I remember reading a review of that movie “The Baxter” that noted that Peter Dinklage’s character therein was named “Benson Hedges.” The review cited the name — which references Benson & Hedges, a brand of cigarettes that I suspect most Americans aren’t too familiar with — had been created in an “Arrested Development”-like style. Ever since then, I’ve wondered exactly what criteria constitute an “Arrested Development”-like name. The names of the minor characters — and some of the central ones — are unusual in a way that leads me to think there’s an ulterior motive for that specific arrangement of words, much in the way most of the conspicuous groups words are a pun or at least a reference to something else from the show. Some are explained outright — like Hel-Loh “Annyong” Bluth — or at least commented on — like George Michael sharing his name with the singer. But most are left hanging, all tempting and sexy for the bored English major.
I can get nothing from “Michael Bluth,” but GOB’s name seems to be poking fun at our current president. Television Without Pity forums on “Arrested” feature a theory that George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, is actually named “John Ellis Bush,” his nickname being derived from the first three letters of his name just as “George Oscar Bluth” adds up to “GOB.” (Though the show refers to the character as “GOB” with almost perfect consistency, the pilot does indeed specify that his full name is George Oscar Bluth. The same episode also spells out Buster’s full name as Byron Bluth, only to never mention it again. Weird.) Like the Bushes, the Bluth family has a patriarch named “George” and an eldest son named also named “George.” It’s a bit odd, I guess, that this possible parody of the Bushes would conflate George W. Bush and Jeb Bush into the same character, but the similarities are striking nonetheless. Given that the show ultimately details the Bluth family’s heavy involvement with Saddam Hussein, I think the GOB-Jeb parallel is plausible.
The writers didn’t hide any inherent puns in Maeby or Lucille’s names, but they did eventually spin storylines around both. Specifically, a major plot point for all three seasons is the confusion about whether Maeby is biologically related to the rest of the Bluths. In short, it’s a big maybe. And season two gives a throwaway joke to Lucille’s name with the warning to Buster that the part of the ocean he’s chosen to escape from his mother into is inhabited by a “loose seal.”
Here’s as much as I put together for the minor characters whose names I think mean something.
Oddly like how the show pokes fun at Tobias’s apparently gay tendencies, so it does with Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), who plays the Bluth family lawyer for most of the series run. Taken literally, Barry’s last name could mean “horn sucker,” as “korn” and “corn” mean “horn” in most contexts. So essentially, his name could be Barry Dicksucker… Barry’s replacement in the final season, Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio), has the name that’s most obviously explained. The show squeezes a lot out of its resemblance to “blah blah blah,” the best being the mention of Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog. I can’t figure out why the writers named his daughter, Hope Loblaw, though… Another lawyer character, Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), makes a joke about her own name. “Maggie lies her ass off,” she says of her reputation as a notorious liar before she proceeds to prove the remark true by continually lying through out all three episodes she appears in… The Spanish soap opera actress, Marta Estrella, appears in three different story arcs, and played by a different actress in each one. It seems too obvious that her name is Spanish for “star” and she is a Spanish star. However, her name also makes me think of Starla (Mo Collins). GOB dates with both Marta and Starla, only to have one of his brothers end up forming a more serious relationship with either woman afterwards. But that’s as far as I can take it… Amy Poehler’s character — whose name is never spoken and who is referred to in the credits only as “Wife of GOB” — could be a play on the wife of the Biblical Job. The episode that introduces Wife of GOB makes a point of describing her as someone who goads GOB in more and more daring stunts. In the Bible, Job’s wife — who also lacks a name — pushes Job to renounce God as when He repeatedly screws poor Job over. That’s about all she does really… Unlike most characters’ surnames, Stan and Sally Sitwell’s (Ed Begley Jr. and Christine Taylor) actually registers on Google as one that real people have. That may be the end of it, even though the writers eventually found a way to pun it with “Standpoor,” a mysterious corporation that begins purchasing shares of the Bluth Corporation at one point in the series. The Bluths deduce that Stan must be trying to commandeer the company only to later realize that “Standpoor” is the business set up by Lucille Austero (Liza Minelli), who suffers from vertigo… “Austero” itself just seems to be a cognate for “austere,” which wouldn’t seem to have any meaning for Lucille Austero, who lives about as extravagantly as Lucille No. 1… Larry Mittleman ("Super Dave" Osbourne), acts as the surrogate for George Sr. while he's under house arrest, seems like a no-duh pun on "middleman." Johnny Bark (Clint Howard), the environmental activist who tries to prevent the Bluths from cutting down a certain tree, seems like a pretty obvious one… Agents Cummings and Freeling, two FBI types investigating the Bluths wouldn’t have to seem much in common except for the structure of their names, but the fact that the actors playing them (Michael Blieden and Matt Price) were also the male leads in “Melvin Goes to Dinner” makes me think the characters were written to be connected, maybe in a more direct way than I can figure out… Lindsay has a brief infatuation with Moses Taylor (Rob Corddry), a firearms enthusiast and actor known for playing a detective named “Frank Wrench,” the name of whom would seem to be a play on Dick Spanner, the name of a robot detective featured in a “Thunderbirds”-esque puppet show in Britain. The Brits, for the uninitiated, call wrenches “spanners.” I can’t figure out anything with “Moses Taylor, though.
This leaves the following as unexplained, as far as I know.
- Ann Paul Veal (Mae Whitman), whose middle name seems to be especially trying to get at some kind of joke that’s so far completely lost on me.
- Trisha Thoon (Stacey Grenrock-Woods), the oddly-named news reporter who shows up repeatedly in the first season.
- Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer), whose last name isn’t introduced until well after her introduction to the show. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would have picked “Sanchez” as a last name for a character played by a white woman.
- Phil Gunty (Bob Odenkirk), the relationship counselor that Tobias and Lindsay visit together.
- Stefan Gentles (James Lipton), the prison warden, whose name just sounds so dirty.
- Cindi Lightballoon (Jane Lynch), the FBI mole who accidentally falls in love with George Sr., probably confounds me more than any other character on the show. Granted, a lot of “Arrested Development” characters have names that sound like the writers just looked up, saw an object and assigned that noun as a surname. This one, to me, stands out.
- Jan Eagleman (Carrie Preston), the third lawyer the Bluths hire. She seems like she suffers from the same syndrome that apparently affects Cindi Lightballoon, but since all the other lawyers are named for a reason, I’d guess this character is too.
- James Alan Spangler (Sam Pancake), Barry’s gay secretary.
- Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull), Lucille’s private eye.
- And J. Walter Weatherman, Rita Leeds, Steve Holt, Earl Milford, Wayne Jarvis and Jessie Bowers, none of whose names sound particularly unusual but by virtue of being on “Arrested Development” could easily be hiding some little in-joke that I’m not aware of.
Now, at least, the list is there and Google-ready. Maybe you all reading this — or other people with too much time on their hands searching for origins for names on "Arrested Development" — can figure these out.
EDIT: Roommate Aly points out that Moses Taylor is probably a reference to NRA bigwig Charleton Heston, who played Moses in "The Ten Commandments."