Why? Because these names have just a few too many syllables. That both characters are ridiculously wealthy confirms the suspicions that they are Nouveau Riche aristocrats.

2. Xenophobia

Sad, but true: we fear strangers. It's something Mom inculcated in you ever since creepy Mr. Timkins offered you some of his unwrapped Werther's Originals. Mr. Bradford Brumley is just too close to home to be a good villain name. But if we just tweak that a little. Bradu Brumah. Sounds like an evil witchdoctor to me! One might have thought the B sounds made Bradford sounds too sweet. That may be true. But a little xenophobia overrides that sweetness quite effectively. And indeed, there's a long tradition of xenophobic naming in the history of literature and cinema. I've already mentioned Count Fosco, the Italian villain of a British novel. Then there's Ming the Merciless, the galactic tyrant of the Flash Gordon serials. Why would Ming be Asian? Well, because it's more intimidating than Marty the Merciless. 'Marty the Merciless' is what you call a particularly aggressive accountant. There's a guy who can crunch numbers. But Ming's a guy who can crunch whole populations with his deathray. 

3. Dickens

Dickens had a wholly unique naming convention that's been very influential. He used imagery, words, or parts of words to form names that conveyed the personality type. Sometimes you wouldn't have to know anything about the character to know, "Oh yeah, that guy's evil alright." Like, 'Mr. Murdstone.' It's a combination of 'Murder' and 'Stone': this is not gonna be a guy who knits scarves for puppies. Or Uriah Heep, who, however nice he initially seems, can't be good--he just can't be! Nothing called 'Uriah Heep' can be good, unless it's a metal band. 'Uriah' is somewhat xenophobicm, 'Heep' is that Dickensian pictorialism at work. The influence of Dickensian naming can be found in the Harry Potter novels, with names like 'Severus Snape' and 'Draco Malfoy.' It can even be seen in cartoons like Captain Planet, where all the villains are named with a pollution theme, 'Dr. Blight,' 'Hoggish Greedly,' 'Verminous Scum,' 'Lootin Plunder,' and so on.

4. Theme Names

A very obvious approach is to simply give your villain a theme name, such as "The Joker." Finding a good theme name is easier said than done. It could seem like you're trying too hard: "The Entombinator". Forgive me, but there's just way too much going on there. Or it could be a little too fey: "The Mullion." That's back into Bradford Brumely territory, I'm afraid. Or it could be too void of drama: "The Apothecary." I'm sorry, but is this a Norman Rockwell painting you're composing? Because unless you're going for a slice of small town life in the '20s, y'don't want The Apothecary anywhere near your story or novel. In fact, unless you're naming a supervillain who's going to have adopted a theme to his villainy--and I've always wondered why they do that, frankly--or a serial killer who's been named by the press (e.g. The Boston Strangler), it's probably better to avoid titles altogether.

5. Realism

Of course, your villain doesn't have to have a Villain's Name at all. In real life, bad people don't necessarily have villain's names. Adolf isn't really a threatening name, but there aren't many kids being named Adolf anymore--it's become a villain's name. So it could well be Bradford Brumley the Apothecary. Maybe he's the unassuming small town man who lives with his mom and drugs local women to get them pregnant. (That's some Southern Gothic for you, there.) Hence Patrick Bateman of American Psycho, an ordinary name.

Some Great Villain Names

Melmoth the Wanderer
Steerpike
Count Dracula
Svengali
Cruella de Vil
Count Fosco
William Shrike
Bradley Headstone
Uriah Heep
Maleficent
Ebenezer Scrooge
Vathek
Nurse Ratched
Herr Naphta
Darth Vader

6. Extra Tips and Tricks

Sound Effects: Certain letters convey a more sinister vibe than others. Lots of 's' gives a serpentine flavour. And an 'x' is rarely good. In between is a 'k'. Lex Luther, Severus Snape, Shere Khan. Of course, this isn't guaranteed. "Sissy Snackwell" or "Pixie Pressbum" just aren't going to do the trick.

Alliteration: I've been using lots of alliteration throughout this article. For one, I find it funny. But also, it does help. It doesn't help Bradford Brumley, but it does help Lex Luther. It just wouldn't have been the same had he been called Lex Sutherland.

Epithets: This goes back to Homer. If you want someone to be evil, just say so in an epithet. Bradford Brumley the Destroyer is threatening by the sheer nature of the epithet "the Destroyer." Of course, it does seem a little mock-epic. "the Destroyer" would do a lot better on a name like 'Sixgun Shirker.' Or 'Sinful Sammy the Bastard.' But choose carefully. Ming the Merciless is good. Ming the Incontinent is not.

