At this point, it’s a trend: video games and names and the resulting confusion between these two elements. I guess if any chunk of online real estate were focus on such a matter, it would be here. Today, I’m focusing on Birdo, a regular target for my fixation on pop culture footnotes as a result of her debatable gender and occasional associations with unusual sex.
First off, most countries that have reason to know Birdo don’t call her Birdo. (I’m willing to bet that not all Americans call her Birdo, either, mostly because her name sounds fairly nonsensical — given that she’s neither a bird not a male deserving a name ending in “o” — and that that pink thing works just as easily as a means of referring to her.) In Japan, she’s called Catherine, which strikes me as especially unusual in light of the fact that most female characters in Mario games don’t get the kind of name that women in the real world get. (Case in point: Princess Eclair.) However, the name is Catherine, at least over there. To complicate matters, however, she’s also called “Cassie” sometimes, possibly because Japanese people think that Cassie works as a nickname for Catherine.
Completely independent of that confusion, however, is Birdo’s introduction in the United States under multiple names. The American instruction manual introduces Birdo as being a boy who likes to think he’s a girl and likes being called “Birdetta.” (On some level, I suspect that this reference results from the character being known in Japan as “Catherine” and “Cassie” — and I wouldn’t doubt that the instruction manual accompanying her debut game, Doki Doki Panic, simply introduced her as a being named Catherine but preferring to go by Cassie.) Even aside from the Birdo/Birdetta disparity, however, a translation error on the part of the people who remade Doki Doki Panic as Super Mario Bros. 2, much like the one that listed the monster character Clawgrip as Clawglip. For whatever reason, the game’s ending credits — which list all the characters in the game — lists Birdo as Ostro, the name of a minor ostrich-like bad guy who appears only a few times in the game. Often, other monsters are riding on its back.
Aside from further associated Birdo with birds — even though she’s clearly some kind of dinosaur, which are kind of birds but, practically speaking, just aren’t — the mix-up resulted in some accidental foreshadowing on Nintendo’s part. In short, Birdo is a bipedal dinosaur who attacks foes with eggs, has indeterminate gender and was once associated with a beast of burden. For the Nintendo fans who read this blog — both of you — that should sound familiar. Yoshi, a more popular Mario character, is dinosaur who walks on two legs, attacks foes with eggs (though they don’t come from his mouth), has indeterminate gender (in that he’s a male character who lays eggs), and is a beast of burden (his debut game, Super Mario World had him giving Mario rides on his back, which he still does from time to time). However, Birdo’s debut occurred four years before the release of Super Mario World in 1991, so despite Yoshi’s popularity, it would seem that Birdo influences him — not the other way around. Regardless of who came first, Birdo exists in latter-day Mario games as Yoshi’s female counterpart and default partner for various sporting events. Funny how that works.
Whether as a result of the Ostro mistake or not, Birdo’s association with birds — ostriches in particular — lingered. As if her name weren’t already confused enough, the character is known in Italian translations of Mario games as Strutzi, which this page conjectures is derived from the Italian struzzo, meaning “ostrich.” Why this one false name of hers would persist is beyond me, but it has — and in, of all places, the one nation where named like “Mario” and “Luigi” would make the most sense.
An oddly complicated history for a thoroughly confusing character.
Previous linguo-gamer-geek indulgences: