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Was Lieutenant Columbo’s first name really Frank?

Portrait 1
What’s in a name…?

Columbo’s first name was a closely guarded secret throughout the series’ 35-year lifespan. Indeed, whenever he was asked by a guest star killer if he had a first name, Columbo would inevitably reply: ‘Lieutenant.’

But most readers will have doubtless seen freeze-frame close-ups of Columbo’s police ID, most notably in Season 1’s Dead Weight, that suggest his name is Frank. And while the name ‘Frank’ is certainly there for the world to see, the bigger question remains: is it canonical?

Lieutenant Columbo first name
Lieutenant Frank Columbo, LAPD…

In the opinion of show creators Richard Levinson and William Link, that’s an unequivocal ‘no’. The Lieutenant was never given a first name by them, nor did they ever wish him to have one. Columbo is Columbo, as simple as that. They even insisted that a first name given to Columbo in the script of a Season 1 episode be removed.

The identity of this particular episode has never been revealed, nor has the name that was scripted, but if we assume that the episode in question was Dead Weight (which was the first episode of Season 1 that had Columbo interacting with fellow officers from the LAPD), then we could be on the path to an explanation.

“The intention was not for viewers to zoom in on the badge and identify that ‘Frank’ was scrawled there.”

Perhaps an excitable fella from the props department had gotten wind of the first name revelation and had mocked up the police ID badge accordingly? Perhaps they plucked a name out of their head at random simply to fill a gap on the badge?

We may never know, but the intention was certainly not for viewers to zoom in on the badge and identify that ‘Frank’ was scrawled there. VCRs weren’t mainstream for several years after Dead Weight came out, so no one was hitting pause to study the badge. Even though viewers and critics were interested to find out the elusive name, ‘Frank’ wasn’t on anybody’s lips.

The name is similarly visible in 1975’s Matter of Honor (along with his badge number 416), but the displays of the ID were never too overt and the first name conundrum thankfully didn’t become a gimmick. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the issue of Columbo’s first name really became an issue at all. And that was because of a legal case in which the makers of board game Trivial Pursuit were sued by a fellow trivia kingpin Fred L. Worth – all over the christian name of Lieutenant Columbo.

Exhibit A: Lieutenant ‘Philip’ Columbo

Keen to safeguard the integrity of his trivia encyclopedia books, Worth secreted within them false facts. If they subsequently appeared elsewhere, he could sue for copyright infringement. Or so he thought. The acid test came in 1984, when Worth found one of his false facts in the latest edition of Trivial Pursuit. And the supposed ‘fact’ was that Columbo’s first name was Philip.

I’ve even played this version of the game myself, and was always mystified by that particular answer because, as far as I knew, Columbo didn’t have a first name. But Fred Worth wasn’t mystified – he was mad. He believed Trivial Pursuit had plagiarised more than 1500 of the facts that appeared in his trivia encyclopedias – but the one that proved it was Columbo’s first name because Worth simply made it up. In October 1984 he therefore filed a lawsuit against the creators and distributors of Trivial Pursuit demanding $300 million in compensation.

The case never made it to court, though. Judges denied Worth’s claim and his appeal was also quashed. You see, Trivial Pursuit never denied using Worth’s encyclopedia as research. They used resources like that whenever they could to get as many questions as possible. So even though they evidently never found another source to verify what Columbo’s first name was (or wasn’t), they were in the clear.

Car 2
Allegedly Peugeot once claimed Lt Philip Columbo was their most famous driver. I DEMAND PROOF!

As an aside, I have read that a Peugeot print advertisement (no date specified) claims that the most famous Peugeot driver was Lieutenant Philip Columbo. I have Googled extensively and can find no evidence of this ad. If anyone can verify this, please fire me a note in the comments below! It would be most interesting to see, although whether this supposedly came after the trivia clash of the titans or before is a complete mystery.

So, back to Frank…

We can eliminate Philip as a first name contender, which I think is a good thing. ‘Philip’ feels like a bad fit for Columbo. This leads us back to ‘Frank’ once again. It’s certainly a more plausible name, and it’s one that was much more openly attached to the Lieutenant in more recent years.

For one thing, the name ‘Lieutenant Frank Columbo’ is written legibly enough on this evidence bag in Grand Deceptions from Columbo‘s comeback season in 1989. The show was more knowing in those days, so this could conceivably be an Easter Egg for fans, a meta-gag or an attempt at continuity from the earlier seasons.

