My wife Lauren, in her boundless good taste and kindness, gave me The Complete Far Side for my birthday in April. Combined with The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, it makes up the “Books Wile E. Coyote might attempt to kill the Road Runner with should there ever be an anvil shortage” portion of my library.
Flipping through it over the past eight months provided a great excuse to revisit one of the main influences on my sense of humor. I still remember the monthly calendar my dad had up in his office one year, which featured two cartoons which I found hilarious, even if in my young age I thought those spiders were literally referring to pulling the web off the slide for some reason. Much of the material had not been reproduced in book form until now, so it’s essentially like discovering hundreds of new Far Side cartoons. Your co-worker’s Midvale School for the Gifted coffee mug may not elicit much of a chuckle any more, but having a chance to see many of these cartoons for the first time served as a reminder to the comic’s brilliance.
Already unique as a single panel, The Far Side further differentiated itself in that it didn’t have any recurring characters. People looked the same from comic to comic, bulbous, big-nosed and beehived, but every day it would be new people dealing with aliens, or neighbor dogs, or disobedient cows.
But these people of course had names. And as I read through my collection, I wondered how Gary Larson had picked the names for them every day, and whether there was any sort of a pattern to it. Was there someone keeping tabs for him, telling him he had recently used Earl, maybe he should make the co-pilot Murray this time?
So I decided to go through the complete Far Side, all 14 years and over 1,100 comics of it, and find out which name Larson used the most often.
A few rules:
- You are not allowed to question why I did this
- First names only. Most of the characters only get assigned one name anyways.
- Real people (Einstein, Leona Helmsley) show up frequently in The Far Side. So do fictional characters like Paul Bunyan, Tom Sawyer or Tarzan & Jane. As to not skew the results, neither of these types of people would be counted in the poll. Only the named denizens who solely resided in the Far Side universe would be counted. So when Johnny Appleseed met Irving Ragweed, Johnny did not get counted, but Irving got a +1
- Names misspelled for the purpose of a joke, like the llama named Llarry, counted towards the name it was adapted from.
- Variations all counted individually. Bill and Billy get separate counts.
- Background names were included. If you could see through the window that the store was named “Al’s Hardware”, Al got a +1
- Cavemen, aliens, dogs and other miscellany would be included, as long as they were named. When impossible to tell, gender would be speculated at to the best of my ability
- The name just had to be mentioned. The character could be ‘offscreen’ so to speak.
Without further ado, here are the results:
The top male name for a Far Side character is…Bob! This was not even close. Bob appeared in 54 Far Side cartoons, blowing away the next closest name, Frank, with 38 appearances. Third place, Carl, started out strong, dominating the first year or so of the comic. But while the early years were full of Carl’s, it just did not have the staying power, and only appeared 23 times. Here is the full top ten list of male names and the number of comics they appeared in:
Female names were interesting because there just weren’t as many of them. By my count there were 296 distinct male names in Far Side cartoons, but only 104 female names, and the most common names, Barbara and Sylvia each appeared only nine times. Six names, Betty, Doreen, Doris, Harriett, Helen and Zelda, each appeared eight times. The top ten:
If you’re curious to how many times a specific name appeared, here is a link to a Google doc of my complete Far Side names spreadsheet.
Other stray observations:
- If you them all up, there are 1059 named males, 256 named females
- The name “Gary” only appears twice (once in the last comic) and was only used to refer to the artist
- Most of the times that “Al” shows up, it is on the side of a delivery truck. Al’s Meats, Al’s Scissors. Al had his hands in a lot of pots.
- Cavemen show up in a ton of Far Side cartoons, enough that “Thag” was a top fifteen name, appearing in 14 comics. Zog and Grog got 8 & 7 respectively
- Farmers proved tricky. In Larson’s universe, the term “Farmer ____” tended to alternate between using the farmer’s first and last name. Sometimes Farmer Bob, sometimes Farmer Macdonald. I used my discretion when it wasn’t clear.
- Jake was often used as a dog’s name, which I found surprising since many of the other dog names were ‘typical’ dog names like Fifi and Rex
- I left out Igor, because even though he turns up a lot, it is referring to a specific character from fiction. I don’t think an Igor ever showed up that wasn’t a hunchbacked, mad scientist’s assistant
- I don’t think anybody has been born with one of the top female names since the end of the 70s, and if you leave out Barbara, perhaps even earlier
- If you insist on wondering why I took the time to do this, I believe this image that Gary Larson once provided to his critics will suffice as my response: