Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody

As some people who follow this blog may have noticed — and others may have gone to great lengths to ignore — I periodically post about “games and names,” or etymologies and explanations of names and words that appear in video games. Over time, I’ve come across various bits of information that I didn’t feel deserved their own post but that might be interesting to readers. I began collecting these bits in what was at one point a short list of odds and ends but which now exists as a bigger-than-planned list of name etymologies, translation oddities, and my own geek theories — with footnotes, no less.

A quick note: Since this post went up, I got a lot of feedback — some good and some of the “TLDR” variety. So in an effort to make what I put here more accessible, I split the content up into subsections that are easier to navigate and process. Also, you can now just skip the sections you don’t care about, if you so choose. Links below.
And for those of you brave enough to tackle to full, original post, enjoy.

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Because Zelda inspired the title of this collection, I might as well start with it. Unlike the Nintendo series Super Mario Bros., which takes its name from its heroes, the Legend of Zelda series take its name from its damsel in distress, which seems odd in that the princess didn’t play a significant role in the games until fairly recently.

princess_zelda_triforce
zelda then, zelda now and the triforce

Several sites, however, suggest that Princess Zelda’s name could have some relation to the game’s symbol, the Triforce, a triangular icon that represents the virtues of strength, wisdom and courage.1 Some even claim that the Greek letter delta, essentially a triangle in its written form, would be rendered in Japanese katakana as zeruda, which is also how the character’s name could be rendered in katakana.2

As plausible as this all may seem, however, it probably had nothing to do with how the character got her name. The game’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, has said that he took the character’s name from Zelda Fitzgerald: “[Zelda Fitzgerald] was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title,” he’s quoted as saying.3 Nonetheless, Nintendo itself seemed to offer some tacit endorsement of the Zelda-delta theory in Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, in which Zelda initially goes by a different name, Tetra, which means “four” — figuratively, the “three” of delta plus one, if you wanted to think about numerically. Also, the technical term for a four-paneled pyramid — which is what the Triforce would be if it existed in three dimensions — is tetrahedron.4

The series hero, Link, also deserves a bit of onomastic speculation. His name isn’t unheard of outside of video games; there’s actually a character with that name and with that spelling in To Kill a Mockingbird, though, more often, you see the name as Linc, an abbreviation for Lincoln. Again, Nintendo itself has had some fun with the name. The title of the third Zelda game, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, makes a pun on his name. And in any game, Link, as the game’s stand-in for the player, also serves as a link between the video game and the human world on the other side.

link_legend_of_zelda-1
link the lefty: original art, original sprite, and the current look

Finally, links is German for “left,” which would mean nothing if the guy wasn’t traditionally depicted as holding his sword in his left hand. (If you’ve only played the “dyslexic,” Wii version of Twilight Princess, this significance would likely be lost on you, as Nintendo flipped the game so that characters would be holding their Wiimotes in the same hand as Link holds his sword.) In my book, this merits a mention because Link is the only major video game hero that I can think of who is a southpaw.

You’d think I’d have something to say about Zelda’s big bad, but I actually haven’t yet dug up much up on him, even though he has the linguistically enticing name Ganondorf Dragmire. And I have no idea why Nintendo chose to switch his name from Gannon, as it’s stated in the first game, to Ganon in Zelda II: Adventure of Link, and then to Ganondorf in Link to the Past onward. It seems that now Ganon — one “N” — refers to his more hulking, monster form and Ganondorf to his human form.5 Crazy demon logic.

gannon_ganon_ganondorf_zelda
gannon, ganon, and ganondorf

There’s something to be said about a few supporting characters, however. Some time back I posted about a sagely but almost forgotten Zelda character named Sahasrahla. Goofy, who blogs over at Bradshaw of the Future, pointed out that his name is probably a corruption of the Hindu term sahasrara, which refers to the seventh primary chakra — “the thousand-petaled lotus, located over the fontanel,” in Goofy’s words.

Link’s trusty steed, Epona, would seem to take her name from a Celtic horse goddess. (She’s the one associated with the Uffington White Horse, though erroneously.)

Throughout various Zelda games, Link has been accompanied by attendant fairies that point out this or that and explain things the player might not otherwise know. It’s been pointed out a few places online that their names would reflect this: Navi (“navigator”) in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Tatl (“tattle”) in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the latter of whom has a brother appropriately named Tael.6

etymologically: splish-splash on the left, roly-poly on the right

Throughout many of the Zelda games, Link encounters some human-like but decidedly not totally human folks: among then, the Gorons and the Zoras. Gorons are bulky things who live in the mountains and tend to tumble down hillsides like boulders, while Zoras are fishy things who live in the water and who in some games take their orders from a fat, lazy whale named Lord Jabu-Jabu. Both sets of creatures have some relation to Japanese onomatopoeia.7 The name Goron resembles goro goro, the Japanese term for a rumbling sound not unlike that of a rolling rock. And the bloated fish, immobile though he is, shares his name with another Japanese word for the sound of splashing water. (Not sure where Zora comes from. Fitzgerald and such literary connections aside, Zora Neale Hurston seems unlikely.)

In Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo made a nice gesture to longtime players by naming several supporting characters after towns that appeared in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link — namely Saria, Darunia, Ruto, Rauru, Nabooru, and Mido. For the life of me, however, I’ve never been able to figure out where any of the names came from in the first place. Even more curious is that one final Zelda II town has no apparent Ocarina of Time character named after it: Kasuto. This omission actually seems appropriate in light of the fact that Zelda II’s Kasuto is abandoned, its residents having hightailed to a hidden town, New Kasuto. In a sense, it’s appropriate that the one town that is empty or obscured either lacks a character counterpart or simply has a very well hidden one. Equally perplexing is an Ocarina of Time character who aids Link in his adventure: a talking owl with the exceptionally strange name of Kaepora Gaebora. If anyone can offer a theory as to where these folks get their names, I’d love to hear it.

Something that’s a little less mysterious: There’s a location in a lot of Zelda games by the name of Kakariko Village. By most accounts, it is inspired by the noise made by the chickens that so often inhabit the place.8

koume_kotake_twinrova
pickled on the left, fungal on the right

There’s a recurring pair of decrepit twin witches, Koume and Kotake, whose names in Japanese refer to a type of pickled plum and a mushroom, respectively.9 And those seems like appropriate enough names for two wrinkled, malevolent things.

iamerror_legedofzelda
but his saying so isn’t. understand?

