Scripts often employ device of a dead relative, to explain a characters motivation. In most cases, we never meet these characters, but they are named.

For example, in Children of Men, Clive Owen and Julianne Moore had a child (Dylan) that died years before the story take place. We never meet Dylan, but he is used to explain the tention distance between Julianne and Clive, and quickly lets the viewer know that they have endured trauma.

So, my question starts here:

Earlier tonight, while watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes...

as Keri Russell's character Ellie revealed that her dead daughters name was Sarah, my wife leaned over to me and said "That's the name I said in my head! The dead daughters name is always Sarah!"

This prompted me to wonder, is there really a name that gets used more often than others, for male/female characters that are named but never seen? If so what are they?

I would include characters like Vera from Cheers! and Maris from Frasier in this question, even though they're not dead.

  • 2
    Interesting, but very very hard to answer.
    – iandotkelly
    Jul 13, 2014 at 5:31
  • You're absolutely right, and I thought about that. But I figured this question would only appeal to a few people, but those few people would probably be active on this site, so...why not ask. Someone might just want to research 25 or so scripts that employ this type of device and extrapolate from that data set. But it might be impossible to answer...
    – Ben Plont
    Jul 13, 2014 at 6:27
  • How would one "proof" this either way? Sure, someone could write an answer that lists a dozen movies that use the same name, but that would neihter proof that it's the most used, nor that it is often used ("a dozen" might seem like a lot, but only until you compare that number to that of all the other movies that use a different name). - Unless there is a Wilhelm scream equivalent at play I don't see how this question can be answered in the current form.
    – Oliver_C
    Jul 13, 2014 at 9:33
  • Ben, meet John & Jane Doe. Oh sorry, their slightly too dead to greet you. ;) Jul 13, 2014 at 15:19
  • I would bet the name "Bob" would be high on the list, lol! If I had access to the IMDB database itself, this would be an easy thing to solve. Jul 13, 2014 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


Well... let's Trope this.

A Posthumous Character is one that is a prominent character, but happens to be dead for the majority of the movie. A character in a movie (as opposed to an extra/human prop) is part of the plot. To paraphrase from the Trope page...

In Children of Men, the reason the child Dylan was even born was to die and provide drama and motivation for the events that occurred during the movie.

I suppose it is also possible that Dylan is a Death by Origin Story... as Dylan's death was part of what made our heroes who they were during the movie.

Now... I deleted this at first, because I recognized the fact that this wasn't what you were asking. So, I started digging. And although Tropes doesn't specifically deal with the Unseen Character, they do deal with breaking up the concept into several smaller categories. This still doesn't answer your question.

@Crow's answer actually (and I hope he brings his answer back) is mostly going to be correct for this. There doesn't appear to be a small subset of names that gets used to cover the unseen characters in stories and movies. Actually, these unseen characters all appear to be very specific people who are designed to be memorable. Because we do not see them, we have to work with things like their unique names or habits to make them more memorable. Thus... the names of these characters tend to not be all that common.

That said, when these unseen but important characters are given a name to reference them, the most common ones are those given to corpses and unknown suspects in crime-based entertainment. That's why Crow's answer would technically be correct.

It would be interesting to use the sites with the lists of the most popular unseen characters, as well as what information is in IMDB to compile a list of all the documented unseen characters... to see what pattern might emerge. It doesn't appear that anyone has done this yet. I would surmise that you might find a name like Joe, or John... because it is relatively common... to have multiple references. I do not think that you would find a a small number of names used over and over again (unless there was another reason for the use of those names like I detailed above).

  • +1 There are some lists of names in some forums dedicated to Unseen Characters, but I haven't found a database, Imdb doesn't seem to go that deep...
    – Ben Plont
    Jul 18, 2014 at 21:25

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