Frank Columbo Grand Deceptions

I’m reliably informed that when Columbo is dubbed into German, he is occasionally referred to us ‘Frank’ by fellow officers, but again I can’t confirm this so if you can please SING OUT! (NB. Since writing this, a German-based fan has disputed this claim – see comments below!)

The strongest support for Frank Columbo comes from Universal itself. The packaging of its Seasons 1-4 DVD box set, released in the 2000s, featured artwork including Columbo’s police ID. ‘Frank Columbo’ is shown both as a signature and typed name on this packaging. I haven’t seen this with my own eyes, but I have no reason to disbelieve it.

“If we’re seeking absolute, canonical evidence of Columbo’s first name, there’s none to be had.”

If it’s good enough for Universal, that should be good enough for us, right? Not necessarily. DVD artwork is just that. The name Frank was still never officially referenced by any other character in the show’s history – even at Columbo’s nephew’s wedding in No Time to Die. If ever there was going to be a first name given, it was going to be there in the company of his actual family.

No, if we’re looking for official confirmation of Columbo’s first name that can only ever come from Levinson and Link. They, along with Peter Falk, have always stated that the Lieutenant’s first name was never identified – regardless of name badge close-ups and DVD artwork. So if we’re seeking absolute, canonical evidence, there’s none to be had.

Will Frank suffice for most fans? Certainly. I even use it myself for my Facebook account as the little devils wouldn’t accept ‘Lieutenant’ as a first name (have they never watched the show?). But I’m just as happy being in the dark, because not knowing Columbo’s first name is as much a part of the show as never meeting his wife or never being sure whether his family anecdotes have any basis in reality.

As with most aspects of Columbo’s off-screen life, it’s nice to be able to make one’s own mind up on it. To be frank, I don’t give a hoot what his first name is or should be. He’ll always be Lieutenant Columbo to me…

Columbo first name
If I hold my name badge upside down no one will ever see the phony first name…

Where do you stand on the first name debate? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks, as always, for reading!

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114 thoughts on “Was Lieutenant Columbo’s first name really Frank?

  1. This post is great – worthy of an absolutely unsurpassed show, ever. Never knew the name Frank. But Levinson’s and Link’s view do not define canon here. Frank is his name. It’s in the show. At least twice. They could’ve denied it all day long. That’s like refusing to confirm he wore a trenchcoat. ‘Tis what ’tis. And ’tis – FRANK!!!

  2. Hi there! I watched all of the episodes dubbed into the Czech language and in one or two of them a supporting character (such as a fellow police officer or a bartender) calls Lt. Columbo “Frank”. Unfortunately I don’t remember any details. If I come across that bit again, I’ll inform you immediately. Not a canonical evidence by any means, but anyway a nice piece of the puzzle…

  3. Just my opinion, but I think it would have been hilarious, and very much in line with the subtle humor and charm of the series, to have all of his ID cards JUST say “Columbo” on the name line. I really think that would have been perfect, especially considering that it was always flashed so quickly, so those with a keen eye would catch a glimpse of it.

  4. I was just watching the first episode and think I heard Jack Cassidy say, “Thank you Frank” when the two men were talking in the house after the dead partner was found on his lawn. I looked at the script and it is not there, but if you jump to 00:35:46 you will hear him say it. It is not just him saying “Thank you.” He definitely says “Thank you Frank.” Or so it seems.

    • A-ha! I am vindicated! If Jack called him Frank onscreen, case closed. Folks, it’s been swell.

      • Well, I’ve watched the scene in question and I don’t think that Jack Cassidy (Ken Franklin) ever uses the “F” word, only ever calling Columbo “Lieutenant”.

        The nearest I can find to “Thanks, Frank” is when the two men are shaking hands. Franklin says “All the luck” and Columbo replies “Thanks, Mr Franklin”.

        And I don’t think that Columbo ever shows Franklin his badge, so if it does say “Frank”, Franklin never saw it.

        If they ever were going to use Columbo’s first name, most likely it would have been in the first “series” episode, but I don’t think it ever happened.

      • This suggestion has been raised before, but I’ve never heard Ken call Columbo ‘Frank’ and if it had happened, I’m sure it would have been referenced in Mark Dawidziak’s ‘The Columbo Phile’.

        • Maybe it comes about because Ken’s last name is “Franklin” or because Columbo insolently calls him “Ken” in the gotcha scene.