Ultimately, if your villain is a great character, the name will be an afterthought. However, a well-chosen name can do a lot of the work of characterization. Besides, if your villain is named well, s/he'll be much more fun to write. Good luck!

Comments 49 comments

Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

Great ideas.......... Kaie


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Thanks! My mind is a womb, ever pregnant with great ideas.

Cheers!


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Now all objections are vanquished. The well-named villian is conceivably a "she". Already a good start on the "s" approach, too! Sharinia Schesheshily, the Scintillating Seckspuss. How's that?


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey Nellie!

It's missing a little something. Oh, I know. Countess. Countess Sharinia Schesheshily Seckspuss the Scintillating. There. She's now ready to wreak much havoc in an Anthony Trollope novel.

Cheers!


SilverGenes 6 years ago

I'm still working on Ted Danson - Baron Theodore Danscion perhaps.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Uriah Heep is such a great name..."I be ever so humble, I be", he says as he wrings his hands. I love Dickens's names...Pip, Ham, Mr Pickwick, Mr Macawber [who I feel a great sympathy with at the moment] and Mr. Gradgrind..what better name for a dictatorial school master...? There's too many others to mention.

'Arthur Windermere'...now that's pretty evil....way too many syllables for comfort.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

haha SilverGenes, you're a natural! That's brilliant. Baron Theodore Danscion the Fell.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey Jane,

Hehe yeah, I always liked how Dickens uses words to describe Uriah that make him feel and sound disgusting, eel-like. Ah, Micawber the Financially Challenged. Who ended up in Australia, incidentally. I think Dickens' most preposterous name is Noble Refrigerator. But my favourite is Mr. Grimwig. If that isn't Dickens best name, I'll eat my own head.

Windermere is certainly aristocratic. But it's missing some of that 's' and the picture it paints is too noble. Sir Arthur Sindearly. I like that. A little Dickensian.

Cheers!


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

well done... amusing, and sharp, too!!!!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Yeah..I was only joking AW. It's not dangerous at all...


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

muscle: Thanks, man! Glad you liked it. Cheers!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

JB: Don't be so glum, chum. I know you were joking.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

yes you STILL create the best hubs out there for imagination, being off-beat, irreverent, entertaining, unusual, witty, and off-the-wall with panache, verve and bravado ...... and yes they have absolutely eye catching titles to them. You are on your own little island - and no one else can touch it!!!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Well, pretty girls are plenty welcome on my island. It isn't so little. ;)

Thanks for the praise! I hope you're reading more than the titles of these hubs, or you're missing the best part.

Cheers!


FCEtier profile image

FCEtier 6 years ago from Cold Mountain

Both amusing AND informative. Well done!

I re-tweeted and dugg it for you.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey, thanks FCEtier!

Cheers!


JamesKeretses profile image

JamesKeretses 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

Awesome. Gave me some great ideas.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey James,

Thanks for dropping in. Glad my tongue-in-cheek advice proved helpful. hehe

Cheers!


the pink umbrella profile image

the pink umbrella 6 years ago from the darkened forest deep within me.

What's that about the island? oh, and i dont want to be stinky cheese girl thank you very much, no ones going to go into stinky cheese girl's tent!!! ;(


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

I'm getting a head start on my advertising campaign. hehehe

Nobody except the lonely bear. I don't know why we brought him to the island. But he likes cheese.


ltfawkes profile image

ltfawkes 6 years ago from NE Ohio

"'Marty the Merciless' is what you call a particularly aggressive accountant. There's a guy who can crunch numbers."

Yeah, I think I know him.

Nice work.

L.T.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hi L.T.,

Thanks for dropping bye. Glad you enjoyed basking in my wisdom.

Cheers!


nighthag profile image

nighthag 6 years ago from Australia

a great amusing look at a common problem for some writers.

well done and thanks off to check out more of your work :)


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hey nighthag,

Glad you enjoyed it. I hope I've saved the world from a Bradford or two.

Cheers!


qwertyuiop 5 years ago

Sir Sneersby? Count Crowsneer?


ar.colton profile image

ar.colton 5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

Great hub, I always try to use character names to convey something to my reader at their first impression. The way you would infer something about people based on what their wearing. When your character is on the page though the first thing the reader knows about them is often their name.

You've got a new follower:)


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hi qwertyuiop,

Well done on the Count Crowsneer! Sneersby sounds a little too much like a cartoon fox. Actually, y'know what I'm thinking of? Cyril Sneer, the villain from The Raccoons.