And finally, there’s Error — a character who appears only in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. For most of the game, he says only what you see above: “I am Error.” Very strange. Later in the game, another character actually refers to Error by his name, proving that his name is actually what he says — that is, the text doesn’t read the way it does as the result of an actual error. One might think that Error results from a mangled translation of the name Errol, which in the context of a Zelda game would make sense, given the swashbuckling associations the name carries. That wouldn’t appear to be the case, however. The linguistically minded point out that had the character’s name been intended to be Errol, it would have been rendered differently in the original Japanese text than it was.10 Others, however, claim that Error’s name is, in fact, an in-joke and cite another character as supporting this: a guy named Bagu, who just happens to be a palette swap for Error and whose name also happens to sound a lot like the word “bug” — as in a computer error.11 But I’m not sure this is necessarily the case. Wherever Error’s name comes from, the fact that it seems like a goof resulted in him becoming a meme among the Nintendo-literate.12 Nintendo even acknowledged this years later with an in-joke in Super Paper Mario.13


Characters in the Mario games tend to have more straightforward names, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t lend themselves to some inspection. In fact, one of the first video game-related posts I ever put on this blog concerned the odd linguistic associations that Mario and Luigi have.

The most logical place to start, then: the Italian-American stereotype himself, Mario.

mario_luigi_wario_waluigi
left to right: landlord, evil, pizza man, and similarly evil

The story most often circulated about Mario’s name is that it comes from Mario Segale (or Mario Segali, depending on your sources), who was the landlord for Nintendo of America’s office around the time Mario Bros. came out and who apparently bore a resemblance to the portly, mustachioed hero.14 Given the attitudes most people have for their landlords, I have to imagine the comparison wasn’t necessarily flattering. Mario’s debut a few years earlier in Donkey Kong billed him as Jumpman — which, as a name, kind of blows — so I suppose we should be happy that Nintendo staff decided to mock their landlord when they did. I have no reason to question the story other than the fact that I have never seen any proof that Mr. Segale actually exists. I’m not alone: One guy has even begun a website to try to track Mr. Segale down. Similarly, it’s generally accepted that Luigi got his name from Mario & Luigi’s, a pizza place alleged to have existed at some point near Nintendo of America’s Washington office.15

Confusing the issue further, however, is the theory that Mario and Luigi got their names from the Japanese words marui and ruiji, which mean “round” and “similar” respectively. (The former is also related to the name of the Maru Mari, an item in the Metroid series that’s now known as the Morph Ball.) The marui-ruiji theory is probably wrong, but it’s still interesting to consider. Mario does have a bit of a paunch nowadays, though he looked trimmer back when he was first named. (Early video graphics were ill-equipped to portray slight tubbiness.) And Luigi did debut in Mario Bros. as a palette swap — that is, he had Mario’s sprite with a different color scheme.

mario_bros_ruiji_similar
early mario and luigi, with the latter looking pretty damn similar

The marui-ruiji theory might have ended up seeming more believable as the result of the explanation behind the names of the other two “plumber” characters, Wario and Waluigi. Among people who follow these things, it’s fairly well known that Wario’s name comes from the Japanese adjective warui, meaning “evil.” Warui plus Mario equals Wario, with the fact that “W” looks like an inverted “M” apparently being a happy coincidence. All in all, a good play on words.

Luigi’s evil counterpart, Waluigi, isn’t so lucky. That pesky “L”/“R” problem, which so often rears its head in transliterations between English and Japanese, causes warui and Luigi’s name to blend together less seamlessly. If Nintendo has only named its Number One Player Two Ruigi instead of Luigi, some of the awkwardness English-speakers perceive in Waluigi’s name would have been avoided. Waluigi — or, transliterated differently, Waruiji — also happens to be an anagram for the Japanese word ijiwaru, which means “bad-tempered.” As far as I know, this too is just a coincidence. Because Waluigi’s hat bears an inverted “L,” some depict the character’s name as 7uigi, which might be the most sensible way to refer to this character with the awkward, awkward name.16

The wa- prefix characters mostly end there, as we have yet to be beset with a particularly un-ladylike Wapeach, an unhelpful Watoad, a peaceful Wabowser or a heroic Wawario. There has, however, been a Wayoshi, though not by that name. (See below, where I talk about Yoshi.)

Other main characters in the Mario games don’t offer as much to think about, at least from what I’ve found.

peach_toadstool
peachy progression

Given the series’ propensity for naming characters after food — a trend throughout Japanese pop culture, really — it doesn’t seem remarkable that the games’ iconic female character would be named after something sweet. Princess Peach’s name in its Japanese form, however, could also be represented in English as Pichi, or “Peachy,” which makes for an accurate description of her unflappably positive personality. Yes, she has an alternate name in the U.S., where she was introduced as Princess Toadstool and went by the that name until 1996. It’s all but forgotten now, and perhaps for the better: Toadstool is an ugly name for any universe’s epitome of femininity.

Nintendo has saddled the prolific cake-baker with some unfortunate feminine stereotypes throughout the years, including one that pertains especially to this discussion of games and words: Her Super Mario RPG attack Psych Bomb is known in the original Japanese as Hisuterikku Bomu, or “Hysteric Bomb,” which, on the etymological level, expresses a certain degree of misogyny.

bowser_koopa_super_mario_Bros
bald bowser, blue bowser and the bowser we all know and hate

I could swear that I remember reading somewhere that “Koopa” — the name that Bowser, the games’ main antagonist, goes by in Japan and his last name in the United States — comes from a term for plateware in some Asian country. Can’t find it now, though it seems relevant that the word is sometimes written as Kuppa in certain instances of English text in Japanese games. I’ve also read that the word Koopa would match the Japanese pronunciation of a Korean rice soup that can be represented in English text as gug-bab or guk-bap or some other such combination of similar syllables, but I’d have to check that with a food-minded linguist before I could say this claim is accurate. Supporting the gug-bab theory is a statement Miyamoto apparently made in an interview indicating that he decided upon Koopa over two other names based on Korean dishes: Yukke (yukhoe) and Bibinbap (bi bim bap).17

As for Bowser’s American-only first name, I’d propose that it could come either from a certain type of water or fuel tanker — which would make sense, given the character’s size — or from Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of the rock group Sha Na Na. (Less of a badass association than one might have hoped for, but few names could hold a candle to the name Bowser was introduced as in the original Japanese version of Super Mario Bros.: Daimaō Kuppa, which translates either as “Great Demon King Koopa” or “Big Devil King Koopa.”18 And Bowser, regardless of its origin, is a hundred times cooler than Kerog, a mysterious alternate name the character has been stuck with in at least one piece of apparently Nintendo-sanctioned merchandise.18)

Another theory as to the origin of the name Koopa relates it to a creature from Japanese mythology, the kappa. These water demons have little in common with the Super Mario Bros. villain other than that they like kidnapping people and are sometimes depicted as having turtle-like shells and beaks. In fact, the Japanese refer to the generic turtle enemies that Americans call Koopa or Koopa Troopa as Nokonoko, which translates to something like “unconcernedly,” apparently in reference to the way they stupidly walk in one direction without fear of being stomped or falling into holes. That their Japanese name sounds like the knock-knock noise their shells make when bouncing off a solid object is just a coincidence.