      • Franklin. Jack Cassidy’s character in this episode is called “Ken Franklin” and I think that’s what some people are mishearing as “Frank” in this scene.

    • I listened to this again in slow motion and zoomed in on the lips (i can lip read), Jack says Thank You and Coloumbo replies right. It does indeeds sound like Frank, but if you listen and look you can see it’s not Jack who speaks but columbo and it’s def NOT Frank

  5. Columbo was very popular in England during the 1970s. Granada TV (the northwestern region of Independant Television) commissioned a special advert to anounce forthcoming episiodes. They used the tune associated with the cockney song, The Hokey-Cokey–“All do the Joe Columbo/ Everybody do the Joe Columbo/ All do the . . .” and so on, and so forth. The freeze-frame showing the ID badge with the name “Frank Columbo”, written in a neat hand, would appear to be conclusive. But, on the other hand, wouldn’t a genuine ID badge show the name as–“Francis Columbo”?

    • I think somebody at Granada had read the same UK newspaper interview with Peter Falk as I did. Obviously, Falk wasn’t playing a character who didn’t know his own first name, so in his mind he’d decided that Columbo’s first name was “Joe”.

      As to “Francis”, you make a good point, but I have known people whose parents named them “Tina”, Mandy” and “Ollie”, rather than “Christina”, “Amanda” and “Oliver”. Sometimes, the shortened name takes on a life of it’s own.

  6. There are more than one version of Lt. Columbo’s ID card. On at least two of them, his name is shown clearly as Frank. On one it is only handwritten. On another it is both typed and handwritten. If it were not intended for him to have a definite first name, why would they use the same name twice?

    • Continuity. Whatever Lt Columbo’s first name is, it would be on his ID. The prop department had to put something on there, and would have copied the information from the original card. (Im assuming that the real LAPD changed the design of the cards, or that the photo had to be updated). It would make no sense at all if the first card said “Frank” and the second one said “Philip” or “Irving” or whatever.

    • the “no first names” was part of the charm..”ahh just one more thing..”

      even the dog did not have a “real” name…it was…dog..

      for those who “want” him to have a first name..find an episode where it is clearly used …good luck with that..

    • The creators of the show Link and Levison stated that Columbo had no first name in the show. He was simply Lt. Columbo. I don’t know if they are still alive, that would be a great question for them. But then again, prop people don’t determine this things.

      • As I’ve said before, there has to be some other name on the card. It can’t just say “Lt. Columbo”. What the makers didn’t reckon with was viewers one day having slow motion, freeze frame and zoom.

        • Not having a first name was part of the mystique of the show, the same way the wife never appears and has no name, the same reason he keeps using that raincoat and keeps driving his old Peugeot and calls his dog simply “Dog” etc. The creators were clear they never intended to give him a first name, so it doesn’t matter if the prop department put a name in his ID, they are not entitled to do what concerns the creators and producers. What it is this so difficult for some people to understand this? It probably was a mischief, a joke from the prop people. “Let’s call him Frank”.

          • Absolutely! Far too much thought has gone into this when the following scenario is undoubtedly close to being accurate: In 1971, a property master and his assistant, high on quaaludes, created the ID from an existing template, filled in the space provided for a first name with “Frank” and never conceived of VCRs, DVDs, DVR and HD, or the simple “pause” button. Remember, this is still five years from when Ward Fowler was spending thousands on a glorified VCR. Creating the bundle of burlap that was supposed to be Bo Williamson’s concealed corpse no doubt took more thought and preparation.

    • Early in the episode “Identity Crisis” Sgt. George Kramer (played by Bruce Kirby) called Columbo “Frank”. Check it out.

      • If anybody was going to call Columbo by his first name (be it Frank, Philip or Irving) it would be Sgt Kramer. I get the impression that they are old friends and go way back.

        But I’ve checked out the two scenes with Kramer early in the “Identity Crisis” episode and I didn’t hear him call Columbo anything other than “Lieutenant”. At which point in the story do you think this happened please?

        I’d say that the nearest Kramer gets to saying the “F” word is immediately after they finish talking to the ex-cop bartender and Kramer says “What do you think?”. Could you be mishearing “think” as “Frank”?

        In the 1960’s, a fan of the Batman TV series claimed that Alfred the butler’s last name was given as “Roodoo” in one episode, but I watched the episode and I never heard it. (This was before Alfred was given the surname “Pennyworth” in the 1970’s comics).

