The Von Trope Family

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Dr. Frank-N-Furter: Go on, Dr. Scott... or should I say, Dr. Von Scott?!

Brad: Just what exactly are you implying?

Want to give an ambiguous character that extra bit of onomastic intrigue? Tack a "Von" on to their last name.

Technically, von is merely a German preposition which approximately means of or from which appears mostly in names of families that belong (or once belonged) to the nobility. To set themselves off from commoners with "von" in their names, German-speaking noble persons sometimes prefer the abbreviation "v.". The nobility was abolished as a privileged estate in 1918, since then "von" and titles of nobility like "Graf" (count) or "Ritter" (knight) are treated as mere parts of the name. Note that the capitalization Von is a non-German, mostly English usage. Before the 20th century, it was quite common to translate "von" as "de" in French texts and German-speaking diplomats would sign that way under treaties (which explains why even today it's not uncommon to see Germanic names preceded by that particular Latin preposition).

Some German-speaking noble families have more elaborate particles before their name such as "von dem" (shortened form: "vom") or "von der" (both mean "of the"), others have "zu" or "zum" (roughly "at", which usually indicates the actual or former place of residence), some have "vom und zum". There are also both noble families which have "SURNAME von OTHER NAME" or "SURNAME zu PLACE NAME" (as usual, there are exceptions, such as names of the pattern "Meyer zu PLACE NAME" and e. g. the poet August Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who added "von Fallersleben" after his birthplace to distinguish himself from other writers called Hoffmann). And there are ones that combine "von" with "nobility indicators" from other languages such as with many surnames containing the slavic suffix "-ski" or "-sky" or Franco-German combinations as the noble Huguenot family von Arnauld de la Perière.

At its most basic level, "von" merely exists as a marker of Germanic origin, high origin or both. However, character namers have seen fit to use the syllable to make two main branches of the Von Trope Family tree.

  1. Darker Von Trope: Often the Von implies sternness, skill at intrigue, sadism or any of the other tropes that Those Wacky Nazis tend to inspire—ironically, as the old nobility largely despised the Nazis as parvenus. Less dark variations may include the particularly Gothic or militaristic Badass, especially those that are a riff on Otto von Bismarck (a classic Magnificent Bastard) or Baron Manfred von Richthofen, The Red Baron. Sometimes the characters with the name do not have a Germanic origin at all.
  2. Lighter Von Trope: It is also used as more of a Stock Foreign Name for a Germanic Funny Foreigner (especially Mad Scientists), or for goofy characters for whom the aristocratic bearing of the name seems incongruous.
  3. Or sometimes, the character just happens to have that as part of their family name, with no particular cultural significance meant to be attached (though in countries with a long history of democracy, the elitist overtones of the prefix often cause it to be dropped).

Naturally, there may be crossover between these two subsets.

The Dutch equivalent, "Van", may be used to imply the same categories, if more rarely. In America, a Dutch Preppy Name is often a better shorthand to signify old money and "WASPiness" than an actual Anglo-Saxon one would be.

Examples of The Von Trope Family include:

