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After googling characters from several shows. I never had to specify which character. It seems like shows make sure to name every character uniquely. This of course makes sense, especially if you imagine reading the script before the show is made way easier to track things this way. What are some shows that break this rule? Are there any? Or is this a law of television?

Please don't include movies at all. Also, don't refer to shows where the same named characters existed at different times on the show.

I tried this with The Simpsons which has a huge cast. I can't think of one duplicate character name.

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    I am afraid you are asking for a list which is against the site rules. Aug 7 '16 at 7:03
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    I'm not asking for a list exactly. I changed the question question title anyways. I am asking for references to at least a show or two as citations. As opposed to an answer "yes, some shows do use the same name" Aug 7 '16 at 7:20
  • The Simpsons has Marge & Maggie Simpson which are short versions of the same name, Margaret.
    – Paulie_D
    Aug 7 '16 at 8:20
  • This question is about unique names in a show to avoid confusion in storytelling. Not about what nicknames share a common root name. Jack and John are both short for Jonathan. But a viewer would never confuse the two while watching the show. Does that make sense? Aug 7 '16 at 16:10
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    George R. R. Martin once said that as a young writer he's been told that you should avoid having characters not only with the same name, but even with names starting with the same letter, otherwise readers get confused. He said that he finds this rule unrealistic and as a result in Song of Ice and Fire we have multiple characters having the same name. However the screenwriters of Game of Thrones apparently follow the rule and changed some names to avoid viewers confusion - more details in this question. Aug 7 '16 at 23:39
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As requested by OP, below is my comment expanded into an answer.

Avoiding multiple characters with the same name seems to be a common technique in writing. George R. R. Martin said in one of the interviews:

But I broke a lot or rules in writing these books, that you're taught as a writer, that I certainly was taught. But at certain point I thought, "To hell with those rules."

What rules?

Well, having so many characters, for one. Having similar names. Stuff like that. I remember as a little baby writer I was taught never have two characters whose names begin with the same letter because people will get them confused. And I realized I was going to have more than 26 characters, so that would have to go out the window.

And also I was reading a lot of history. [People said], "Never have two characters with the same letter? Certainly never have two characters with the same name." But then I'm saying, "That's so unrealistic." I mean, English history is entirely composed of Henrys and Edwards. There's endless Henrys and Edwards, and you know, not only kings, who at least get numbers, but the guys who never become king. They're princes, and then they die. They're not even distinguished by numbers and it's very hard to keep all these guys straight. But that's the way the history actually was. Families using the same name over again. And I like that element of verisimilitude, [so] I adopted that.

However when Martin's saga got adapted into Game of Thrones its writers decided to follow the rule and introduced several name changes to avoid viewers confusion.

This question deals entirely with one such change:

  • Real name of one character (unknown until one of the later seasons) has been changed from Walder to Wylis to avoid confusion with already existing character Walder Frey

Other examples (thanks to user568458's answer to the abovementioned question) are:

  • Robert Arryn has been changed to Robin Arryn as two more important characters were named Robert and Robb

  • Asha has been changed to Yara as it was too similar to Osha, an already introduced character

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The reason every character has a unique name is to keep the actors (and the audience) from being confused. I say this tongue partially in cheek, but there is a lot of truth to it. Unless the show has a name gag going (which will usually only be an episode), the character names will be different. It saves time in the writing, rehearsing and shooting not to have to specify which Steve is being referred to in a given scene or piece of dialog. Remember that time is precious on a set, and this is a simple technique to keep things moving.

Note that when the characters have the same name for some reason, one of them will be consistently referred to to by a nickname. One example is the Gilmore Girls, where the given name for the two main characters is Lorelai, but the daughter is always referred to as Rory. To go even older school, in Dallas there were three characters named John Ross Ewing, who were known on the show as Jock, J.R. and John Ross.

In short, it keeps production simple when every character has a unique name.

