How Does Pixar Name Its Characters?

The best answer to any question.
May 21 2014 8:54 AM

How Does Pixar Name Its Characters?

Woody and Buzz from Toy Story

Courtesy of Pixar

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Craig Good, teller of stories, many of which are true:


The same way any other writer might: It's a normal part of the story process.

Some names come easily, such as “Woody Pride.” Many go through many rewrites. After Tinny, the antique one-mand-band windup toy, became a space man, we went through a few names. One stand-in was “Lunar Larry.” I contributed the name “Tempus From Morph” for a short test. It wasn't until a later story session that some folks batting around names tossed out “Buzz,” as a nod to Buzz Aldrin, and someone else (as I recall, nobody remembers exactly who) called out “Lightyear.”

Revisions can happen for many reasons. The protagonist of A Bug's Life was a merge of two characters from an earlier version, “Flick” and “Grub.” The “Flick” name survived, but the “c” was dropped when someone saw how it might look in certain fonts or hand-written in all caps.

In early versions of Monsters, Inc.Sullivan was going to start as a nebbish screwup named “Johnson.” Then someone pointed out that perhaps we already had our quota of character names that could be awkward euphemisms. He became “James P. Sullivan” and also eventually lost the glasses.

“Mustang McQueen” became “Lightning McQueen” when the character became a pure race car not associated with a known model. “Mater” got his name from a character named Mater that John Lasseter met at a NASCAR race.

So the short answer (too late, I know) is that there's no one short answer. I'll bet most people reading this didn't know Woody had a last name, though. Quite understandable, since it's never mentioned in any of the Toy Story movies.

More questions on Quora:



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.