Cheers!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hey Colton,

Welcome aboard. Whenever I heard the name 'Colton' I can't help but think of Louie Colton. If you don't know Louie, just search for "dating losers" on youtube. He's a sweet guy, just unlucky in love. hahaha

Anyway, you're right on. I hadn't thought of that, but yes, a name does the work of a visual impression in text.

Cheers!


Lizzzz13 5 years ago

Bravo! Not only is this interesting, but it brings life to the creation of villianous titles. Might have some fun and test this out :P

Count Serpentar

Madam Endara Drexel

Liz


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

Excellent hub, and really rather useful for me, since I struggle to name all of my characters. And currently having a real problem with finding the name for my Big Baddy, so thanks :) I'll try out some of your tips and see what I come up with.

Linda.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hi Liz,

Thanks for the kind words. Looks like you've got the hang of it! But 'madam' sounds like Drexel should be running a brothel. Go ahead and make her a Baroness. ;)

Cheers!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Hi Linda,

Glad you found this article useful! Good luck with your writing. Just a tip: Don't name him "Big Baddy". haha

Cheers!


CavemanSam profile image

CavemanSam 5 years ago

I've been trying for months to come up with some good evil people names. This has got me pointed in the right direction. Thanks.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

No? I was actually thinking that Big Baddy fit rather well. Oh well then, I'll try something else ;)

Linda.


arthurchappell profile image

arthurchappell 5 years ago from Manchester, England

Some excellent names there, yours, Baron Beltane B L Z'Bub 3rd.


AmeliaMercedies profile image

AmeliaMercedies 5 years ago

This was helpful cause when I write I always come to a standstill when I have to find a good name for the villian!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 5 years ago Author

Caveman Sam - Welcome!

Lady Wordsmith - ;)

Arthurchappell - haha good one, Arthur!

AmeliaMercedies - Welcome! Good luck!


DeadlyClaw 5 years ago

Please HELP! I HAVE THIS REALLY GREAT VILLAIN ON THE BRAIN BUT FINDING THE RIGHT NAME FOR HIM HAS BEEN A PAIN IN THE A--!I've looked all around the internet, Latin words failed me: I looked up the latin words for Hell and Fire but they sounded like Girl names! I can't name a dasterdly dude a grooping girls name! I thougth you were excelently well written but no names can to me- please help. See- he's a dictator/tyrant of a city as large as a small country,. He's ruthless, coldhearted, merciless, and doesn't care if he has to kill someone or one of his own minions to get what he wants-eternal life and power. He doesn't care to talk about his past, and if someone asks he either A; gives them a lifetime scar, or B: they're simply silenced. my character spent years improving himself- building immunties to all poisons, making sure he was so rock hard that nothing could penetrate his skin. Then trained his mind to think two steps ahead of all his enemys. Eventually he took the city,. So you see my problum- I need a respectable name that is also feared by my readers!


asdfghjkl 5 years ago

that gave me a massive brain fart! thanks! for writing it!

I've been trying to get a good villain name for weeks!!

anonymous


Rusty C. Adore profile image

Rusty C. Adore 5 years ago from Michigan

Love this hub! Great suggestions and tricks for naming a villan. Awesome!


Uhyeahitsme 5 years ago

I dont write or anything but i tend to lean toward the dark side of the spectrum when playing games, evil is fun tho cant be blatant about it...a name i thought of before and never used tho

Wrath Mordrull


Maximum A 5 years ago

hey thanks so much for your hub. ive been spending days and nights trying to come up with a good villain name. your tips are really amusing and helpful.


Jagodka profile image

Jagodka 5 years ago

Awesome article you got there! Definitely great advice for anyone who needs an epicly evil name for their villian.


flipit 4 years ago

A note - 'Patrick Bateman' in "American Psycho", though sounding quite normal, resembles the quite average 'Norman Bates' in "Psycho."


VampireLord 4 years ago

This is a awsome hub, i read all of it and saved it in my favorites.

i would like to know if my name for my main villain is good:

Daniel Evilson.

thanx and way awsome blog, just incase my first name begins with a C, my second is a B and my surename is a K. im writeing books at the moment and this really is more helpful than most i have ever read. cheers again.


toodilydoo111 4 years ago

I've been stumped on a villain name 4 my story. This totally helped. Thanx a lot!

hearts hearts love love xoxo


penuis 4 years ago

gdgd bro


eric-carter profile image

eric-carter 4 years ago from Fulham, UK

Fantastic work indeed! I'll surely put your ideas to good work, stay tuned for the result.


thewritingowl profile image

thewritingowl 3 years ago from Ireland

I like it a lot. Voted up.

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