03 April 2021

From Alice to Zorro

As writers, we often talk about titles and how important they are to our stories and novels. I try hard to pick exactly the right title for what I create--all writers do--and I've occasionally used the name of a character in the title, or as the title, of a story. Sometimes that's intentional from the get-go, and sometimes it's something I decide on during the writing process.

For anyone who's interested (listen up, both of you) here are some of those character-name titles to stories that I've published or that have been accepted and are upcoming:

"The Daisy Nelson Case," "Rhonda and Clyde," "Annabelle," "The Early Death of Pinto Bishop," "What Luke Pennymore Saw," "The Moon and Marcie Wade," "Saving Mrs. Hapwell," "Charlotte in Charge," "A Message for Private Kirby," "The Pullman Case," "Frankie," "Punch and Judy," "Diamond Jim," "Sweet Caroline," "Driving Miss Lacey," "Billy the Kid," "Purple Martin," "Cash and Carrie," "The Head Fred," "Jack of All Trades," "Mugging Mrs. Jones," "Andy Get Your Gun," "Lewis and Clark," "Saving Grace," "What Happened to Lizzie Martin?," "Ex Benedict," "Byrd and Ernie," "Stealing Honey," "Remembering Tally," "On the Road with Mary Jo," "Melon CollieBaby," "Take the Money and Ron," "The Barlow Boys," "Mustang Sally," "The Real McCoy," "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," "Burying Oliver," etc.

and the following is a list of some of my story titles that are character-name possessives. (In going through my records, I was surprised to find how many times I've done that.)

"Murphy's Lawyer," "Lindy's Luck," "Molly's Plan," "Bennigan's Key," "Henry's Ford," "Denny's Mountain," "Margaret's Hero," "Clara's Helper," "Lucian's Cadillac," "Newton's Law," "Della's Cellar," "Lucy's Gold," "Eddie's Motel," "Hartmann's Case," "Merrill's Run," "Dooley's Code," "Angela's Taxi," "Rosie's Choice," "Amos' Last Words," Dawson's Curse," Button's and Bo's," "An Hour at Finley's," "Mattie's Caddie," "Walker's Hollow," "Charlie's War," "Rachel's Place," "Everybody Comes to Lucille's," "Hildy's Fortune." 

But, as Leslie Nielsen said in Airplane, that's not important right now. (And don't call me Shirley.) What is important, at least in today's column, is TV shows that used character names as their titles.

I'll build up a little to the finale. First, TV series titles that are full (two-word) names. Some of these bring back good memories for me:

Ally McBeal, Annie Oakley, Barbaby Jones, Barney Miller, Bat Masterson, Ben Casey, Casey Jones, Dan August, Daniel Boone, Ellery Queen, Hec Ramsey, Johnny Ringo, Lou Grant, Shotgun Slade, Sky King, Lizzie McGuire, Michael Shayne, Mike Hammer, Murphy Brown, Nash Bridges, Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, Ray Donovan, Robin Hood, Stoney Burke, Temple Houston, Veronica Mars, Yancy Derringer.

Next are character-name titles that apparently required a little explanation afterward:

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; Magnum, P.I.; Marcus Welby, M.D.; O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; Quincy, M.E.; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Trapper John, M.D.; Walker, Texas Ranger; Xena: Warrior Princess.

Next, titles that are combinations of names. The ones I could recall were either comedies or crime/drama series, and--here's what's interesting--the comedies always used first names and the dramas used last names. Here are a few: 

Cagney & Lacey, Dharma & Greg, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Ozzie & Harriet, Rizzoli & Isles, Simon & Simon, Starsky & Hutch, Will & Grace.

And finally (drumroll . . .), one-word character titles. The more I thought about it, the more of them I remembered, and I was stunned at how many of those successful shows there were (and are). Remember these TV series?

Alice -- Linda Lavin starred as Alice Hyatt, a waitress at an Arizona diner. Based on the 1970s movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. 

