The fact is, characters have to have names. Oh, there are exceptions—your standard “Man” and “Woman.” In Sullivan’s Travels, Veronica Lake spends the entire movie as “the girl.” And when there are names, there are people who share names. My father and my partner’s brother share a name, and they were born a thousand miles and a couple of decades apart. And, of course, there are people named after people—my dad was a “the third.” Which means that, inevitably, you get your name referenced.
Now, my grandmother was named after her aunt. She spent her childhood as “little Helen” and hated it so desperately she made her children promise not to name their children after her. However, you can’t always control that sort of thing, especially when it comes to pop culture. Because you may think the name you’ve chosen for your kid is just fine, and maybe it is. But maybe you’ve forgotten about its pop culture associations, and your kid is going to get teased by the other kids for a connection you hadn’t foreseen.
I help out a jeweler on the Ren faire circuit. His legal name is Shane. And when he was a kid, those kids who were up on their classic Westerns would indeed quote “Shane! Come back, Shane!” at him. I’m not sure he’s ever seen the movie, because he can’t take it. My legal name is Edith, and I had a boyfriend once who would sing the All in the Family theme at me. I told him that people who shared a name with Donny Osmond shouldn’t do that to people who knew all the words to “Puppy Love.” (I don’t now remember if I actually did—I certainly don’t now—or if it was just a threat.) In fact my middle name is Rose in part because my mother wasn’t going to name me Edith Ann—my younger sister’s middle name is actually Ann.
Sometimes, the associations can come around later in life, even for a name you’d have no reason to assume would ever have American pop culture associations. I went to high school with a guy named Rafiki. He’d gone his whole life with an unusual name that no one could make jokes about. Then suddenly, the summer before we were seniors in high school, The Lion King came out. He and I weren’t actually friends—we moved in different social circles entirely—so I don’t know how much grief he got for it. And you’d hope that, by high school, kids would’ve grown out of that sort of thing. But I noticed it, and I know I wasn’t the only one.
You can’t avoid it, and I’m not saying you should try. And after all, my kids were both named after pop culture figures. Slightly more obscure ones—I had a friend whose mom had, in the late ’70s, considered naming him Luke. But still. I firmly believe that, if kids want to tease another kid, they’ll find a reason. Pop culture naming is just one of those things. We aren’t talking here about all those kids named Galadriel or something really blatantly lifted from pop culture, either. This is “Seinfeld debuted and made life tedious for my sister Elaine.”
I guess what I am saying is that your friend named Peter has probably heard all the Spider-Man jokes they need to. Sure, okay, my kids’ cousin Ellary Quinn (first and middle names) is probably not going to get a lot of Ellery Queen references from her fellow second-graders, but as she gets older, she is doubtless going to get tired of them. You are not the first person to make Indiana Jones references at your friend Henry. Oh, this is universal—my partner is named Graham, and you don’t make cracker references at him if you want him to laugh—but still. It’s not original, and it isn’t clever.