My name is Tamara, a name that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s as parents named their little girls after Russian and German figure skaters they saw on television. My parents named me after a game show contestant. As time passed, the name became rarer outside eastern Europe, and it’s even rarer as a character name in movies. This week, however, the name is a plot device in the horror flick “The Strangers: Prey at Night.”
The sequel to the 2008 slasher flick stars Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman as the unfortunate family subjected to scares as Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and the Man in the Mask return to drum up more terror at a trailer park.
This new film is already giving me the creeps. I watched a commercial for it late at night the first time, when an unmasked Dollface shows up at a trailer and asks, “Is Tamara home?” I jumped out of my skin. Blame the late hours, but that was terrifying for three reasons: 1) Tamara is rarely used in movies; 2) Dollface pronounces my name the way I say it (a rarity as most people pronounce it like “tomorrow”); and 3) Geez, another horror movie?
A 2016 Vox article can help you know if your name is popular in the cinematic universe. There is an interactive tool using a database of thousands of character names. When you enter your name, you will find where it lies in popularity and how many movies had a character who shares your moniker over 100 years of movies. As for “Tamara,” it comes in at No. 779, appearing in 13 movies (lucky me). It is as popular as Meredith and Edna. In comparison, “Tamara” was No. 908 in popularity in the United States in 2009, according to the Social Security Administration. According to the article, the most common movie character names are Jack (38, SSA ranking for 2016), John (28) and Frank (353) for men and Mary (127), Sarah (57) and Lucy (55) for women.
These more popular names can be anyone – from pirates and spaceship captains to teachers and spies. What can a Tamara be on screen? She is a seductress, an unpopular girl or an unpopular girl-turned-seductive psychopath with an eye for revenge. These characters are not far off from where the name originates. Its root, “Tamar,” appears twice in the Old Testament – as a blackmailing prostitute (not exactly) and David’s only daughter, who is raped by her half-brother. It is also the name of a famous queen of the present-day Republic of Georgia as Tamara, as “a” is a common letter used to make a name more feminine.
In the case of “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” Tamara is not just a name. According to the trailer, there are neon palm trees all over the trailer park. “Tamar” is Hebrew for “date palm” or “palm tree,” a sign for pilgrims that they had reached the Holy Land. This sequel turns that upside down as paradise is a land of torture and mayhem.
Here are three other films with Tamara as the titular character:
“Tamara” (2008) – Perhaps the most infamous one on film is this teen revenge flick starring Jenna Tatum as an unpopular teen witch who is killed in a prank-gone-wrong. She is reincarnated as a seductress that everyone who used to hate her are now in love with. All she wants is sweet revenge. Bonus points for having my pronunciation.
“Tamara Drewe” (2010) – This package of trouble heats up a sleepy English town where writers go to find themselves. Tamara (pronounced like “tomorrow”) comes back to town with a new nose and uncontrollable lust. It’s based on a 2007 graphic novel. Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper and Luke Evans star.
“Tamara” (2016) – I can’t tell how the name is pronounced as it’s a French teen flick, and my French is really, really rusty. It centers around the mercurial love lives of teenagers as overweight teen Tamara tries to get the attention of new kid Diego.
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” is in theaters now,