Angie -- Angie Falco (Donna Pescow) was a blue-collar coffeeshop waitress in love with a pediatrician.

Banacek -- Thomas Banacek (George Peppard) was a freelance insurance investigator in Boston. 

Baretta -- Tony Baretta (Robert Blake) was a police detective who lived with his cockatoo (Fred).

Batman -- Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West). BAM! SPLAT!

Becker -- Dr. John Becker (Ted Danson) was a Bronx physician with little patience for his patients. 

Benson -- Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume) was the head butler for a widowed governor. A spinoff of the series Soap.

Bosch -- Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) was an LAPD detective from the novels of Michael Connelly.

Bronco -- Bronco Layne (Ty Hardin) was a Civil War-vet drifter who often ran into famous historical figures.

Castle -- Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) was a mystery novelist who teamed up with an NYPD homicide detective to solve crimes.

Cannon -- Frank Cannon (William Conrad) was a private eye and former LAPD cop.

Cheyenne -- Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) was a gentle-giant cowboy with a great theme song.

Coach -- Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) was head coach of a Minnesota college football team. (This was NOT a spinoff from Cheers.)

Colombo -- Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) was a rumpled and cigar-smoking LAPD homicide detective who always wanted to know "just one more thing."

Cybill -- Cybill Sheridan (Cybill Shepherd) was a struggling/aspiring actress in her forties.

Delvecchio -- Dominick Delvecchio (Judd Hirsch) was yet another LAPD detective, studying to be a lawyer.

Destry -- Tom Destry (John Gavin) was a Western lawman in a series inspired by the James Stewart movie Destry Rides Again.

Dexter -- Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) was a bloodspatter analyst for a fictional Miami police unit.

Eischied -- Earl Eischied (Joe Don Baker) was a tough, southern NYPD Chief of Detectives. Inspired by the EXCELLENT miniseries To Kill a Cop.

Felicity -- Felicity Porter (Keri Russell) was a student at a fictional New York college.

Fish -- Phil Fish (Abe Vigoda) was an NYPD detective. Inspired by the series Barney Miller.

Flo -- Florence Castleberry (Polly Holliday) was a former waitress and proprietor of a roadhouse in Fort Worth. A spinoff from the series Alice.

Frasier -- Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was a Seattle psychiatrist who probably needed one of his own. A spinoff from Cheers, and one of the best sitcoms ever filmed.

Galavant -- Sir Gary Galavant (Joshua Sasse) was a knight in a musical fantasy comedy series that ran for two seasons.

Gidget -- Frances "Gidget" Lawrence (Sally Field) was a surfing, boy-crazy teenager in Southern California.

Griff -- Wade Griffin (Lorne Greene) was a Los Angeles P.I. who looked suspiciously like Ben Cartwright.

Grindl -- Grindl (Imogene Coca) was a maid for a temporary employment agency.

Hannibal -- Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) was a forensic psychiatrist who sometimes ate his patients, and others. Based on Thomas Harris's novels.

Hawk -- John Hawk (Burt Reynolds) was a Native American detective for New York City's District Attorney's office.

Hazel -- Hazel Burke (Shirley Booth) was a live-in maid for the Baxter family. 

Hennesey -- Charles "Chick" Hennesey (Jackie Cooper) was a Navy physician stationed in San Diego.

Hondo -- Hondo Lane (Ralph Taeger) was a former Confederate officer who moved west, and didn't last long on TV. Inspired by the John Wayne movie of the same name.

House -- Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) was an offbeat physician at a fictional Princeton, New Jersey, hospital.

Hunter -- Sgt. Rick Hunter (Fred Dryer) was a shrewd Dirty Harry-like LAPD homicide cop. 

Ironside -- Robert T. Ironside (Raymond Burr) was a wheelchair-bound Chief of Police in San Francisco.

Joey -- Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) was a struggling, and eventually famous, actor in L.A. A spinoff from Friends.