A quick aside: Kappas are common enough in Japanese culture that they show up pretty often in video games. They appear in Final Fantasy VI, as “imps,” and there’s also a pirate-accented one named Kapp’n in the Animal Crossing games that most American players would just assume was a turtle anyway. A major difference between kappas and turtles, however, is that the former has a hollow head filled with water that spills if they lean over. And if the water spills, the kappa dies. (So now you know what to do in an emergency.) The aspect of the creature is subtly reflected in Super Mario World, whose instruction manual identifies an area of the map as Kappa Mountain.20 The name never appears in the game itself, but it would appear to be named after the fact that a pond appearing on one part of the mountain looks a little like the water-filled depression in a kappa’s head.

kappa_japan_video_games
clockwise from top left: kappas as they appear in nature,
kappa mountain, kapp’n, final fantasy vi’s kappas

Kappa Mountain, by the way, looks a hell of a lot more like a mountain on the map than the area that the game’s text actually refers to as such: Cookie Mountain, a stage in the fourth area that just might have inspired the name of TV on the Radio’s second album, Return to Cookie Mountain. I’ve never read any confirmation from the band that it’s true, though.

Back on the subject of Bowser, I have nothing to back up the Sha Na Na theory, but it seems less ludicrous than it might initially if considered alongside the names that Bowser’s seven awful children got when they were introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. In order, the children were Larry Koopa, Morton Koopa Jr., Wendy O. Koopa, Iggy Koopa, Roy Koopa, Lemmy Koopa and Ludwig von Koopa — nearly all of whom have names that resemble those of famous musicians.21
koopaling_iggy_pop_morton_downey_le
times two: iggy, morton, lemmy, ludwig, roy, wendy, larry, and bowser/bowzer

In order: Wendy O. Williams, Iggy Pop, Roy Orbison (whose habit of wearing sunglasses is shared by his Super Mario Bros. counterpart), Lemmy from Motörhead, and Ludwig von Beethoven. Morton would seem to take his name from the talk show host Morton Downey Jr., who was popular around the time Super Mario Bros. 3 was released. And Larry is a bit of a mystery, though I say the apparent reference to Downey has led some to assume his namesake is another talk show host, Larry King.22 Nintendo has never confirmed anything one way or the other, so this all remains just speculation, but it’s speculation that seems pretty damn likely, especially considering that subsequent Mario characters were also named after rock stars and the like — among them a boss in Super Mario World being apparently named for Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (Reader Kevin T points out that another possible source for the Reznor character could be a heater manufacturing company of the same name.) Years after introducing Bowser’s brood, Nintendo ditched them in favor of a single offspring with a far less cool namesake: Bowser Jr.

Less speculative are the name origins for Toad and Yoshi. The former, being an anthropomorphic mushroom, seems to take his name from the word toadstool, which seems a bit unimaginative given that Peach’s name also used to be Toadstool.

In addition to being a Japanese first name — for humans, that is — Yoshi’s name also serves in Japanese as an interjection meaning “Okay!” or “All right!”23 He is also one of the few major Mario characters to have a distinctly Japanese-sounding name worldwide, though some early and unofficial materials Anglicize his name as Yossy. (The legendary Kart Fighter, for example.)

Commenters have pointed out that Yoshi’s name has twice been used as an inspiration for similar characters. Mountainchops notes that Super Mario RPG featured a character named Boshi who, in the Japanese version, was called Washi or Waruishi, similar to how Wario is the evil Mario and Waluigi is the evil Luigi. And Elena notes that Dorrie, the sea serpent helper from Super Mario 64 and New Super Mario Bros., is named Doshi in Japan.

yoshi_toad_birdo
beloved mario characters say “hi, we lack identity!”

Toad and Yoshi also belong to a group of Mario characters whose names double as generic terms for all of their kind — that is, the name Toad can refer to the specific character Toad but also generically to any Average Joe mushroom head, even when these characters actually have their own name. For example, you could say that Toad’s female counterpart, Toadette, is a Toad. (I wonder what Nintendo will make of the playable Toads in the New Super Mario Bros. Wii announced at this year’s E3. Will they get names or will they just be Blue Toad and Yellow Toad?) Same for Yoshi, as well as for other characters like Birdo and Kamek. (I’ve previously written about these characters names and this very Japanese sense of self and group identity in this post.)

Speaking of Birdo, she has quite of few issues regarding her name, not that a character who suffers from so much gender confusion needs any more complications in her life. Birdo — whose Japanese name, Kyasarin, can be transliterated into English as either Catherine or Cassie, depending on who’s doing the transliterating — seems to get stuck with various names referring to animals of the feathered variety regardless of the fact that she looks like a dinosaur. Her name in Italy, for example, is Strutzi, which would seem to come from the Italian word struzzo, meaning “ostrich.”24 (I have up a separate post on Birdo’s bird-related name problems as well.)

Finally, Kamek — the broom-riding wizard Koopa — gets his name some the Japanese kame, meaning “turtle,” which seems odd given that all the Koopas are turtles.20 Why should just one guy get to claim that in his name?

And then there’s Donkey Kong. It so happens that the big ape has a name that’s probably made more people scratch their heads than any other video game character.

donkey_kong_stubborn_monkey
donkey kong: barrel-tosser, chest-thumper, necktie-wearer

His last name seems likes a clear reference to King Kong, but the Donkey part doesn’t make sense. Contrary to various urban legends that say otherwise, Donkey Kong earned his first name as a result of Miyamoto wanting to call the villain something that conveyed a sense of stubbornness and stupidity. He arrived at donkey. Miyamoto himself said as much in a 2001 interview he gave at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.25 Thus, the name didn’t result from some butchering of Monkey Kong through a typo or communication error.26 Chris Kohler’s phenomenal book on video games, Power-Up, also notes that the word kong had been used to mean “large” in Japanese ever since the 1933 King Kong.27
It probably results only from people like me trying to put an English major spin on things, but there’s another theory about Donkey Kong’s name that, however implausible, put this character in an interesting literary context. Remember King Midas? The character from Greek mythology who can turn anything into gold just by touching it? There’s a less widely known story involving the very same character pissing off the god Apollo and winding up with a pair of donkey ears. Apparently a heightened sense of hearing did little to allay the concerns of Midas, who found the ears to be unbecoming of a king, so he did everything he could to conceal his condition. In a loose sense, this sets up a dichotomy between kings and donkeys that is reflected in Donkey Kong’s name, but only if you compare it to King Kong’s — that is, the video game character is such a galoot that he’s the opposite of a king.28 It’s a stretch, I’ll admit, but the theory allows for a way to view the character.

diddy_kong_dixie_kong_donkey_kon-1
left: “little.” middle: “little,” in a different sense. right: “tenth.”