Darker Von Trope Examples

  • Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, the leader of Hydra in the Marvel Universe
  • The German-born Manfred von Karma of the Ace Attorney series, a prototypical Amoral Attorney (a prosecutor, in this case). His daughter, Franziska von Karma (whose name literally means "free of bad karma"), has less of the evil, but certainly the name seems to fit the stern lady with a whip.
  • Hunter Van Pelt, the Evil Poacher of Jumanji. While a real name in Dutch, it's an obvious pun on "Pelt"
  • Von Bork, the German spy whom Sherlock Holmes captures in His Last Bow.
  • Doctor Victor Von Doom. Marvel Universe, Reed Richards' archenemy.
    • But wasn't he a Gypsy, not a German?
  • Gaia Online's Von Helson family, an aristocratic family that happens to consist entirely of vampires. Vladmir (and later Zhivago) are both major antagonists throughout the storyline. The Von Helson were also villainous for a while, but have undergone some Villain Decay in recent years (lampshaded in a recent mini comic). Ian and Louie are subversions. Ian is a lovable goofball who runs a costume shop with his talking cat, and Louie is a nice guy who just happens to be King of the Vampires, hates his dad, and works at the local Formalwear shop.
  • Von Pinn of Girl Genius
    • The Wulfenbach family never uses "von", but outside the comic a lot of people seem to use it for them, largely due to this trope. The fact that they don't use it is likely related to the contempt the Baron has for the nobility's "rules".[1]
  • Baroness Paula Von Gunther, antagonist of Wonder Woman. One of the few comic villains to make the leap to the TV show, in fact.
  • Von Bach of DC's Kingdom Come.
  • Von Kaiser of Punch-Out!!, a stereotypical WWI-era German aristocrat and apparently a military academy boxing instructor. This still doesn't change the fact that after years of fighting, he has only made it to or has just dropped down to the number two place in the WVBA Minor Circuit. With a record of 23-13. One suspects he's 23-1 against Glass Joe and 0-12 against anyone else.
  • Go ahead, Dr. Scott...Or should I say Dr. VON Scott? The line is indeed used in the stage version to reveal an unaccented Scott's Germanic, likely Nazi history. However, it makes much less sense in the movie where, from the start, he has a Those Wacky Nazis accent.
  • Professional wrestlers Baron Von Raschke and Fritz Von Erich, serve as classic examples of the Evil Foreigner heel type.
  • Eric and Karl Von Shrakenberg from The Draka novels of S.M. Stirling.
  • Erich and Karl Von Shrakenberg from Tech Infantry, named as a Shout-Out to Stirling's characters.
  • One of the Corrupt Corporate Executive types seen in an early scene in Aliens is named Van Leuwen.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: George's idea for finding the German spy at the field hospital was to look for the guy whose name began with "Von".
  • The Incredibles mentions an old villain named Baron Von Ruthless
  • Von Bolt from Advance Wars. The series has a habit of the Big Bad having a German name (his predecessor being 'Sturm').
  • Ludwig von Koopa from Super Mario Bros. 3 and later games. He even has Beethoven Hair (theatre).
    • And Magnus Von Grapple from the second Paper Mario game.
  • Isaak Fernand von Kämpfer from Trinity Blood invented the Rosenkreuz Order.
  • Sepp von Theofels from an Erast Fandorin spinoff series.
  • House refers to the man who ratted him out at college for cheating as "Dr. Von Lieberman" although the man's real surname is "Webber", because it "sounds much eviller".
  • Baron von Blitzschlag, a Nazi scientist who's a kind of villainous New Old Flame - had offscreen run ins with Captain America (comics) and other heroes. Currently acting as a scientific adviser to The Initiative, working on such catastrophes as Cyborg Thor and repeatedly cloning a deceased member.
  • A prominent bloodline of Vampires in Warhammer Fantasy Battle are the Von Carsteins, modelled on the Dracula archetype and living in an analogue for the Black Forest.
  • Mad Scientist Simon von Simon (and his unseen rival Sigmund von Sigmund) in Little Gloomy.
  • Major-General Erich von Klinkerhoffen of 'Allo 'Allo! certainly falls on the sterner side of Those Wacky Nazis, while Colonel Kurt von Strohn is more jovial. (Which says something when you can say that about someone who threatens to have people shot.)
  • Ravenloft is home to Strahd von Zarovich, D&D's most infamous vampire, as well as other examples such as Dr. Rudolph van Richten and Urik von Kharkov.
  • The von Krolock family, of The Fearless Vampire Killers and Tanz der Vampire.
  • Werner Von Croy of the Tomb Raider series (the old-school games, at least).
  • Houses Von Jeggett, Von Kruger, and Von Hastur from The Tale Of The Exile.
  • Chancellor Cole from Spirit Tracks is known as Kimado Von Glaiss in German localisations of the game. Should be easy why he belongs here, he kills Princess Zelda and revives the demon king Malladus using her body.
  • Hans von Hammer, protagonist of the DC Comics feature Enemy Ace. He's portrayed more as a Worthy Opponent Red Baron kind of person, though.
  • Hans von Groebel and his brother Kurt/Walther of Codename Panzers apply as darker Von Tropes, if only because they're in German uniforms and the setting is WWII.
  • The name of Frankenstein is Ret Conned into von Frankenstein in Universal's third Frankenstein film, Son of Frankenstein.
  • Elzam von Branstein, and probably his father Maier von Branstein, from Super Robot Wars. (Both are written as V. Branstein, but Elzam at least is confirmed to be "von".) They're merely Anti Villains, so they don't possess all the dark traits of this trope, but it allows Elzam to be an Expy of both the Red Baron and the Red Comet. Raidiese F. Branstein ditched the "von" to distance himself from his family.
  • General von Pinck, the German assassin in The Assassination Bureau.
  • Baron von Doomkill from MARDEK combines Doomy Dooms of Doom with Large Ham in the best way possible. Though, at one time in the past he was a serious threat to the world.
  • Victor von Gerdenheim
  • When creating a villain for Starslip Crisis, Kris Straub stated he was trying to come up with the most evil-sounding name imaginable. A reader pointed out that "Archcount Obdrath Lucifuge" could benefit from this trope, Straub publicly announced "why didn't I think of that?", and the name was immediately changed (retroactive to Obdrath von Lucifuge's first appearance).
  • Bermuda Von Vichtenstein from Katekyo Hitman Reborn. Not exactly evil, but he's still a Vendice afterall.
  • Velvet von Ragnar, the Creepy Crossdresser played by Gene Simmons in Never Too Young to Die.