Julia --  Julia Baker (Diahann Carroll) was a nurse in a doctor's office at an aerospace company.

Kojak -- Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) was an NYPD detective fond of Tootsie Roll Pops.

Lancer --  Murdoch Lancer (Andrew Duggan) was an Old West rancher with two sons. More memorable is probably Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacy), one of the sons.

Longmire -- Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) was the sheriff of a fictional county in modern-day Wyoming. Based on the novels of Craig Johnson.

Longstreet -- Mike Longstreet (James Franciscus) was a blind insurance investigator in New Orleans.

Lucifer --  Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) was the Devil, who relocated from hell to L.A. to run a nightclub and (get this) do consulting work for the LAPD.

Luther -- John Luther (Idris Elba) was a Detective Chief Inspector in London.

MacGyver -- Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) was an ingenious and inventive government agent and troubleshooter.

Madigan -- Dan Madigan (Richard Widmark) was a veteran police sergeant in New York. Based on the movie of the same name.

Mannix -- Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was a corporate detective, and later private detective, based in L.A. 

Markham -- Roy Markham (Ray Milland) was a globetrotting private eye and attorney based in New York.

Marple -- Miss Jane Marple (Geraldine McEwan and, later, Julia McKenzie) was an elderly crimesolving spinster in the village of St. Mary Mead. Inspired by the Agatha Christie novels. 

Matlock -- Ben Matlock (Andy Griffith) was a folksy attorney and sort of a southern version of Perry Mason.

Maude -- Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) was a brash, outspoken woman who lived with her husband in Westchester County, New York.

Maverick -- Bret Maverick (James Garner) was a traveling and carefree gambler in the Old West.

McCloud -- Sam McCloud (Dennis Weaver) was a deputy marshal from Taos, New Mexico, on loan to the NYPD. Inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff.

Monk -- Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) was a private detective and consultant who struggled with OCD.

Newhart -- Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) was an innkeeper in a small Vermont town. This series's final scene of its final episode is probably the best and most surprising I've ever watched.  

Nikita -- Nikita Mears (Maggie Q) was an escapee from a secret government organization who was determined to destroy it. Based on the French movie Le Femme Nikita

Petrocelli -- Tony Petrocelli (Barry Newman) was an Italian-American lawyer in the desert Southwest.

Phyllis -- Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) was a quirky widow who moved to San Francisco with her daughter. A spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Poirot -- Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) was a British detective and former Belgian policeman based in London. Inspired by the Agatha Christie novels.

Reba -- Reba Nell Hart (Reba McEntire) was a single mother living in Houston, Texas.

Rhoda -- Rhoda Morganstern (Valerie Harper) was a young woman who moved from Minneapolis to New York City. Another spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Roseanne -- Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) was the wife and mother in a working-class family in Illinois.

Seinfeld -- Jerry Seinfeld was a fictional version of himself, in an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Serpico -- Frank Serpico (David Birney) was an NYPD detective who fought police corruption. Based on the Al Pacino movie of the same name.

Shaft -- John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) was a classy, suave New York City detective whose series ran for only a few episodes. Based on the far more successful movie.

Shane -- Shane (David Carradine) was a former gunfighter who worked as a hired hand for a rancher's widow and her son. Like Hondo, this Western series was based on a movie of the same name.

Sherlock -- Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) was . . . well, you know who he was. Based on the Conan Doyle novels.

Sugarfoot -- Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster (Will Hutchings) was an Easterner who came west to become a lawyer.

Tarzan -- Tarzan (Ron Ely) was the well-educated Englishman who liked to run through the jungle and yodel.

Tenafly -- Harry Tenafly (James McEachin) was a former cop who left the force to become a detective for a private corporation, and was unusual in that he was a happy, middle-class family man.

Toma -- Dave Toma (Tony Musante) was a real-life detective and master of disguise.

Topper -- Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll) was an L.A. bank vice-president who lived in a home occupied by the ghosts of its former residents.

