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Western Names from the Big (and Small) Screen

Name Dropping

If you're fond of classic or traditional names (or trying to strike a compromise with someone who is!), remember that many of them can easily be turned into western-sounding names. Many popular western names are shortened forms or nicknames taken from classic or traditional names: Matthew = Matt, William = Billy, John = Jack, Anne = Annie, Charles = Chet, Ezekial = Zeke. Don't be afraid to experiment!

What's in a Name

Actor Dustin Hoffman was named after Dustin Farnum, who, with his brother William, was a mainstay actor in early western movies. Hoffman's family, who expected him to be a girl, had to scramble for a name when they got a boy instead. A woman in the bed next to Hoffman's mother was reading a movie magazine that had Dustin Farnum on the cover … and the rest, as they say, is history!

If you're looking for inspiration for a western name, you need look no further than your television or your local video store. Almost any movie made by such legendary directors as George Stevens or John Ford, or any movie with a western title starring Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, or Robert Mitchum is fertile ground for western inspiration.

The pickings are a bit slimmer from television, as many of the early westerns either aren't in wide syndication or are no longer in existence, but such shows as Gunsmoke, The Wild, Wild West, Rawhide, The Big Valley, and Bonanza are worth keeping an eye out for.

Not only might these movies and TV shows yield a name or two, they're fun to watch. The movies in this genre are often American classics and are worth watching for this reason alone.

Here are just a few big screen flicks and television shows to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Cat Ballou: Cat was the nickname of the lead character played by Jane Fonda in this 1965 western that was more comedy than a shoot-'em-up. Other western names from this movie include Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin's character's name) and Clay Boone (who was played by Michael Callan, an actor that no one has heard much from since). Cat could be used by itself, or, more likely, as a nickname for Catherine.

  • Cimarron: From the great Edna Ferber novel, this 1931 film starred Richard Dix as Yancey Cravat and Irene Dunne as Sabra Cravat. Sabra sounds more Israeli than western, but Yancey is a classic western name—in fact, it's believed to derive from a Native American word for “Englishman.”

  • Giant: Another movie based on a great Ferber novel, it starred Rock Hudson as Bick Benedict; Elizabeth Taylor as his eastern-born wife, Leslie Lynnton Benedict; Mercedes McCambridge as Bick's sister, Luz Benedict; and James Dean as Bick's nemesis, Jett Rink. The name Jett has gained some notoriety of late as a given name, perhaps most famously due to John Travolta and Kelly Preston's choice of it for their son. Luz, a Spanish name meaning “light,” is common among Spanish and Hispanic families—Santa Maria de Luz is another name for the Virgin Mary.

  • Name Dropping

    Another great source for western-inspired names is the library. Look for novels by any of these authors: Edna Ferber, Zane Gray, Louis L'Amour, and Larry McMurtry.

    What's in a Name

    When the character played by Rock Hudson needed to assume a false identity to woo Doris Day in the 1959 screwball comedy Pillow Talk, he faked a Texas accent and chose a quintessential Texas-sounding name: Rex Stetson.

    What's in a Name

    Callie, the diminutive of Caroline or Carol, which means “beautiful” or “lovely,” was the name of the female lead played by Lee Remick in the movie These Thousand Hills.

  • The Last Picture Show: Set in windswept western Texas, this early 1970s movie starred Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, and a very young Cybill Shepherd, who made her screen debut as the spoiled wanna-be debutante Jacy Farrow. Jacy is a created name that, because it's associated with this movie, has a western feel; Farrow, which actually means “a litter of pigs” or “to give birth to a litter of pigs,” does as well.

  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: This classic John Ford western starred John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart—Wayne played his classic tough-guy cowboy role, Stewart played an East Coast attorney who comes west to hang his shingle and becomes the target of an outlaw (Valance, played by Lee Marvin), whose path he crosses once too often. Vera Miles played Hallie, the object of both Stewart's and Wayne's affection. All you have to do is hear Wayne say her name to be convinced that it's a western classic.

  • Lonesome Dove: This miniseries adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Larry McMurtry novel tells the story of a life-changing cattle drive. The character names from this series—Augustus McCrae, Woodrow Call, Jake Spoon, Lorena Wood, and Clara Allen—were decidedly western in feel.

  • Rawhide: This early television western ran for eight seasons from the late 1950s through the mid-'60s. Catch it today and you'll see a very young Clint Eastwood in the role of Rowdy Yates.

  • Twenty-Six Men: Not too many people these days remember this television series, which ran during the same period as Rawhide, but its leading character, an Arizona Ranger, had a great western name—Clint Travis.

  • Shane: “Come back, Shane” is the classic catchphrase from this movie. Shane was the name of the main character, played by Alan Ladd.

  • Gunsmoke: This was the enormously popular television show starring James Arness, who played Matt Dillon, and Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty, the dancehall proprietress. To this day, I can't hear the name Amanda without thinking of Blake, her elaborate western costumes and the tough-yet-kind way in which she played her role. Matt is a classic western name thanks to this show; Dillon isn't quite as popular, especially in this spelling—it's a homonym for Dylan, which is the preferred spelling of the name.

More on: Choosing a Name

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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