      • Hey Bozo (well, that’s literally your name) –
        If anyone in the show had said that Columbo’s name was “Frank”, it would have been well-known and documented long before Oct.12, 2020.

  7. For those who know I Dream Of Jeannie, I was watching the very first episode in DVD and I had to pause for a moment. In the scene, Roger Healey was helping Tony to put the head part of his astronaut suit and I noticed that Roger had a wedding ring in his left hand. But we know the character was single. No one can come now saying that Roger was married because of that. Probably the actor forgot to take out his ring for the scene. The same principle applies to Columbo. If the creators and producers never intended to give him a first name, you can’t say he had one because prop people put one in any prop used in the show. He never acknowledged his wife’s name. One time he asked a politician for an autograph for his wife. For instance, when the politician asked for her name, he simply answered “Mrs Columbo”.

  8. In the 1940’s, long before Lt Columbo first appeared, Batman’s butler Alfred had no last name and police Commissioner Gordon had no first name.

    When the Batman TV series was on in the 1960’s, viewers and readers of the comics became aware of this, even though the characters had been around for over 25 years. This led one reader to speculate that Alfred’s last name was “Gordon” and Gordon’s first name was “Alfred”. As he said “Then they’d both be called Alfred Gordon!”.

    By the 1970’s it was realised that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson would be well aware of their friends full names, so they became “Alfred Pennyworth” and “James Gordon”, names given to them 30 years after their creation, and that are still used now some 50 years later.

    As with Lt Columbo in “Prescription Murder” I don’t think there was ever any intention of part of their names being a secret or a mystery, it just wasn’t thought necessary, or that the characters would last so long. If there is ever a new version of Columbo, maybe he will be given a first name, which will eventually be taken as canonical by people who never knew that he originally didn’t have one?

  9. Always enjoy watching old shows (especially from my childhood, youth) presented on various cable networks, and checking out trivia. And, how interesting to find out about details that I would never have thought about back then. The idea of Frank being Columbo’s first name is intriguing. However, being a bit nitpicky, I would encourage the author (and their editor) of the article to review, since there are were several typos, misspellings.

    • You must be joking if you think I have an editor! This blog is a one-man show (except for occasional guest posts). You’ll have to illuminate me on the spelling errors because I’ve just been through the article and didn’t spot a single one, other than one inadvertent use of ‘became’ instead of ‘become’.

    • Indeed. I’ve been wanting Columbophile to proof his work since the beginning. But, as you wrote, it felt like nitpicking.

      • A lot of the time what readers consider typos are simply because I use British spelling, not US. I don’t lose too much sleep, though, as there isn’t a newspaper, book, journal, blog post or comic out there that doesn’t have some sort of typo in it.

        • Oh, it’s quite alright! It’s usually repetition of words – “the the” – than anything else. And I find the British spellings charming. And yes, we need proofreaders more than ever. My favorite error to date is seeing “weather” spelled as “wheather”… on The Weather Channel.

          • That’s the worst spell of weather I’ve seen in a long time. Is that the channel where the “F” fell off the word “Fog” on the map, and the presenter said “Sorry about the F in Fog”?

            We Brits tend to include a “u” after an “o”, such as making “color” into “colour”, with the sole exception being the late lamented Honor Blackman.

  10. Two things about his name: first, I had a copy of the play script for PRESCRIPTION: MURDER (the one that featured Thomas Mitchell as Columbo) and I’m not certain about this, but I could swear his name was listed as Lt. Philip Columbo, which may be where the whole “Philip” thing got started. A much better answer, though, was given by Peter Falk himself when he appeared on INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO. Asked about the first name, Falk’s opinion was that his character never used his first name because he really hated his first name. As an actor myself, I find that reason the most human (and the most amusing). Finally, as to “Frank” Columbo, I don’t put much stock in it. That could very well simply be the work of a prop master making out.a prop and putting a full name in – as was mentioned on this thread earlier, no one in the 1970s was able to study an ID that closely on television, in the days before VCRs and DVDs.

    • Jeff, I think you are right about Columbo not liking his first name. I’m repeating what I’ve said elsewhere on this thread, but in “By Dawn’s Early Light” the colonel, having never seen Columbo’s badge, asks him if he has a first name, to which he replies that he does, but his wife is the only person that uses it. (Maybe this is where Colin Dexter got the idea for Inspector Morse not liking or using his first name?). And also as I’ve said before, Columbo’s ID would have his first name on it, so the prop man had to put something on there, even if he had to make it up himself.

