What's in a name?
The following is an excerpt of Springfield Confidential, the book by The Simpsons producer Mike Reiss, now available for purchase.
“I used to be amazed by Matt Groening’s gift for coining names for characters. In the early days of The Simpsons, they seemed to pour out of him:
The neighbor? Flanders
The reverend? Lovejoy
The mayor? Quimby
The bully? Kearney
Years later, I learned these were all street names in Matt’s native Portland, Oregon. Simpsons characters have intentionally bland names, observing James Thurber’s rule ‘[Humor] never recovers from such names as Ann S. Thetic, Maud Lynn, Sally Forth, Bertha Twins, and the like.’
But there are interesting origins to some of the characters’ names. Here are a few.” —Mike Reiss
Dr. Julius Hibbert
“DR. JULIUS HIBBERT was originally a female doctor named Julia, whom writer Jay Kogen named after his friend Julia Hibbert. She later became famous under her maiden name, Julia Sweeney, as the creator of SNL’s ‘It’s Pat’ character.” —MR
“PRINCIPAL SKINNER: Writer Jon Vitti named him after psychologist B. F. Skinner, inspired by rumors that B.F. used his children as lab rats for his theories.” —MR
Dr. James Loren Pryor
“Vitti also named the school psychologist DR. PRYOR for his prying into the children’s lives.” —MR
“Bart’s teacher is named MRS. KRABAPPEL (pronounced kruh-BOP-el), yet no student ever thinks to mock her as ‘Mrs. Crabapple.’ The joke here is that we don’t do the joke. It’s the same way Arnie Pye’s helicopter traffic report is called ‘Arnie in the Sky’ instead of the pun ‘Pye in the Sky.’ I’m not sure anyone ever gets these jokes. That includes me: ten years after Jeff Martin named Homer’s barbershop quartet the Be Sharps, I looked at a piano and realized there is no B-sharp!” —MR
“For no real reason, JIMBO the bully is named after our boss James L. Brooks. I’m not sure Jim is aware of this.” —MR
“TROY McCLURE, Springfield’s favorite has-been actor, was named after film star Troy Donahue and TV actor Doug McClure. Doug McClure’s daughter Tané later told me that her father was a Simpsons fan. Upon seeing Troy’s first appearance on the show, he asked his children, ‘Are they making fun of me?’ Tané replied, ‘Yeah, Dad, I think they are.’ He watched a little longer, then remarked, ‘Well, it’s pretty funny!’ Subsequently, Doug’s kids would call him Troy McClure behind his back.” —MR
“MR. LARGO is the school music teacher named for a musical term. This is one of the rare funny names that stayed in the show (and it’s not all that funny). Early on, Al Jean and I tried naming Mr. Burns ‘Mr. Meany.’” —MR
“Another survivor is HANS MOLEMAN, who got his name after a writer exclaimed that the character ‘looks like a mole man!’” —MR
“And one product, which is a character in itself:
DUFF BEER: We needed a name for Homer’s favorite beer, and Jay Kogen came up with Duff. No, it was not named after Duff McKagan, bassist for Guns N’ Roses; we’d never heard of this guy. Have you? McKagan loves to claim we called him and asked to use his name: ‘I knew nothing about branding yourself then or the royalties off it. I just thought cool, they wanna use my name and boom, The Simpsons was born. Yeah, if I had a nickel for every time … but it’s fine.’ It’s a cute fake story that McKagan tells in his aptly named memoir It’s So Easy: And Other Lies.” —MR
“CHIEF WIGGUM: Some of our characters evolved from animals. Moe the bartender was modeled on a gorilla—note the hump in his back and his large muzzle. And Chief Wiggum was based on a pig; his voice is an homage to Edward G. Robinson. The fact that the police chief looks like a pig and talks like a gangster is our idea of deft social satire. Wiggum also manages to be dumber and fatter than Homer Simpson. That’s why it scares me when police tell me, as they have many times, ‘You must have cops on staff. Because Chief Wiggum is so true to life.’” —MR
Excerpt from: SPRINGFIELD CONFIDENTIAL by Mike Reiss and Mathew Klickstein. Courtesy of Dey Street Books.