Probably because the latter-day Donkey Kong games are often developed by non-Japanese publishers, a lot of the names of the characters in them are less mysterious. I recently found out, however, that Diddy Kong — Donkey’s main sidekick and the character that essentially replaced Donkey Kong Jr. — got his name from a British term meaning “small.”29 And “small,” I suppose, is a good substitute for “junior.”

The first name of the other sidekick, Dixie Kong, means “tenth.” Though I’d like to report that her debut marked the tenth Donkey Kong game, it would require some funky math to make that work. The fact that she wears pink — she’s the girl, get it? — is actually also appropriate in light of how the character is, like Diddy, a diminutive sidekick for Donkey Kong. Just as “little” Diddy Kong replaced Donkey Kong Jr., Dixie could be seen as a successor to a fairly obscure character that appeared in the edutainment title Donkey Kong Jr. Math: a pink ape whose name, for all practical purposes, also seems to be Donkey Kong Jr.30, 31 I prefer to call him Pinky Kong, because palette swaps aside, calling them both Junior is a little messed up.

Perhaps coincidentally, both Diddy and Dixie’s names function as codes in the games they debut in. In Donkey Kong Country, the Diddy code — entering down, Y, down, down Y on the contol pad, effectively spelling out “D-Y-D-D-Y” — allows the player to access the game’s bonus rounds. In the sequel, Diddy’s Kong-Quest, a similar code — down, Y, X, Y, or “D-Y-X-Y” — also unlocks hidden features. I have no clue if the characters’ names were chosen with possible codes that could be entered using the buttons on the Super Nintendo control pad in mind.

And finally Daisy, the Mario games’ Girl Number Two, happens to have a five-letter name that doubles as a generic English noun, just like Peach. Since Miyamoto named Zelda in honor of the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, I wonder if Daisy could have been named after a certain fictional woman associated with Fitzgerald: Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. Unlike most Mario characters, however, Daisy was created by the late Nintendo pioneer, Gunpei Yokoi, so it would seem just as likely that she, like Peach, would take her name from a word named for a pleasant, organic thing.

Over the past few years, I’ve posted about other Mario name and word oddities, usually about the more obscure characters. Rather than repeat what’s already been written, I’ll just finish the Mario section by linking to those past articles.
  • Overgrown carnivorous flower Petey Piranha has more than his share of names, including one in German that renders him female.
  • The generic Boo enemy has a Japanese name that has resulted in a few people assuming the character is female. (Also, not in the article but relevant to the earlier discussion of rock star namesakes: It debuted in the American version of Super Mario Bros. 3 under the name Boo Didley.)
  • Like Mario and Luigi, Donkey Kong damsel Pauline got her name from a real-life Nintendo of America associate, and not from the old Perils of Pauline serials. The large number of first-generation Mario characters who are named after real-life people and establishments makes me wonder if there might be a living, breathing namesake for Stanley the Bugman, the Mario stand-in from Donkey Kong 3.
pauline_porin_spike_blackey_clawgri
three pixelated mario bygones
  • The instruction manual for the original Super Mario Bros. includes an unexplained reference to something called field horsehair plants. To this day, I have no idea what this refers to, but I did my best to figure it out.
  • Super Mario Galaxy’s Rosalina has a different name in nearly every language’s translation of the game, but its her Japanese name, Rosetta, that’s most appropriate to the games deep space setting.
  • The bad guy in the Wrecking Crew games is a Wario look-alike known outside Japan as Foreman Spike and in Japan, regrettably, as Blackie. But there’s a theory that Breaky could be a more appropriate transliteration than Blackie, given the game’s theme of demolition.
  • Did it occur to anyone else that those pixies freed at the end of Super Mario Bros. 2 don’t actually have names?
  • Conversely, Merelda, the damsel in Wario Land: Shake It!, has too many names.
  • In keeping with the theme of women named after inanimate objects, Shokora, the damsel of Wario Land 4, gets her name from a Japanese approximation for the word chocolate.
  • WarioWare’s Ashley — whose name is probably a fire-and-brimstone reference — has her own verbal issues stemming from her allegedly Satanic theme song. But it’s probably more complicated than you’ve been led to believe.
  • The Super Mario RPG villain Valentina is known as Margarita in Japan, and I’m willing to bet this was changed because references to alcohol have long been verboten in Nintendo’s family-friendly titles.
  • In Super Mario Bros. 2, a glaring instance of Engrish introduced the world to Clawglip instead of Clawgrip. The first Mario character created specifically for western audiences deserved better.
  • Stretching the theme of this post a bit but probably of interest to anyone who has made it this far: The Super Mario Bros. theme was at one point assigned lyrics. They’re in Japanese, of course, but they've been translated.
  • And finally there’s Wart, the big bad from Super Mario Bros. 2 whose been MIA ever since… except for a certain Legend of Zelda game, which happened to assign him a name he hadn’t had since that proto-Super Mario Bros. 2, Doki Doki Panic.
There’s not all that much to say about Sonic the Hedgehog himself, but his arch-nemesis is a bit more complicated. Much in the manner that Peach was once Toadstool in the U.S. but was always Peach in Japan, the Sonic villain most of us grew up with no longer goes by the name Doctor Robotnik all the time. He is now sometimes Eggman, though he always had that name in Japan.

robotnick_eggman_teddy_roosevelt
robotnik then, eggman now, and the roosevelt who inspired it all

Robotnik happens to mean worker in Polish and peasant in Czech.32 Robotnik was even the name of the newspaper of the Polish Socialist Party. Is Sonic, then, crusading against socialism? Probably not. Robotnik comes from the same origins as the word robot, and the Sonic villain should be known for robot creation if nothing else. Today, Robotnik goes by the far less cool name Doctor Eggman, in apparent reference to his rotund physique. By the way, on the subject of the character’s appearance, his looks — including his trademark mustache — were inspired by Teddy Roosevelt.33

A commenter calling himself Generic pointed out that even later games seem to retain Robotnik as the character’s family name, even in Japan. For example, Sonic Adventure 2 and Shadow the Hedgehog both feature a kindlier member of the family, Maria Robotnik.