      • I missed the production of Prescription Murder (with Dirk Benedict) that toured here in the UK about 10 years back, but does anyone who saw it remember if Columbo’s first name is spoken on stage?

        It may well be that either the script or the programme for this version, or (as Jeff thinks) the original production with Thomas Mitchell) include “Lt Philip Columbo” or perhaps
        “Lt Frank Columbo” in the list of characters.

    • No, in play of “Prescription: Murder,” he is listed only as “Lieutenant Columbo.” You can preview the opening pages of the play script (published by Samuel French) in Google Books.

  11. While we are at it , does anyone know what Quincey’s first name was. Dr right lol. But as I stated earlier, it has to be Frank , since it was obviously used on multiple occasions. That evidence bag that says Frank Columbo in 1989 clearly clinches the name Frank as Cannon for me. But shoot , its just one more thing for people to argue about online right lol

  12. His first name is Frank , intended or not. If the only reference was the first time in ” Dead weight ” it would be one thing But the fact it was put in multiple episodes on multiple props its canon wether they intended to or not. On another note , did he have kids ??? I lean no, but he did mention kids in a few episodes , but we know he conflated “family” events.

    • I don’t think he had children, despite those references. I tend to think the references to children were ad libs he threw into conversations to unsettle the killers, or to give a reason why Mrs Columbo was absent.

      • ‘Kids’ can be any reference to farther relatives of him in his family tree, not just his own childrens.
        Lt. Columbo has many realtives (with quite various jobs and hobbies, hehe), and when he mentions ‘kids’ it can be easily interpreted as those relatives’ children.

        • In ‘Rest In Peace Mrs. Columbo’, he tells Vivian, the murderer, that he and Mrs Columbo never had children, but that they had each other. They were talking about Vivian’s husband who Columbo put there but the husband died in prison.

  13. Well, it really is “Frank” Columbo. In spite of never saying or wanting to say, having that name put on the character’s id schimed it. That is to say … made it plain enough and stated fact. A bit of a good on someone’s part? Yes, but it does remain. As an author of many crime novels this is just one of those things. And no, I am not about to tell you my name or what books. That, dear reader, you will just have to find out for yourself!

    • Agreed 100%. It’s on his ID badge made by the studio prop dept specifically for the show. It’s canon, full stop.

      • But what if some joker, never imagining freeze-framing would become a reality, had put ‘Bum-face Columbo’ or some such nonsense? Would you consider that canon?

        • Nope, because then it would be obvious that it was just a goof that wasn’t intended to be seen by anyone. But that’s not the case. The badge has his photo and a perfectly fitting and legible name for him. It’s canon. If they weren’t concerned about the badge details being visible then they needn’t have bothered putting his actual photo on there either, but they did.

          • I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here, but you’ll have to take up the issue of canoninity with William Link! He’s always says there is no known first name REGARDLESS of what was put on props. But as with so many things about Columbo, it’s nice that the viewer can make up their own mind about it.

            • In the context of the story, Columbo’s first name would be on his police ID, so the prop department had to put something there. A lot of people, killers or otherwise, would see his full name when he shows them his badge.

              As I recall, he doesn’t show his ID to the colonel in “By Dawn’s Early Light”, instead being identified by Sgt Kramer. At the conclusion of the story, the colonel asks Columbo if he has a first name, and he replies that he does, but only his wife uses it.

              Perhaps it had been decided at the outset of the series that he would be “Frank” if a friend, colleague or relative had ever called him by his first name. In the event, this never happened on screen, the writers preferring to keep to the slight air of mystery about the character established in “Prescription Murder”.

      • And that same ID prop was used for Elliott Markham in “Prescription Murder.” As Columbophile pointed out, there’s no way that a film crew considered our ability to freeze-frame with HD clarity. The series is riddled with continuity errors.

  14. It’s on the badge in a Season One episode as Frank Columbo. It was captured by the camera, so it’s now canon, period. If the argument that “it was never intended to be zoomed in on” is going to be used, why did they bother using the character’s proper last name? The name on the character’s badge, alongside the character’s picture, is Frank Columbo. The character’s name is Frank Columbo, and it fits him perfectly.

