Every Original Movie Callsign & What They Really Mean

Every Original Movie Callsign & What They Really Mean

Many fans of Top Gun remember most of the film’s characters by their callsigns, all of which (besides sounding cool) mean something. Maverick, Iceman, Goose, and the rest of the crew have a story behind each of their nicknames, and the story of how they earn them is almost as interesting as the story of the film itself. Top Gun shows 14 on-screen characters with different callsigns, and many have deeper meanings behind them.

Top Gun follows Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he follows his dream of becoming an ace fighter pilot and joins the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School. Along the way, Maverick’s hotshot attitude gets him friends like Goose and enemies like Iceman, but in the end the crew comes together as a team to take down the enemy. Top Gun has become a pop-culture staple, with die-hard fans of the original still eagerly awaiting the long-delayed sequel Top Gun: Maverick.


Related: Val Kilmer & Tom Cruise’s Top Gun Feud Explained (Was It Real?)

In the film, each member of the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School gets a callsign, a type of military nickname often given to aviators. Some characters have a story behind their callsign, some match a character’s personality, and some are simply related to the character’s real names. No matter how grand or how bland, each callsign in Top Gun has a meaning behind it, all of which will be explained here.


Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is Top Gun’s main character, and his callsign perfectly encapsulates his personality. Maverick is a maverick, a character who lives his life independently and dangerously. In the film, Maverick flies upside down, takes out multiple enemy combatants by himself, and keeps his cool while doing it. Maverick is such a perfect nickname that it even fits Tom Cruise, who does his own stunts and doesn’t care what anybody thinks. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is a perfect main character, and his callsign has become almost as iconic as Top Gun itself.


Top Gun Charlie and Maverick

In comparison to the perfectly named Maverick, Charlie is not nearly as interesting. Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) has a callsign that is simply a shortened version of her first name. For such a major character, it is strange that she has such a simple callsign.


Val Kilmer Top Gun Iceman

Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) has a callsign that fits his flying style and attitude. As Goose says to Maverick in the bar, “That’s the way he flies, ice-cold, no mistakes.” Iceman flies by the book, ignoring risks in favor of sticking to what he is taught. His nickname also matches his personality, with his cold, emotionless exterior only ever cracking when he torments Maverick. Much like Val Kilmer’s character in Tombstone, his performance is what makes Iceman so great, with the callsign perfectly suiting Tom Kazansky.

Related: Top Gun: What Val Kilmer Thinks Iceman’s Hidden Backstory Is


Top Gun Goose

Maverick’s best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) was long thought by some to have gained his callsign due to his goofy personality. However, actor Anthony Edwards recently explained Goose’s origins in an interview with EW. As Edwards explains, “Goose was a guy who in real life was in an accident with an airplane where they lost an engine, and he called out the wrong engine being out, so they fired off the other engine. And so as a result, the plane went into the water, and so he got the name Goose for having messed up. Silly Goose is what it was.” 


Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) has a fairly unique story behind his callsign. In Top Gun, Viper is a Vietnam veteran who fought with Maverick’s father. Although his callsign is never explained in-universe, in reality, it comes from the real-life U.S. Navy Rear Admiral the character is based on, Pete “Viper” Pettigrew.


Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) is an instructor who helps train Maverick. Funnily enough, the callsign “Jester” is actually a joke at the expense of the character. This callsign comes from Heatherly’s seeming inability to crack a smile, with the character preferring to keep a stone-cold demeanor while training his students. Sadly, though, it seems like Michael Ironside’s Jester isn’t returning for Top Gun: Maverick.


Bill “Cougar” Cortell (Bill Cortell) never has his call sign explained in Top Gun. It can be assumed that it comes from the fact that cougars are ferocious animals, but this minor character doesn’t get much time to show his ferocity before he turns in his wings.

Related: Top Gun Ending Explained: Maverick’s Dad, Goose’s Dog Tags & Real Meaning


Leonard “Wolfman” Wolfe (Barry Tubb) has a callsign that is presumably based on his last name. Although the nickname is simple in design, it still sounds cool.


Ron “Slider” Kerner (Rick Rossovitch) is a partner of Iceman, but unlike the film’s antagonist, his callsign doesn’t have much of a story behind it. Slider simply sounds cool. At one point, Maverick tells Slider he stinks, and Slider lets it slide off his back. It is possible the writers could’ve given him this nickname due to this moment, but that remains unconfirmed.


Most people don’t know that Top Gun actually contains an early performance in Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins’ career. Sam “Merlin” Wells (Tim Robbins) is most likely not named after the wizard from Arthurian legend, as many might assume. Instead, he is probably named after the merlin falcon due to the fact that he works with aviators.


Marcus “Sundown” Williams (Clarence Gilyard) has two possible meanings for his callsign; one that would be cool, and one that would be really tragic. The first theory is that Sundown is the last thing enemies see before they die, and if this is the case, Sundown has one of the best nicknames in Top Gun. However, some have speculated that it has to do with the fact that Sundown is African American, and it could be a reference to sundown towns. Nothing is said regarding his callsign in the film, but these are the two prevailing fan theories as to its origin.

Related: Top Gun: Maverick Can Perfectly End 3 Original Movie Storylines


Rick “Hollywood” Neven (Whip Hubley), although not returning for Top Gun: Maverick, is one of the characters that fought in the film’s final dogfight. Hollywood gets his nickname due to his Hollywood-good looks, although it is hard to tell due to him literally being surrounded by Hollywood stars. Nevertheless, his cool looks and style go right along with his callsign.


Stinger from Top Gun.

Tom “Stinger” Jardian is one of the commanders who trains Maverick while commanding the USS Enterprise Carrier Air Group. Although his callsign most likely comes from his criticisms stinging, it stings the commander more when he finally admits that Maverick is ready for the Top Gun program.


Ending things off with what is possibly Top Gun’s least important character, Charles “Chipper” Piper is another character who has two possibilities for his callsign. The first is that he has a chipper personality, although it is not shown in the film. The second theory almost makes it as clever as some of Top Gun: Maverick’s new callsigns. The name could come from a combination of Charles Piper’s first and last name, although that would be a lot of thought for such an insignificant character.

While some are better than others, Top Gun’s callsigns truly make the characters feel like a band of brothers. From Maverick to Chipper, each name allows audiences to instantly get a feel of each character’s personality from the first time their name is said. Top Gun’s callsigns and their meanings are just one of the many things that make the film so beloved.

Next: Top Gun 2’s Original Movie Differences Show How Tom Cruise Has Changed

Top Gun: Maverick/Top Gun 2 (2022)Release date: May 27, 2022

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Robert Pitman
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Robert Pitman is a Movies/TV features writer for Screen Rant and loves all things nerdy. He has had experience with editing and SEO in his time working at WVUA 90.7 FM, the University of Alabama’s official student radio station.

Robert is currently a freshman at the University of Alabama and is doing a double major in Creative Media and General Business.

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