An anonymous commenter had a particularly intricate theory about why Sega changed the character’s name in the U.S. Here’s how he put it, though I should note that I shortened some of his sentences and changed some formatting.
The reason why his name was changed to Dr. Ivo Robotnik when introduced to the English-speaking world was because Sega feared a lawsuit, more than likely due to the estate of John Lennon concerning the Eggman title. Actually, one of the new names chosen for the portly scientist was the nonsensical Dr. Badvibes....

Going with
Ivo Robotnik in itself could be a joke on John Lennon. Robotnik translated from its Czech roots [could also be rendered] as “slave worker.” Ivo, the first name, in itself is shortened from Ivor, which is a variation on the name Ivan that has roots in the Russian/Scandinavian language. Ivan to boot is the Russian/Scandinavian version of John. But, if you remember, John [Lennon] was The Eggman [in the Yellow Submarine song “I Am the Eggman.” Translated from the Slavic meaning, Ivo Robotnik could mean John the Slave Worker — or as the [John Lennon solo song] John the Working Class Hero.
The comment concludes with the note that in the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon, Robotnik was given the first name Julian, which happens to be the name of John Lennon’s first son. In all, it’s very interesting. It’s also a stretch, though perhaps only as much as other theories that I thought up myself. I’m not sure if the Eggman moniker would have been enough to elicit a lawsuit from the Lennon estate.

Sonic’s sidekick Tails has two names, as well — the one everyone knows and his “real” name, Miles Prower. It might seem like a useless footnote, but it brings the added benefit of being a pun on the phrase miles per hour.34 (Ha.) It should probably be noted that joke would make a lot more sense if Tails was known for running quickly instead of flitting about with his helicopter tail.

Similar issues exist for the Sonic series damsel, Amy Rose. She debuted in Sonic CD, whose English language version named her Rosy the Rascal. The name similar to that of Rosie the Riveter, which would make sense if the game’s translators wanted to give the character a sense of empowerment. To complicate matters further, the English instruction manuals for certain releases of Sonic CD also referred to the character as Princess Sally, a different love interest for Sonic popularized in the non-cannon comics and cartoons. (For the record, Sally and other characters from the comics did appear in one actually game, Sonic Spinball.) Regardless, the character soon after became known in English-speaking markets as she had always been known in Japan and is known today: Amy Rose.

Commenter castaspella noted one bit of interesting information regarding this character. It’s not especially name-related but seemed worth noting anyhow: Amy or a character a lot like her was at one point planned to be Sonic’s sister. Sega had initially planned on reworking the RPG-tinged platforming title Popful Mail into a game called Sister Sonic, replacing the original characters with this prototype distaff hedgehog. Sister Sonic never came to pass, however, and eventually Popful Mail made it to the U.S. without being so drastically altered.

The majority of Sonic characters aren’t of much use for this article, as their names are straightforward. (Knuckles the Echidna, for example, is an echidna who has pointy knuckles. Not much to work with there.) There are, however, two characters that time has essentially forgotten, Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo, that I think deserve a mention. Both debuted in an arcade game, SegaSonic the Hedgehog, that allowed players to control Sonic, Ray and Mighty with a trackball and a single jump button. The three moved identically.35

SegaSonic_ray_mighty
left to right: flight, speed, and power

Despite what their names might imply, Ray could not fly and Mighty was not especially powerful. Lame, I know. And I think Sega thought so too, as Ray never appeared again and Mighty appeared only once more. However, latter-day Sonic games such as Sonic Heroes frequently feature characters grouped into threes — one that can move fast, one that can fly, and one especially that is strong. If you think about it, these three attributes are reflected in the names of the leads in SegaSonic the Hedgehog. In the sense of light, a ray is an airborne thing, while the associations with the word mighty are obvious. In this sense, SegaSonic the Hedgehog’s take on the three-man team could be seen as a precursor to what appeared in later games.

Two other quick ones: A few Sonic games feature a ninja chameleon named Espio, and I only recently realized that the reference to the word espionage makes the name the most appropriate one ever for a ninja chameleon.

Sega jumped on the fighting game craze in 1996 with Sonic the Fighters, which had the various Sonic characters kicking the crap out of each other for no apparent reason. The cast included a character whose name bucks the pattern of “name + the + animal species” — a bomb-tossing duck saddled with the baffler Bean the Dynamite. The odd name references the lesser known Sega title Dynamite Dux, which starred ducks named Bin and Pin who also specialized in explosive devices.36

street_fighter_ii_ryu
ryu: he fights on the street but doesn’t wear shoes

By virtue of boasting an international cast of characters, the Street Fighter games incorporate more languages than most other games do. Now in its fifth official incarnation but with countless remakes and retreads filling the gaps between full-fledged sequels, the games focus on Ryu and Ken — respectively Japanese and American twists on the karate fighter character type. Appropriate though their names might be in the countries they hail from, there’s an added layer of meaning: Ryu’s name translates from Japanese into English as “dragon,” while Ken’s means “fist.”37 Both Ryu and Ken appear in the Japanese name for a certain move that these two characters share: a jumping uppercut officially known as the Shoryuken, or “Rising Dragon Punch.”38 (Ryu’s name, as commenter parsleyboots pointed out, can also mean “noble.”)

Incidentally, the Street Fighter Alpha installments introduced a less honorable version of Ryu. He’s known in the U.S. simply as Evil Ryu. In Japan, however, he’s Satsui no Hadō ni Mezameta Ryū, which translates into English as the far more awesome appellation “The Surge of Murderous Intent Awakened in Ryu.” Harder to fit on screen, yes, but I say the literal translation should have stuck. Later on in the series, other characters received evil versions of themselves, many with amazingly long, evocative names. The Street Fighter EX character Hokuto was given the alternate form Chi no Fūin o Tokareta Hokuto (“Broken Seal of Blood Hokuto”), for example. Series villain Akuma has a more powerful, more evil version known as Shin Akuma (“True Akuma”).39

street_fighter_ii_ken
ken: number two, twice over

While Ryu may be the most important character in the Street Fighter games — in the first, he was the default Player One character — Ken gets the honor of having a last name: Masters. Of all people, Ken has Barbie to thank. When Hasbro made a line of Street Fighter action figures, Capcom had to supply the character a surname in order to distinguish him from the other Mattel-produced doll of the same name, Barbie’s male counterpart, Ken.40 I can only imagine Capcom chose the name in order to emphasize his status as a world-class martial artist. The name was eventually absorbed into the Street Fighter canon. It has also been claimed that Ken, with his shoulder-length banana-blond hair and muscular build, bears a passing resemblance to another Mattel character, He-Man, in which case Ken’s last name would also recall the cartoon that popularized the character, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.41

