20 Archetypes for People Based on Names

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Various expressions have arisen, sometimes from folkloric or historical origins, to describe types of people by assigning them with personal names. Here are twenty such appellations and their definitions and (sometimes only probable) origins.

1. Average Joe: the average man from a demographic viewpoint; from the ubiquity of the name Joe

2. Chatty Cathy: an annoyingly verbose woman; coined through alliteration and rhyme

3. Debbie Downer: a naysayer or pessimist; coined by joining an alliterative common name with a descriptive label

4. Doubting Thomas: a skeptic; inspired by the name of one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, who refused to believe in Jesus’s resurrection until he saw him

5. Dumb Dora: a dimwitted or foolish woman, from early-twentieth-century slang; coined by joining an alliterative common name with a descriptive label

6. Gloomy Gus: (see “Debbie Downer”); based on a cartoon character named by joining an alliterative common name with a descriptive label

7. Good-Time Charlie: a hedonist; probably based on a reference in a Damon Runyon story about a speakeasy by that name

8. Handy Andy: a person with useful skills; inspired by rhyming a common name with a descriptive label

9. Jack-the-lad: an arrogant, carefree young man; probably inspired by the name of a thief who became a folk hero because of multiple escapes from prison

10. Joe Blow: (see “Average Joe”)

11. Joe Cool: someone who presents a fashionable or unflappable persona; probably originated with the name of an alter ego of the character Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strip

12. Joe Six-Pack (or “Joe Sixpack”): (see “Average Joe,” imagined as a working-class man who enjoys drinking beer, thus the reference to a six-pack)

13. Mary Sue: any main character in a story who is unrealistically capable and flawless; inspired by the name’s all-American, wholesome, winsome associations

14. Merry Andrew: a clownish person; based on an archetypal clown act

15. Nervous Nellie: a timid, easily upset person of either gender; originally, a reference to a high-strung racehorse, influenced by Old Nell, a name associated with nags, or older horses

16. Peeping Tom: a voyeur; based on an apocryphal story of an onlooker (identified with a common name) during the based-in-fact tale of Lady Godiva

17. plain Jane: a girl or woman of average appearance, or any unprepossessing object; inspired by rhyming a common name with a descriptive label

18. Simple Simon: a gullible, unintelligent person; derived from a folk character

19. Smart Aleck (or “smart alec”): a know-it-all; apparently inspired by a nineteenth-century con man the police called “Smart Alec”

20. Typhoid Mary: a person who spreads disease or another undesirable thing; named after Mary Mallon, an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid

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3 thoughts on “20 Archetypes for People Based on Names”

  1. Fun list, thanks!
    Two comments:
    On #2: Is “Chatty Cathy” truly alliterative? I have been under the impression that alliteration was the repetition of the initial consonant sound, and though the two words start with the same consonant, they do not actually share any consonant sounds.

    On #13, is it a “Mary Sue” just for being flawless and hyper-capable, or does the character need to be an author avatar?
    Special Agent Gibbs from “NCIS” is one of those annoyingly hyper-capable, always-right hero (a style of fiction I have heard described as “competency porn”) but I wouldn’t have called him a Mary Sue. If a guest character, with a name, or job, or skill, or some other attribute that was thrown in to be a tie to the writer or the producer of the episode, appeared who could out-perform Gibbs, then THAT would be a Mary Sue. The term, as I understand it, come from a parody of Star Trek fan fiction where the fan includes an avatar character who out shines the canonical hero.

  2. To toss in the hat:
    Harry Homeowner: A guy who takes pride in doing home maintenance work himself; the Lowe’s-Home Depot supershopper. From a character on a hardware store commercial back in the 1970s.

    John Q. Public: The statistically average citizen, a bit more class-neutral than Joe Blow or Joe Sixpack. Maybe more “middle class” by implication.

  3. Re: Mary Sue.
    Dialog from the movie, Pulp Fiction:
    [Waiter to Mia]: How ’bout you, Peggy Sue?
    Although there’s nothing even remotely Mary-Sueish about the Mia character (the question really is just a snappy rhyme), the meaning, however sardonic, mirrors the Mary Sue meme.

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