Lighter Von Trope Examples

  • Dracula's Abraham Van Helsing (a Dutch Jew) is a good guy.
  • Ludwig Von Drake, Donald Duck's uncle, and a goofy Mad Scientist.
  • The Simpsons has Melvin Van Horne, or Sideshow Mel, and Milhouse Van Houten.
    • The Van Houtens were later surprisingly revealed to composed of two families from different countries with the same surname: the Dutch and Danish Van Houtens. Nordic countries do do this, but actually use "von" like Germans and in a similar way, so it's not that compatible.
      • Picked up directly from the Germans rather than developed on their own (the native equivalents tends towards 'af/av', meaning 'of', and are just as associated with nobility), and using von specifically - there actually are people with 'van' in their names around in the Nordic countries, they just happen to be descendants of people from the Low Countries.
        • Milhouse himself is of Dutch, Danish, and (one-quarter, through his grandmother) Greek descent.
  • Peanuts, of course, featured the Van Pelt siblings, Lucy, Linus and Rerun. (There's no evident relationship to Van Pelt from Jumanji, or Scott Van Pelt of ESPN.)
    • Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was from Minnesota, a U.S. state that has always had large German-American and Dutch-American populations. So Linus and Lucy's last name is probably just meant to mark them as "typical Midwesterners."
  • As a Running Gag, many residents of Uberwald in Discworld have the Von as part of their names, including Moist Von Lipwig, the werewolves Angua and Wolfgang Von Uberwald, and vampire photographer Otto Von Chriek. Justified in that these names are all denominators of origin.
    • Lampshaded in Discworld Noir, where the name "Count von Uberwald" isn't enough to identify someone, except as "probably a vampire".
  • In Young Frankenstein, Frederick's great-grandfather (whose son Victor originally created the Creature) was named Baron Beaufort Von Frankenstein.
  • Lily Von Shtupp, in Blazing Saddles.
  • Ralph von Wau Wau, a talking German Shepherd from Spider Robinson's Callahans Crosstime Saloon stories. The character is originally from the works of Philip Jose Farmer including "A Scarletin Study" and "The Doge Whose Barque Was Worse Than His Bight".
  • In A Knight's Tale, William competes under the name of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, which contrasts not a bit with his bearing.
  • Count Von Count, Sesame Street's numerically-obsessed vampire.
  • Ilyasviel von Einzbern in Fate/stay night starts off as a villain but turns out to be slightly nicer than she looks. The rest of her family, however, may qualify...
  • Scrooge McDuck is known in Danish as Joakim von And and in Swedish as Joakim von Anka, both meaning Joakim von Duck. We guess the translators weren't fluent in German, because literally it means that he is a duck from duck. Hm...
    • Well, "McDuck" would mean "son of duck", so his original name isn't that much better.
  • The title character of the webcomic Van Von Hunter.
  • The Ten Noble Families in the anime Kyo Kara Maoh all have 'von' in their names. Von Bielefeld, Von Wincott, etc. etc. This is probably because Shin Makoku was heavily European based.
  • Oktavia von Seckendorff, Sayaka's witch form, in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
  • Ebenezer von Clutch of Crash Bandicoot.
  • Baron Von Butcher was the head of the evil organization C.H.U.M.P. on Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp.
  • Velvet von Black from The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, though it's unclear whether or not this is a stagename being that she's a stripper and all.
  • The friendly-bully on Phineas and Ferb is named Buford Van Stomm.
  • Evra Von from Cirque Du Freak. He often corrects people that it's just Von.
  • Almaz Von Almadine Adamant from Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice.
  • Victor Van Dort.
  • Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach in From Eroica with Love.
  • Jorgen Von Strangle, in The Fairly OddParents.
  • Nina Van Horn on Just Shoot Me. It's not her real name (that would be Claire Noodleman); her agent got the last name from a porn star in his building.
  • Erast Fandorin's family name is a Russified version of "Von Dorn". Most of Boris Akunin's other novels feature characters who are somehow connected to the same Von Dorn family and have names that are similarly descended from their name (Van Doren, De Dorn, Darnowski, etc.)
  • In the Interactive Fiction game Enlisted, the player character's last name is Van Dussen.
  • When The Doctor goes to Germany, he usually presents identification that says he is 'Doctor von Wer', literally, 'Doctor of Who'
  • In Back to The Future III, Doc Brown mentions that his ancestors before World War I were the von Brauns.
  • Joey Von Krause from Mortifer. Except it turns out not to be his real name...
  • In The Jack Benny Program, Jack Benny's valet is Rochester Van Jones.
  • The von Ulrichs, an aristocratic German family in Ken Follett's novel Fall of Giants. Although the story takes place during World War I, Walter von Ulrich, being one of the main protagonists, is portrayed in a quite personable way. Walter (working at that point in time as diplomat in London) points out that the Brits always erroneously capitalize the von, when sending him letters.
  • Professor Dinglehopper Von Schlemer, from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Dr. Ludwig von Scientist from Jimmy Two-Shoes.
  • Serena van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl, whose family runs a Dutch shipping company dating back to the 18th century.
  • Despite his scary name, Moloch Von Zinzer is a pretty normal guy.
  • Dr. Otto von Scratchansniff from Animaniacs
  • The Two Ronnies gave us Otto van Dancer. Pronounce the v with a German f and you get the joke.
  • The VanSalad family from The Curse of Monkey Island, who are described as even homelier than the Goodsoups. Also, Reginald Van Winslow from the Tales of Monkey Island
  • The titular protagonist of obscure British-made Police Procedural Van der Valk is quite difficult to place in this list, as while the series spent a lot of time dealing with the less salubrious side of Freestate Amsterdam, Van der Valk himself was unambiguously Lawful Good.
  • Grace Van Pelt on The Mentalist
  • In the "Junk Car" episode of Speed Racer dub, the race is held by a Baron Von Vondevon... who has a long-lost daughter Yvonne Von Vondevon.
  • Eric Von Zipper, the comical Badass Biker character from the '60s Beach Party movies.