Perhaps significantly or perhaps not, the protagonist of Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series is named Ryu Hayabusa. In the American version of the game, this character’s father is named Ken Hayabusa, even though he’s Joe Hayabusa in the Japanese version. Since Ninja Gaiden debuted a year after the first Street Fighter, it seems possible the father’s name was changed to create another Ryu-Ken pair, but it could just as easily be a coincidence.

street_fighter_II_chun-li
street fighter ii to street fighter iv: years and years of chinese thunder thighs

Chun-Li, who debuted in Street Fighter II, has a name that translates from Mandarin into English as “spring beauty.”42 While not technically the first female combatant in a fighting game — that honor, notes commenter Stercus, goes to Edwina from the obscure Tongue of the Fat Man — she’s definitely the first notable one. Many a subsequent lady fighter was designed in Chun-Li’s image, as a quick-moving, light-hitting, acrobatic fighter. As such, I’d like to think that the “spring” doubles as nod to her ability to fly through the air, but I doubt it’s anything but a coincidence, notwithstanding the fact that one of her signature moves, the Spinning Bird Kick, evokes imagery along the lines of both interpretations of the word spring.

street_fighter_II_zangief
the red cyclone: still apoplectically russian after all these years

It’s speculated that Street Fighter’s Russian wrestler Zangief takes his name from a real-life Russian wrestler, Victor Zangiev. More interesting to me is that the working name for this character was Vodka Gobalsky.43 This is notable for two reasons — for one, that this name is amazing and deserves to enter into the public consciousness, and, for another, that it bears a striking resemblance to the name of a Russian boxer in Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series, Vodka Drunkenski.44 I’m sure this says something about Japanese perception of Russian people. The latter Vodka, by the way, goes by the name Soda Popinski in U.S. translations of the game, presumably because Nintendo of America didn’t allow references to booze.

street_fighter_II_dhalsim
stretch: then and now

Dhalsim is the fire-breathing, limb-stretching Indian yogi who’s willing to forgo his pacifistic ways to kick ass around the world. Most profiles of the character note that he hails from the southwestern Indian state of Kerala and that his name comes from Malayalam, a language spoken in that particular state. So I guess I’m a little impressed that his back story matches his name, considering that Malayalam is one of India’s twenty-two official languages and less subtle things have gotten confused in translating from one language to another. Though I wish I could tell you what Dhalsim means, it’s literally the one word of Malayalam that I know, and functional, online Malayalam-to-English dictionaries are hard to find. So I’ll give you this, at least: If you ever want to see where Capcom more than likely got the idea for this long-lived yet remarkably odd character, watch the 1975 Taiwanese martial arts flick Master of the Flying Guillotine, which features a suspiciously similar limb-stretching Indian fighter competing in an international tournament.44

guile_e_honda_blanka_streetfighterI
stereotypical america, stereotypical japan, and a slap in the face to brazil

And that’s all I could put together from the initial eight playable Street Fighter characters. I’ve got nothing on Guile, the other American fighter, other than his name sounds quite a bit like the more common Anglo given name Kyle. Unlike Ken, who received a last name through connections with American products, the notion of the character’s full name being William F. Guile — as it is in the awful 1994 movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme — wasn’t accepted into the game’s canon.

After this post went up, a commenter pointed out that I neglected to note that Guile’s name is also a generic noun in English, meaning either “deceitful cunning” or “stratagem, trick.” I suppose I skipped over this because I couldn’t think of a way to relate this fairly negative concept to the character. The commenter, however, pointed out that the name’s connotations could be a comment on Japanese perception of the U.S. armed forces. Another commenter even pointed out that the name makes sense in the context of how many players use Guile: trapping opponents between projectiles and air kicks, essentially strategizing his opponents senseless. The same commenter also noted the similarity between Guile’s name and of that J. Guile, a character in the manga JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. (Like many members of the JoJo cast, J. Guile takes his name from a pop music act, in this case the J. Geils Band.) Such a connection wouldn’t be unheard of; many members of the the JoJo cast look suspiciously like Capcom characters — the mystic Lisa Lisa in particular looks like Street Fighter Alpha’s Rose — and Capcom released a video game based on the manga back in 1998.

Equally perplexing is the other Japanese fighter, the sumo E. Honda. I have no idea why the “E” stands for the decidedly non-Japanese Edmond, though the helpful Guile commenter also offered a theory, if a nonserious one. He writes:
E. Honda is the least clear of the three — but if someone asked me to find a meaning within the name I would tell you that Edmond translates to Edomando in Japanese. Two hyphens and some heavy squinting later and we have Edo-Man-Do a cheap play on words describing a sumo wrestler — literally ,“The Way of the Man from Tokyo.”
Even its creator, however, admits that the theory is a stretch.

Most inexplicable of all is Blanka, the feral thing from Brazil, whose name is very close to the feminine Spanish Blanca, which means “white,” even though the character is male and green-skinned. Various sites claim that the character’s name comes from either the Spanish hombre blanco or the Portuguese homem branco, both meaning “white man,” as a result of being called this by people he met in the Brazilian jungle. This strikes me as unlikely for a few reasons, the least of which is that Blanka would not have been especially more white than most people living in Brazil.46 Right?

So that does it for the eight main characters. But there exists a slew of others, each of whose names hide their own verbal curiosities. My recommendation: If you know the series or thrive on verbal minutiae, read on. If not, skip down to the next chunk.

Even casual players know that three of the “Four Devas” — the original Street Fighter II bosses, M. Bison, Balrog, Sagat and Vega — swapped names when the game was translated from Japanese to English. Theories abound as to why, and, as I explained in a separate post devoted to the subject, the American set of names actually make more sense. Click through to read all that.

Similarly, I also have a post that focuses specifically on Gouken (a.k.a. “Not the Sheng Long”), the Street Fighter uber-sensei. It’s here and includes a bit on the character’s name and his long and complicated history with the mysterious W.A. Stokins.

The name of the aforementioned series villain Akuma translates from Japanese to English simply as “devil.”24

dee_jay_MAXIMUM
dee jay: maximum jamaican, no matter which way he faces

Aside from having a fairly obvious name for a fighter associated with music, Dee Jay — the Jamaican fighter and the only American-designed character in the whole Street Fighter series — merits a mention on account of his band name, Maximum, which appears in all capital letters down whichever pant leg is facing the screen.47 Since Street Fighter II has characters punching or kicking with whatever arm or leg is nearest to the screen — essentially making them right- or left-dominant, depending on which direction they are facing — Capcom had to pick a word that looked the same when flipped, mirror-style. “MAXIMUM” happens to be one of the rare English words whose letters are vertically symmetrical, thus allowing the word to be readable to matter which way Dee Jay faces.

