Need a Villain? Call Him / Her By This Name…

I have recently started re-watching Battlestar Galactica and finally getting to introduce my girlfriend to the show. We’re about halfway through season 1 so far and I can’t wait to introduce her to the arrival of Battlestar Pegasus, the advanced warship that turns up unexpectedly in season 2, sending BSG into a whole new direction for the next half season.

Admiral Cain with the series’ diplicitous anti-villain – Gaius Baltar.

The arrival of Pegasus throws the dynamic of the fleet into chaos because the commander of the ship is an Admiral – immediately relegating Commander Adama from the head of military operations to its second in command. There is much handwringing over this from President Roslin and the civilian government who have come to form an alliance with Commander Adama that works well for the fleet.

We don’t know what to make of the arrival of this sparkly new ship under the command of the mysterious Admiral, but there is a clue to the nature of her character yet she is quickly revealed to be a brutal and often sadistic leader (she shot her XO in the head for refusing an order that endangered the ship and was probably illegal. Pegasus also had a civilian fleet which it eventually stripped for parts and then left to float in the vastness of space, helpless. We don’t know what their fate was)  – leading to friction between her and Adama and upsetting the balance within the fleet.

Pegasus was so pivotal to the end of season 2 and early season 3 that they even made a standalone TV movie about it called Razor to show what happened to the ship in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the 12 Colonies, leading up to its rendezvous with Galactica.

Yet if we wanted a clue to her brutal leadership, we need only look as far as her name: Admiral Helena Cain.

Cain, it seems, is one of the most popular names to give to a villain or villainess in fiction. Admiral Cain is arguably even more brutal than the Cylons who are trying to wipe humanity out. You don’t need to be a theologian to understand the origins of this name either. Cain in the Bible is a deceptive and angry murderer who kills his brother so it is no wonder that this name persists in fiction. God sends him away and puts a mark on him that means nobody would be able to kill him. Here’s a few more examples of Cain-as-villain that I can think of.

  • Robocop 2 – the drug lord who effectively rules the city in this so-so sequel, later because an experiment for the next generation robocops. Naturally, not a nice person and not a good subject to become a cop either. Our Robocop has to battle this giant cyborg creature
  • Emmerdale – though I understand he has softened a bit in recent years, Cain Dingle was one of the soap’s bad boys for a while. He looks quite nasty too, a dark and brooding man with piercing eyes. I’m sure Jeff Hordley is a thoroughly nice man, though.
  • WWE – The Undertaker’s brother, who appeared as a bad character when The Undertaker became a good guy. Storylines feature heavily in WWE and always have done. The Undertaker was always very popular and when he turned good, the fans had a compelling storyline to root for him
  • Command & Conquer – the leader of the cult of Brotherhood of Nod, a semi-religious, semi-political organisation for this video game series was also called Cain. It is implied in some of the later games that he is the Biblical Cain. “Nod” also has a biblical link, it is where Cain was sent after killing his brother

There are many, many more on the TV Tropes website but I have only listed above those that I am aware of and have experienced – there are examples of male and female characters from film and TV, literature and comic books, video games and so on. It does seem the most common villain name. I wonder if the name “Cain” (and variations in the spelling of the name) is a little overused in fiction, but the other side of me thinks that using that name will put us in no doubt about their character – we will know from the start that they are the villain of the piece.

What do you think, is the name overused? Does it not bother you? Or do you like the familiarity of a villain with that name in that you know what to expect?


7 thoughts on “Need a Villain? Call Him / Her By This Name…

  1. N. E. White

    I guess I like it more subtle than that. But for TV shows, it’s fine. They need to get information across quickly, so that’s a good way to do it.

    1. Good point. Of course, we shouldn’t always judge a villain by their name but I think certain sounds and words evoke certain feelings about characters.

      1. N. E. White

        Yeah, pretty much anything starting with an ‘s’ or ‘z’ (with the exception of Steve and Zoey).

      2. And other harsh sounding consonants like J, K, V. We get those sounds from Arabic and from Old Norse I think

  2. cjmoseley

    It’s funny, I just created a ‘Cain’ character for a cthulhu-conspiracy-thriller I’m working on. I gave it quite a lot of thought, and decided the name Bastian Cain really suited a character that we were meant to be unsure of his allegiances… Is he a good guy “Bastion” or a Cainite betrayer…
    Hmm… I might make that spelling Kane instead, it makes it more subtle and is also obliquely referencing Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane…

    1. I like that name and I think the dichotomy really works in your case 🙂

  3. andfreed

    I have to admit to watching one soap opera with a character named Cain. Although he is not a villain and actually a nice guy, he has been caught in a few really big lies over the years.

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