Real Life Von Trope Examples

von Trope

  • The trope name is a pun on the von Trapp family, of The Sound of Music fame.
  • Roman Ungern von Sternberg, crazy tinpot dictator extraordinaire.
  • Erich von Stroheim, an actor who specialized in Evil German roles.
  • Dita Von Teese, burlesque model and former fiancee of Marilyn Manson's, presumably chose her stage name for its darker exotic qualities.
  • Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the movies The Lives of Others and The Tourist.
  • Wernher von Braun is a combination of the light and dark. Member of the Nazi party, inventor of the V2 rocket, one of the principal brains (if not the principal brain) behind the American side of the Space Race. (There is still some controversy as to whether he was a willing Nazi collaborator.)
  • Multitalented musician, singer and sex symbol Shem von Schroeck.

van Trope

  • Dick Van Dyke
  • Professor Sebastian Van Strien at Warwick University. Aside from being The Unintelligible and setting impossible exams, he's not exactly evil.
  • The famous Dutch football (soccer) player, Marco van Basten, regarded as one of the all-time best forwards in the game.
  • Architect Maria Ludwig Michael Mies, to seem more impressive, appended his mother's surname, "van der Rohe."
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven - But wait, why does a German man have a Dutch surname, you ask? It's just so happens Beethoven was of Belgian descent. His birth name was actually "Lodewijk".
    • This is the reason A Clockwork Orange can get away with referring to him as "Ludwig van". There a lot of people with one of those words, or the other, but it's a rare combination.
  • Rob Van Dam
  • Erin Van Oosbree
  • Martin Van Buren, eighth President of the United States, came from a Dutch family. In fact, he was one of the few Presidents to be naturally bilingual.
  • Mario Van Peebles
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • Actor Casper Van Dien played the character Brom Van Brunt in Sleepy Hollow. The Van Diens are reportedly distant relatives of the real-life Van Brunt clan.
  1. they were a low-ranking family and he was technically ineligible to inherit the title