I’m not sure if I agree with the connection, but at least one site claims that Cammy — the beret-sporting, thigh-tacular Number Two Girl — is named and modeled to some extent after the protagonist of the manga known as Battle Angel Alita in the U.S. In Japan, it’s called Gunnm and the alleged Cammy inspiration is named Gally.41 I suppose the Japanese name is not too far off from Cammy’s.

It’s also worth mentioning that Street Fighter Alpha gives Cammy a whole back story involving her unwilling participation in a league of brainwashed, teenaged, female soldiers called The Dolls, who rank easily among the most obscure canon characters in the entire series. (And, now that I think of it, they remind me just a little of characters on the TV show Dollhouse.) The Street Fighter Alpha games also feature two other Dolls as playable characters, the almost identical Juni and Juli, who take their names from the months June and July.48 That origin, however, might not be immediately apparent.

cammy_juni_juli_dolls_street_fighte
the original, plus the june and july models

The month theme becomes a lot clearer when Juni and Juli are considered in light of the ten other dolls, who, if they appear at all in the actual games, play only minor roles.
  • Enero (Spanish for January)
  • Février (French for February)
  • März (German for March)
  • Aprile (Italian for April)
  • Satsuki (the Japanese name for the fifth month)
  • Santamu, or possibly Tháng tám (Vietnamese for the eighth month)
  • Xiayu (allegedly some form of Chinese for the ninth month)
  • Jianyu (again, some form of Chinese for the tenth month)
  • Noembelu (purportedly from an unspecified Latin American country, representing November)
  • Decapre (the Russian doll, representing December — more correctly rendered as Dekabre, says my Russian-savvy friend.)
Given that there are twelve “month” dolls, Cammy doesn’t fit into this calendar pattern and is known as the “zero” doll, which is possibly significant in that the Street Fighter Alpha games are known as Street Fighter Zero in Japan. In further evidence of the Cammy/Gally connection, Battle Angel Alita features a series of clones of Gally that take their names from the German words for the numbers one through twelve.41 Commenter Migaloo points out that Cammy’s name could just be a reference to the camouflage paint she sports on her legs. It seems sensible enough to merit a mention.

The Native American fighter T. Hawk was allegedly going to be called Geronimo until Capcom thought better of it.49 Really, the name T. Hawk — short for Thunder Hawk — is only slightly less stereotypical. Incidentally, one of the dolls is purported to be T. Hawk’s long-lost sister. Depending on what you take as official, it’s either Juli or Noembelu.48 Juli’s possible status as T. Hawk’s sister is alluded to in the nutball crossover title Namco vs. Capcom, which has Juli partially regaining her memory and confusedly stating “I am... Juli... a... Hawk?” at one point in the game.

In creating the plot for Street Fighter II, Capcom dreamed up a fallen comrade-in-arms whose death Guile fights to avenge. In the Japanese version, this initially minor character was saddled with the name Nash — unusual enough in America that the game’s translators dropped it in favor of the name Charlie. (If you think about it, the decision to select Charlie is also strange, considering the connotations the name carries among American military men.) In the prequel Street Fighter Alpha games, however, Capcom made Nash a playable, forcing the a second set of translators to choose between preserving the switch or retconning it to keep various international versions on the same page. They chose the former, Charlie became popular, and the disparity lasts to this day, though the English versions eventually used Nash as Charlie’s surname.

Also in Street Fighter Alpha, Capcom introduced a new female character, a Japanese schoolgirl named Sakura, whose name means “cherry blossom” or “cherry tree.”23 The character eventually became popular enough that she received her own rival, the snobbier but equally fisticuffs-prone schoolgirl Karin. Given that Karin has these blonde locks that approach some awful hybrid of Shirley Temple ringlets and stripper curls, I’d always assumed her name was an alternate spelling of the common Western name Karen. It’s not; it’s actually the Japanese word for “quince,” which is appropriate given her relationship with Sakura.23 Both are named for flowering, fruit-bearing trees, but while cherries are sweet, quince fruit is sour and generally hard to love.

A less subtle name theme exists for two British fighters who appeared in the original Street Fighter: Birdie and Eagle, both of whom take their names for golf terms.50 Both reappeared in Street Fighter Alpha, with the former becoming a hulking punk and the latter a Freddie Mercury-quoting fop. Funny how that happens.

street_fighter_IV_abel_seth
biblical brothers, minus one: abel and seth

A confession: I have yet to play Street Fighter IV. Consequently, I can’t speak on any connection between newcomer Abel and the game’s big bad, the Doc Manhattan-looking Seth, who, as a commenter pointed out, was named in honor of real-life Capcom employee Seth Killian. Real-life Seths aside, I’d be willing to bet it’s no coincidence that Abel and Seth share their names with children of the Biblical Adam and Eve. And I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if subsequent ports and incarnations of Street Fighter IV feature a third character named Cain.

(After this post went up, a commenter calling himself Toninho 3rd noted that the missing Cain could be Cammy. Abel, Seth and Cammy are apparently all clones of M. Bison, if I understand correctly. Cain and Cammy aren’t especially similar, but the possible connection is helped a little bit by Cain’s status as the Bible’s first and perhaps most famous murderer and Cammy’s nickname, Killer Bee. It’s probably not the case, but it’s a nice little theory.)

I’ve never been able to make much of the cast of Street Fighter III, save for one: Sean, a Brazilian fighter whom the game introduces as Ken’s protégé. He fights and dresses much like Ryu and Ken. With that it mind, it is plausible, at least, that Sean’s name is meant to represent the first syllable in the name of the aforementioned Shoryuken, a key move for all three characters.51 Speaking with an American accent, however, you really have to fudge the pronunciation to make it work.

