The Other Napoleon Dynamite

The return of Napoleon Dynamite in cartoon form affords the chance for creator Jared Hess to come clear about the origin of the name – used by Elvis Costello 20 years before it appeared in his 2006 film.

When I asked Hess about it last week at the TV Critics Press tour, he said it was all a coincidence.

“A total coincidence,” he said. “I was a Mormon missionary in Chicago, and I met a dude on the street and he was like, ‘Oh, you guys are called elders. You’ve got the same name. What’s an elder?” And I was like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s a title we have and we’re missionaries.’ And I was like, ‘What’s your name?’ And he was like, ‘My name is Napoleon Dynamite.’

“And I was like, whoa,” Hess said. “And I wrote down the name. Where he got the name from, that’s where I got the name from. Where he got it from, I have no idea. It could very well have been the Elvis Costello thing. But the first time I heard it was from this old Italian guy in Cicero.”

Mike Scully, an executive producer on the new cartoon version of “Napoleon Dynamite” notes that Hess must have been “about seven” when Elvis Costello used it in 1986 on the “Blood & Chocolate.” It had earlier appeared on a Costello B-side in 1982.

Hess said he has never discussed the name origin with Costello, who has maintained that he was the origin of the name either directly or indirectly.

“I think he’s talked about it before,” Hess said. “I think he thinks that I’m lying. So if I can clear the air, Elvis,” he went on, addressing himself to the rock star, “I’m not lying. Heard it on my mission, so you should talk to the Italian guy who told me.”

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