Most of the characters in the movie have names that hint at their role in the story:

Marion Cotillard’s character is called ‘Mal’, short for name ‘Malorie’, a name derived from French word ‘malheur’, meaning misfortune or unhappiness. The shorter version ‘mal’ means wrong/bad or evil (when a noun) in French, as well as some other Latin-based languages.

Ariadne, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and his queen, Pasiphaë. She aided Theseus in overcoming the Minotaur by giving him a ball of red fleece thread that she was spinning, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. The name is also a reference to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s setting of the myth for Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos. The opera is a play within a play, just as the movie is a dream within a dream.

"Yusuf" is the Arabic form of "Joseph", the Biblical figure from Genesis 37-50, who had the gift of interpreting dreams. He was sold out by his brothers to slavery. Through his gift of dream interpretation he helped Pharaoh to prepare for the disaster of the "seven lean years" and was rewarded as a result. The same story is also told in the Koran.

Also, just as Cillian Murphy’s character was named Robert Fischer as a tribute to champion chess player Bobby Fischer, his father’s (Pete Postlethwaite) character is named Maurice Fischer as an homage to artist M.C. Escher (full name Maurits Cornelis Escher), whose art was clearly an inspiration for many of the special effects in the film.
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