Webster -- Webster Long (Emmanuel Lewis) was a five-year-old African American orphan adopted by a former NFL star and his wife. 

Zorro -- Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro (Guy Williams) was the black-caped crusader who fought the corrupt local military in 1820s California.

I suppose the lesson here, if there is one, is that if you create a fictional series, certainly for TV, maybe those one-word-character titles are the way to go. Even Lassie and Flipper and Fury, one-word non-human character titles, worked pretty well. I also found it interesting that almost half of the titles in this section were of mystery/crime shows.

I'm well aware that I've left out a lot of titles. Feel free to let me know about them, in the comments section--and about any character-name story or novel titles of your own. Do you think doing this is a good practice, or sort of an easy way to solve the choosing-a-title problem? 

Anyhow, that's that. See you in two weeks.


  1. Great list. I looked though my published short stories and discover I have used character-named titles only a few times. Of my 32 published novels, only two have character-named titles, JOHN RAVEN BEAU (first book in a police procedural series) and my young adult superhero novel – MISTIK. Interesting.

    1. O'Neil, any discussion of the process of choosing effective titles is interesting to me. I suppose the key to whether to use a character name for a title is whether that name is "catchy" enough (like John Raven Beau, or Mistik) to serve the purpose. Those two sound perfect, to me.

      For me, I admit that using character names as a part of the title (like all those possessives) is sometimes a case of not being able to think of a better title otherwise. The reason for examining some of those old character titles in TV was that there were so many more of them that I would've thought. Probably because the main character (and actor) was everything to those little shows (Columbo, Maverick, etc.).

      Hope all's well with you and yours. Stay in touch!

  2. Nice synchronicity, John, that your post appears during the week I have a piece about titles at EQMM's "Something Is Going to Happen" blog.

    I haven't done character-name titles often. My first two published stories both had protagonist E.Q. Griffen's name in their titles, and my third story, "Sam Buried Caesar," was a take on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe with a kid named Sam as the client of a neighborhood detective agency. "Annika Andersson" was an EQMM story I co-wrote with the late, great Stanley Cohen. And I've used the names of real people twice, in "The Groucho Marx Murders" and "The Stonewall Jackson Death Site."

    My favorite, though, was a story I called "Eb and Flo," which appeared in the first issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine (along with your "Rooster Creek"). The Eb and Flo in the story are the narrator's aunt and uncle, an elderly couple living in a nursing home, and they were closely — and lovingly — inspired by my Uncle Ben and Aunt Florence, who had lived in a nursing home not far from my home for the last years of their long and lovely lives.

    1. Josh, I remember "Eb and Flo," and I also remember thinking that was a perfect title. (Double meanings are always good.)

      As mentioned before, I think we writers rarely use our characters' names in our titles. I actually remember considering doing it in the BCMM story you referred to ("Rooster Creek") and decided to use a location instead. Choosing titles is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. BTW, I'm headed over to the EQ blog to read your essay now.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  3. How could you mention Ben Casey and Marcus Welby--but not Dr. Kildare?

  4. Hey Don! I was going, in those particular lists, for two-word names, with or without job titles after them. Kildare's first name was James, I think, but that wasn't in the title of the series. Hey, here's some Welby trivia for you: I've heard that Marcus Welby's house (in those external shots) was the same as Beaver Cleaver's. Now THAT's essential information.

    I still hum the theme from Ben Casey now and then, and picture the gurney bursting through those swinging doors at the beginning. (If I could get this kind of thing out of my head, I'd have room for a lot more story ideas . . .)

  5. This is interesting, because I've almost never had a story with a name in the title. Maybe it's time to change.

    1. Eve, I think your track record shows that you're already doing the right thing. My story titles range from locations ("Dentonville") to events ("Stopover") to collectives ("Ladies of the North") to themes ("Survival") to MacGuffins ("The Blue Wolf") to names ("Lucifer") to phrases ("In the Wee Hours") to dates ("The First of October") to double meanings ("Weekend Getaway") to heaven knows what else. Whatever works . . .