    • He never said his first name, never. That badge was made by the props people of the show production team, and I guess they put a name just because it would look more real from afar. The props people are not the writers, nor the producers of the show. They never intended the ID to be legible in camera: freeze frames weren’t possible at that time on television, there were no videocassettes or TIVO, DVDs or anything like that. We can’t give credit to a prop that was not intended to be read in camera and does not reflect the nature of the show and the writers’ and producers’ will. I stick to what he always said when people asked him his name: “I’m Lt. Columbo” . And what’s your wife’s name? “Mrs. Columbo!

      • Doesn’t matter IMO, it’s still recorded for all time in the series, the detective obviously has a first name because he’s not Prince or Madonna (and even they have first names), and on his badge it says his first name, along with his last name and his picture.

    • By that theory, it’s also now “canon” that Elliot Markham’s real name in “Blueprint for Murder” also is “Frank Columbo” — because Markham is captured on camera presenting a “driver’s license” with that name (the same prop used in “Dead Weight”) to a police officer.

  15. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I am wandering aimlessly around the bowels of the Columbophile site, so forgive the belated post.

    I don’t really care what Columbo’s first name is (but it IS Frank!).

    However, one thing that always bothered me about the writing in Columbo is that, on multiple occasions, our detective introduces himself with “My name is Lieutenant Columbo” or some almost identical phrasing. This has always seemed out of character for so informal a person. That’s his NAME? “Lieutenant… “?

    Who in the world would say such a thing? Could you imagine, “Hello. My name is Professor Einstein” or “Hello. My name is Senator Frothingschloss”? It’s almost as bad as putting “…, Ph.D.” or “…, M.A.” after one’s signature. It’s stilted in a way that does not suit the Columbo character.

    While this was clearly a deliberate stratagem by the writers to avoid giving away our hero’s first name, a more natural phrasing (at least in the US) would be “Hello. I’m Lieutenant Columbo, LAPD.”

    It’s not just my name; it’s not just my job title; but it’s all you need to know for the purposes of this interview.

    I’m a cop. I’m fairly high level. If you feel the need to report me (which happens all too often), you now have my last name.

    I myself would probably add my first name to the greeting, but I’m a genuinely friendly guy.

    I am. Ask my kids.

  16. Whilst I am a guy whose childhood was notably impacted by then-current series Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife, Kojak, The Rookies, Adam 12, and boatloads of other greats; I am not as versed in minutiae as many of you. Frank does seem a fitting name for our inestimable detective, here, but it’s both a fun and appropriate bit of mystery as to the Lieutenant’s first name. Similarly, his aversion to carrying a firearm and apparent substandard performance on the qualification range is at least as much a mystery, if not moreso. I recall one episode, though neither title nor season, in which the Lieutenant finangles another policeman into taking the pistol requalification for him. In any case, Columbo, especially, the original run, was a great series, the like of which is conspicuously absent in modern television. Thank goodness for Cozi TV, MeTV, and suchlike.
    God bless, and remember, there’s always “just, eh, one more thing…”

    • Dear Mr Cranston (or is it Mr Allard?). The episode in which Columbo asks another cop to take the firearms test for him is, without a shadow of a doubt, “Forgotten Lady”.

  17. Check Season 05, Episode 02, a case of Immuinty. Time mark 52:30, his boss introduces him, and it sounds like he says “Danny” or “Denny”

  18. I remember Peter Falk when asked about “Philip” he remarked, “Yes that would be a name that Columbo is not proud of”. To add further weight, I don’t believe Fred Worth made it up and he had the only real source for that name and I have that book which stated that the name was used in a play about Columbo as well. In addition, why give away the name via a badge when you don;t want anyone to know? Philip as his name makes more sense than Frank at least to me.

    • To add to your claim that Fred Worth made it up would mean that most of his trivia was made up and his goal was to compete with other books. Why is it that this particular piece of trivia is considered fabricated because he used that as his explanation to sue Trivial Pursuit owners. Philip is correct!

  19. As far as I am concerned, Columbo’s first name is “Joe”. When the series first became popular in Britain in the early 1970’s, I read an interview with Peter Falk in a national newspaper (I think it was the Daily Mirror). The gist of it was that Peter Falk was not playing a man without a first name, but rather as a man who knew what his own first name was. He always thought of the character as “Joe”, possibly because he was “an ordinary Joe” who just happened to be a brilliant detective. This would not have been what Levinson & Link had in mind, but when he’s played by Peter Falk, he’s Joe Columbo,

  20. I watched Murder By The Book last night and around 35:48 you can hear Jack Cassidy’s character say “Thank you, Frank” in response to Columbo. Check it out.