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  • This is what I was assuming to be the case in the industry. It's clear you understood my question. Because of your Dallas example. However. @cde cited 3 good examples where shows have broken this rule. Also pointed out by walt with the Kelly Kelly/Erin characters. Aug 7 '16 at 23:33
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    Every "rule" is broken in art at some point, but usually for a reason. And you'll note that the Pete and Pete, Ed, etc, and Christine names are all part of extended name gags.
    – dbugger
    Aug 7 '16 at 23:39
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It was a joke, but Newhart (1982-90) had 2 characters named Darryl who were brothers.

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Justice League had John and J'onn, pronounced the same, the Johns. Young Justice had Roy "Speedy"/Red Arrow, and his clone Roy. The original renamed himself Arsenal afterwards.

The New Adventures of Old Christine had new and old Christines.

The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

Ed, Edd and Eddy.

Babs and Buster Bunny, no relation.

Breaking Bad had Senior and Junior Walters. Any show with a father son Sr. And Jr.

So technically the Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, I mean Henry Jones Jr.

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    New Christine is the new wife of Old Christine ex husband. Forced sitcom laughter ensues as they all interact.
    – cde
    Aug 7 '16 at 7:25
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    Thanks for the examples. Interesting though in 3 of your original examples the the non unique names is actually a major part of the show. Sr. Jr. Doesn't count. What I'm referring to is like at my real life office there are 2 John's and 2 Christies in an office of 20 people. I mentioned in my question not to include shows where there are multiple timelines. Aug 7 '16 at 7:25
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    Okay. Then new adventures of old Christine. Is exactly a perfect example. Thanks! Aug 7 '16 at 7:31
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    The Office had some fun with this trope: Erin's real name is Kelly, but since there can't be 2 Kellys, she's called by her middle name around the office.
    – Walt
    Aug 7 '16 at 7:47
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    Justice League's captioning often gets John and J'onn confused. Aug 9 '16 at 13:12
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The Last Man on Earth has two characters named Phil Miller: the protagonist of the series, played by Will Forte, and another character who later joins the group of survivors, played by Boris Kodjoe. The name duplication is largely played for laughs. The group (and, by extension, the show) ends up deciding to call Will Forte's character by his middle name, "Tandy", which he hates.

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Well, since half of the male characters in 100 Years of Solitude are called Aureliano, and Netflix is turning it into a TV show, I imagine it would fit the bill :).

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While it may not be very common, as suggested or explained in previous answers, the answer is actually,

Sometimes.

In example, some science fiction works explore human identity through the construct of "Doppelgangers", in which some doppelgangers exist in the form of characters with the same name and similar appearances, but they come from either other timelines or universes.

Fringe, The Man in the High Castle, and Counterpart are all stories about parallel universes, in which counterparts have the same name, and despite some visual differences, characters pretend to be their counterparts as an infiltration tactic.

There are also other cases in science fiction where either temporal phenomenon occur or their is time travel present, characters may come across known characters (with the same names), but at different ages.

LOST and the upcoming TV series adaption of The Time Traveler's Wife are examples where this happens, but in TTW's case, there are times were the characters are similar enough in age that the audience may have to guess when it is, but this is all about the idea of exploring identity in a more intimate way, or to ask if identity is fixed or fluid. Can human identity truly be defined as we age?

Sometimes fantasy, such as Game of Thrones, will also use doppelgangers via magic, to make themselves appear like other characters and assume an identity. The mythology behind The Faceless Men would be a specific example, as the *TV audience only knows the name "Jaqen H'gar", where in the book their is distinction between two men sharing the same face & personality: H'gar and The Kindly Man. There might be a mythological debate about identity when someone wears the same face and believes in the same things, if anything actually makes them different person? These seems to be the idea behind The Faceless Men. IMO the TV series adaptation made this more ambiguous with how they used both H'gar and The Waif in attempting to condition Arya.

Once in a while, it might be used as a kind of running joke. I can not think of a TV series that has done this (although I think another answer has), but the fantasy-adventure dramedy romance film series, Pirates of the Caribbean has a running gag of the surname name "Smith" or "Smyth". (You can see my answer to see the list I made on another Q). This also then would make the recurring surname "thematic" to POTC series. However this not integral to the plot or there is nothing on screen that would make all the Smiths confusing. It's just a small amusing thing.

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