Inside the 'Napoleon Dynamite' Feud Between Filmmaker Jared Hess and Elvis Costello Over the Name of the Title Character
The title character's name is one of the many inexplicable yet endearing aspects of the 2004 comedy Napoleon Dynamite.
So, where did the name Napoleon come from, and why is the nerdy teen from Preston, Idaho known as Napoleon? Here's what director Jared Hess had to say about the odd choice that became a household name.
Fans noticed that the lead character's name first appeared in Elvis Costello's album Blood and Chocolate in 1986, according to the movie's official Wikipedia page.
He may have used it as a B-side pseudonym as early as 1982.
Director Jared Hess of Napoleon Dynamite, on the other hand, denies ever hearing the name.
Costello, on the other hand, believes this cannot be the case.
According to a 2008 article in Contact Music, the singer stated that it's unlikely that Hess had not heard of his alter-ego.
"The guy just flat out denies that I made up the name... but I did," Costello said.
"Perhaps someone told him the name, and he truly believes he happened upon it by chance, but it's two words you'll never hear together."
Hess, for one, claims that the name of his now-iconic character is purely coincidental.
He got the name from a man he met in Illinois, he claims.
At the time, he was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hess described meeting an old man who introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite in a 2004 interview with Entertainment Weekly.
"He made a remark about our names," Hess explained, "because when you're a missionary, you're called Elder and then your last name."
"I said, 'So, what's your name, sir?' He said, 'Napoleon Dynamite.' I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's the freshest name I've ever heard â this has to be the title of the movie I'm gonna do!"
An extra on the set of the film confronted Hess about the coincidence a few years later in 2003, according to Hess.
Hess commented on the encounter, "'This is based on the Elvis Costello alias, right?"
When asked about the man, Hess said, "I don't know, dude. This was an old, old Italian man â 70-some years old." When asked for more information, Hess said, "I don't know, dude. This was an old, old Italian man â 70-some years old."
Hess, who was 24 at the time, described the coincidence as "embarrassing" in the same interview.
"Had I known that name was being used by anyone else prior to shooting the entire film, I would have changed it immediately," he said.
"Dude, I listen to hip-hop; it's an embarrassing coincidence."
In any case, it proved to be the perfect name for a now-famous film.
Napoleon Dynamite was dubbed a cult classic by fans.
Furthermore, the rural comedy's unexpected appeal was demonstrated by its $45 million box office take against a $400,000 budget (in less than a year).
Jon Heder became a celebrity as a result of it.
In fact, he went on to star in Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and Just Like Heaven with Reese Witherspoon.
Hess, on the other hand, went on to direct a number of high-profile films, including Nacho Libre and Austenland.