    • I checked it out and I guess you heard Columbo saying “Thanks a lot, Mr Franklin”, not Mr Franklin saying “Thank you, Frank”.

        • Columbo closes with “Thanks a lot, Mr Franklin. And listen, I am very sorry about what happened tonight”. Franklin then replies something that sounds like “Thank you, right.” but definitely not “Thank you, Frank”.

  21. I remember the TV tie in books released decades ago that had the warrant card on the front cover that clearly stated Frank.

  22. In season 3, first episode, “Lovely but lethal”, Vera Miles’ character, upon being arrested, can be heard saying to Columbo “Adam, tell your brother-in-law (the chemist who identified the poison ivy) a message for me, something appropriate”

  23. I think it is. His first name was shown on his Police ID in the series, so I take Frank to be his real first name. I think he is like Inspector Morse and doesn’t like to use his first name much, so he just becomes known by his surname.

  24. Pingback: Does Lieutenant Columbo have only one eye? | The Columbophile

  25. Faye Dunanway asked Coumbo in “It’s All In The Game” what his first name was and he said Lieutenant. I know there are other episodes too where he avoids telling his first name. In a “Matter of Honor” Commandante Sanchez tells how he read of Columbo’s crime solving when referring to “Troubled Waters”. His first name must of been in the newspaper article that he read. So, their are several other references to Columbo being a famous Detective (Ruth Gordon also comes to mind). I could see for security reasons a Detective wanting to secretive about his first name, but Columbo seemed to famous to pull it off.

  26. I have been watching Columbo since I was a child back in the late ’60’s and I always understood he didn’t have a first name (the character) the same way his wife was just “Mrs. Columbo”. That’s the way it was intended and it doesn’t matter all the other stuff that was introduced later. It the creators, producers and even Mr. Falk stated there was no first name, there wasn’t. As you said, they made a prop ID and no one thought people would be able to freeze the frame and read it through. Let’s not spoil the mistery.

    • Hi just my thought, Frank is good enough for me, But just when you mentioned his wife. I was watching the frank Sinatra roast on you tube & Colombo was a guest speaker & referred to his wife as rose to Sinatra for a autograph from him to his wife. All the little bits that come up ?

  27. There was a champion bodybuilder at the time called Franco Columbu (see Pumping Iron). Maybe a subliminal link by someone in production…?

  28. I feel his first name is Frank, it goes with Columbo. I have always enjoyed the show and Peter Fall is one of my favorite actors.

  29. You wrote “No, if we’re looking for official confirmation of Columbo’s first name that can only ever come from Levinson and Link,” and I completely disagree.

    Levinson and Link’s opinion probably holds more water than many, but it isn’t absolute. Nor do they own the series. In any program, other writers, producers, and directors have the privilege of adding facts and background to the characters and their lives. We can perhaps chalk the badge in “Dead Weight” up to a genuine mistake, but since the series made at least two subsequent references to Frank, it’s canon.

    Put another way, I don’t believe that Levinson or Link ever wrote that Columbo had a policeman nephew. As much as everybody dislikes “No Time to Die,” you can’t discount the episode because it introduces a fact about Columbo’s family that L & L did not create. And even if there is some throwaway reference to Andy in a 1970s episode, my point still stands: television is, with few exceptions, a very collaborative medium where many, many people have a say in the development of the characters’ futures and their pasts. L & L don’t get the final say, any more than they could approve everything that ever happened to Joe Mannix or Jessica Fletcher.

  30. The whole “what’s his first name”
    gimmick may have started with an earlier tv series, “Man in a Suitcase” (1966-67) where the main character’s name was McGill who would never tell anybody his first name. This was a British series starring the American actor Richard Bradford.

    • Don’t forget The Prisoner from the same era. The main character is known as Number Six. We never hear a name at all, though many believe it to be John Drake from Secret Agent/Danger Man.

  31. Another question is not really clear. Does Columbo speak Italian or not? In the few episodes where there is a mention about this point, some episodes let us believe that he did speak Italian (at least some Italian), while in some other episodes, the answer is clearly that he doesn’t. Anybody has an opinion or an answer?

  32. My opinion is that Columbo had no first name. A tiny mention in the first episode is not enough to conclude that it was Frank. In all the episodes, except for another quick appearance of Frank in an episode from 1975, his name is Columbo or Lieutenant Columbo.