  6. Entertaining read, John! To add to your list, there was "Spenser: For Hire" and its short lived spin-off, "A Man Called Hawk."

    As far as I can tell I've only used a character name in one story title, "Etta at the End of the World." Now I'm going to challenge myself to do it in whatever story I write next.

    1. Joe, those names in titles might be working, for you--Etta has done well for herself, in terms of recognition! (Congratulations again on all your recent accomplishments!)

      As mentioned, it's hard to say when that kind of thing works and when it doesn't. If you're like me, you often monkey around with dozens of title possibilities until something sounds exactly right. And for me that's sometimes after the story's complete or almost complete. As folks smarter than I am have said, there isn't any right or wrong way to do some of this.

      Thanks as always!

  7. Fun lists, John. Shakespeare used characters as the titles of 28 of his plays, so I guess it works. I have never used a character name for any published work, but I have at least one in my list of unused titles, for a Guthrie novel focussing on several of the female supporting characters. It never got beyond the "here's an idea..." stage. On the other hand, I frequently use song titles or allusions to songs...

    Titles are hard because they have to do so much of the preliminary heavy lifting. I almost always start with a working title and change it when I understand the story and see the important ideas more clearly.

    1. I never thought about Shakespeare and his titles, Steve. Good point! And I've always liked the idea of song titles for story/novel titles.

      I too find myself using a working title that often changes in the course of the story--although I know some writers who say they always have a title firmly in mind before the writing starts. To each his/her own.

      Thanks as always!

  8. You mention Newhart, which reminds me that Bob Newhart may be the only (or one of the few) actors who had four different shows named after him. The first three were The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart, and Bob. I think he once joked that his next show would have to be titled The. Instead, it was titled George & Leo, George being Newhart's actual first name.

    1. Michael, I didn't remember George & Leo. Interesting!

      If you recall the first of those series, The Bob Newhart Show, that had some of the best comedy writing ever, at that time (early 70s), along with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, and several others.

      I've long been a fan of Bob Newhart--he often performed live at IBM awards conferences, so I saw him onstage at some of those--and I think he and Jonathan Winters were among the funniest of the old-time standup comics. To see that kind of thing, Google "IBM Comedy--Bob Newhart" and watch "A Call from Herman Hollerith."

      Thanks for the info!

  9. Looking at my early post on this, I hope no one considered it criticism of anyone using character-named titles. They work well.

    1. I didn't take it that way at all, O'Neil.

      I suspect choosing a character-name title isn't the first thing any of us think of, when we come up with a story idea. But it sometimes seems to fit, probably if the main character is strong enough--and especially in the case of some of those series TV shows.

  10. John, I realize this is off-topic but thank you so much for letting me know about Fredric Brown's book of mystery stories, "Miss Darkness". It was available through Amazon, I bought it & placed it on top of Mt. TBR 😎 That book is almost the size of a telephone book, which I'm old enough to remember very well!

    About story titles, I've never used a character's name in a title. I use words from song lyrics sometimes.

  11. Hey Elizabeth. Glad you got that Fredric Brown book--I believe it includes all his mystery/suspense stories, and some of them are fantastic. Hope you'll like 'em as much as I did.

    Apparently lots of writers like using song lyrics/titles, etc. in (or as) their titles. As Steve and others have said, titles are so important they deserve a lot of thought. I'm not at all sure I choose correctly sometimes, but I try.

    Thanks so much for the note!

  12. Oh my gosh! Longstreet! I'm reading one of Baynard Kendrick's novels (about Duncan Maclain) that inspired the series! As for titles, I usually grab mine from song titles or Shakespeare quotes.

    1. Yep, these days everyone knows Longmire, but not many of us remember Longstreet.

      Good thought, about using Shakespeare quotes--there are so many of them! You take care, and thanks as always for stopping in.


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