  33. I gave up on “Columbo” adhering to any form of continuity logic when they had Wilson as “Freddie” in one episode and “John J.” in another.

    • “They had Wilson as “Freddie” in one episode and “John J.” in another.”

      LOL I recently wrote about this in a blogathon about Classic TV Villains. My topic was the Meddling Monk from ‘Doctor Who’ and his pathetic attempts to rewrite History. While his ultimate goals were thwarted, I claimed he could still alter History in small ways. And I blamed one such adjustment as leading to Sgt Wilson’s parents giving him a new name in the revised Timeline.

      • Haaa! That’s a more charming explanation than lazy script coordinators not researching a character’s history.

        • Agreed! Amazing stuff. Alternately maybe he changed it to John J to give him some extra authoritaire! It’s similar to how Brody’s deputy in Jaws changed his name from Lenny to Jeff in Jaws 2.

  34. I thought when I recently went through all of the “modern” episodes there was a one verbal reference to Frank Columbo (not the label on the specimen bag), but I don’t remember now. Perhaps it was another written reference or a reference on the DVD box. I will have to pay closer attention the next time we go through the modern episodes.

  35. With respect to Mr. Levinson and Mr. Link, once they let their “baby” set sail on the video seas, it was kind of out of their hands. ‘Columbo’ grew on its own with input from others from the writers, the directors, the star, and yeah, even the prop man. The medium is a collaborative effort. They never originally envisioned him to look like Falk, but there you are – telly evolution.

    For me, if it shows up on screen, then it’s canon. If you’re going to deny what is actually there to be seen for your own preference, then you’re in fanfic territory. The intent of the creators, just as in their original vision of the character’ look, ended up at odds with what’s on screen. So it goes.

    If anything, it could still be that it’s not his real first name, just a nickname that he uses when forced to do so – like signing an official form like an ID badge. Columbo might have a hated first name and goes out of his way to avoid it, but uses “Frank” as a fall-back option when there’s no other choice. Just sayin’….

    • Some people have their own interpretation of the show, they give a name to Lt. Columbo, they say he never had a wife, etc. Maybe they are watching Columbo in a parallel universe.

      • They also believe Edmund was innocent. I suspect they also placed significance upon March 4.

    • So if you spot a Blooper it is also canonical? The badge was presented rapidly, it wasn’t intended to be read. To read it, you have to freeze the frame, an option that wasn’t available when that episode came on.

  36. Omitting Columbo’s first name was a part of his character in the same way Levinson and Link didn’t want him being seen working in a police office. They wanted him to just come and go, with a sort of mystery about him.

  37. A few references on this point:

    http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/william-link#: William Link insists that Columbo never had, and never will have, a first name (see Part 4, beginning at 25:00).

    http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2010/10/bringing-columbo-to-printed-page.html: William Link blaming the “Dead Weight” ID card on ” a prop man screwing up, creating a badge without even knowing the series.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzKehvXNBus: where Peter Falk reveals Mrs. Columbo’s first name.

  38. I am from Germany, I know the German dubbing versions by heart, and I can put both my hands into the fire: Never ever it was Frank Columbo in a german dubbing version in any of the 69 cases. For too long I was searching for the first name until I finally read one day that the first name was written on the badge in several cases. I would have heard it if Columbo was ever to be called Frank. Only the gym cleaning guy in “An Exercise in Fatality” succinctly called Columbo “Hey Charlie”.
    Since Columbo is a citizen like you and me, he has to have a first name, so I don’t agree on that he has no first name at all. But because Columbo is an Italian, the name Franco would fit better. Frank reminds me too much of Lt. Frank Drebin alias Leslie Nielsen. Oh, how I wish Leslie Nielsen would have played a Columbo villain at least once in his two appearances!

      • I go with the creators’ statement that there was no first name. The writing on the prop was never ordered by them, if it was they would have said so. Now, how did you come up with the brilliant name columbophile? Was it taken from the wonderful book by Mark Dawidziak called The Columbo Phile? I’ve always thought that you should have come up with something original of your own.

        • Weren’t you played by Robert Blake? This site’s name is a tribute to that wonderful book. It was when I looked online for a copy of the book that I found this site. Why don’t you start a Columbo website of your own and amaze us with your originality?
          “Just One More Thing”. Ooh, clever.

  39. Well done! Love having all of this information, I was not aware of Levinson and Link’s opinion on the matter. In my mind, this is no longer an Identity Crisis. I’m with you, I don’t give a hoot.


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