A number of Street Fighter Alpha characters originally hailed from that other long-running Capcom brawler, Final Fight. In early English translations of the game, one character decked out in Japanese armor bore the name Katana, except for one installment in which he was called Shogun. In Japan and in most versions of Street Fighter Alpha, however, he has always appeared under his original, Japanese name, Sodom. Given associations with the Biblical city of the same name and the related sexual act, it’s not altogether strange that American video game companies would censor the name. However, such associations seem to be coincidental, as there is actually a Japanese name Sodom, sometimes rendered as Sodomu. (The name doesn’t seem to be especially common, though it does appear in the title of the 2004 film Sodomu no Ichi, known in English as Sodom the Killer.)

sodom_katana_final_fight_street_fig
variously, katana, shogun or sodom

One of Sodom’s character quirks is that he is a Westerner who is obsessed with Japanese culture but unable to properly speak the language. He wears a traditional Japanese get-up, for example, but it bears the symbol for “death” scrawled sloppily enough that it looks more like the one for “heart.”52 The intentional goof seems especially appropriate given that his creators named Sodom in way that would be easily misinterpreted by English-speakers. In some appearances, Sodom’s inability to speak proper Japanese is represented with his use of English words that vaguely sound like what he’s trying to say. For example, his attempt to denounce an opponent as shoushi senban, “truly pathetic,” appears in text as “SHOW SEA SEND BANG.”53

andore_andre_the_giant_hugo_final_f
andore, andré, and hugo

Being that Final Fight is a sort of sister series to Street Fighter, it follows that its characters would also owe their names to various pop culture references. One of its mainstays, for example, is a family of hulking wrestlers who each bear the name Andore. The name and the characters’ design are pretty clear references to famed wrestler André the Giant.54 Curiously, the one member of the Andore clan to make a playable appearance in Street Fighter III doesn’t bear the family name. He’s called Hugo.

A great many other Final Fight characters seem to take their names from musicians and bands. (An exception: the protagonist Cody, who could possibly have gotten his name from Tom Cody, protagonist of the 1984 film Streets of Fire, whose plot bears a few similarities to that of Final Fight. Worth a look, really: Diane Lane essentially plays Jessica Haggar.) For example, it’s suggested that the protagonist Guy could take his name from Guy Picciotto, frontman of the band Fugazi. Two of the game’s minor enemy characters, Axl and Slash, are obvious references the members of Guns N’ Roses. And to complicate Sodom’s origin even more, there’s also a German thrash metal band by the same name.

In the console version of Final Fight, the heroes take on skinny punks named Billy and Sid, whose names sure do sound like references to Billy Idol and Sid Vicious. What’s most interesting about Billy and Sid, however, is that they replace two other characters censored from the console port but present in the original arcade game: Poison and Roxy. The former seems to take her name as well as some fashion cues from the band of the same name. The latter, a palette swap of Poison’s sprite, could owe her name either to the band Roxy Music or the Roxy Theater music venue on the Sunset Strip. (Rather than footnote just about everything in this Final Fight section, I’ll just cop to cribbing nearly all of it from the website FightingStreet.com and its amazingly comprehensive list of video game rip-offs — that is, characters and ideas video game companies have themselves cribbed from movies, comics and some of the most random sources you could ever imagine.)

poison_transexual_newhalf_final_fig
poison transcends the passage of time like she does biological gender

Incidentally, most who read up on video game lore know a theory about why Poison and Roxy were nixed from the more family-friendly versions of Final Fight. Aside from the fact that they sport short skirts and some serious under-cleavage, they’re both transsexuals — or newhalfs, to use the Japanese term.55 Roxy has all but vanished, but Poison has actually grown in popularity since Final Fight’s release in 1989, either in spite of or as a result of her being a transsexual. And if it strikes you as strange that the only active female characters in a game full of ripped, physically aggressive men would be transsexuals, there’s a whole separate gay subtext to Final Fight beyond just Poison — but that’s a whole other post.

And then there’s Final Fantasy. In a sense, I’m barely going to even touch on this sprawling series. Since the first game debuted in 1987, twelve sequels have been released for various home consoles, each of them offering small universes teeming with characters borrowed from various worldwide folklores and mythologies, pop culture and countless other sources. Tracking them all down on my own would be daunting — not to mention pointless, since a long-running collection of them already exists online.

In fact, that very list — which is hosted at the website Final Fantasy Compendium — represents the progression of a project started by a guy named Mark Rosa back in 1995. I remember stumbling onto it shortly after I learned what the internet was and being blown away not only by how much these games drew from real-world sources but also how the background helped to deepen the game’s content. I don’t know what ever happened to Mark Rosa — the last version of the list is preserved online for posterity’s sake — but this list is most definitely a product of the work he did years ago.

So here, then, is my short take on Final Fantasy, focusing on mistranslation and origins obscured by the Japanese-to-English translation process.

Is it lame to say I have a favorite piece of video game etymology? It probably is, but at this point in this particular list, I think I’m light years beyond typical levels of lame. Regardless, my favorite of the series is that of a recurring, generic enemy character called the Malboro — or, sometimes, Molbol, Marbol and Morbol. (From my perspective, the name could be transliterated into English just as easily as Morbor, Marbar or Maruburu as well. The literal transliteration of the Japanese name would be Moruboru.)56

malboro_molbol_final_fantasy-1
bad breath or carcinogenic breath, depending on the etymology

It’s a lumbering plant monster that attacks with toxic breath. It’s presumed, then, that its name might be a reference to the Marlboro brand of cigarettes, which could also be interpreted as giving people bad breath in more than one way.56 However, others conjecture that the name could come from either a combination of the Latin mal, “bad,” and the second word part boros, allegedly meaning “breath” in either Latin or Greek.56, 57 I don’t think it’s true. Unless I’m mistaken, the words for “breath” in either language don’t look much like boros. A video game folk etymology, I guess.

Similarly, others claim a connection between this thing’s name and a purported Japanese onomatopoeia boro boro, which represents the noise of an upset stomach. From what I’ve found, boro boro more commonly refers to a low rumbling noise, specifically like that of a rolling object.58 Not being a Japanese-speaker by any stretch, I couldn’t say whether this word could refer to a volcanic digestive system or not. And yeah, I realize I said back in the Zelda section that the Japanese onomatopoeia for the noise of a large rolling thing is goro goro. I’m not saying it’s not. For all I know, Japanese abounds with onomatopoetic synonyms.

Certain games also feature a palette swap of the Marlboro called Oscar. Given the characters green color and nasty disposition, it seems like a likely reference to the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch.57

final_fantasy_6_sabin_celes_terra
sabin (sabine/mash/matthew), celes (celeste/celes) and terra (tina)

In previous posts, I wrote about Final Fantasy VI and the strange way certain character names were altered from the original Japanese version to the English one. (For example, I think the latter half of character pair of Wedge and Biggs sounded better with his original, mistranslated name, Vicks, in spite of associations with VapoRub.) Not all the switches are bad. The character named Cyan in the English version is Cayenne in the original Japanese, and I have to say that I prefer the color name over the spicy name.59

One switch I didn’t mention is that of a character who in the Japanese version is named Mash but who in the American version is renamed Sabin. The popular belief — likely put forth originally in Rosa’s document — is that Sabin’s name could come from medical researcher Albert Sabin, who is credited with developing an oral polio vaccine, the connection being that polio inhibits the body’s motion and that the video game character is a martial artist who excels in fighting barehanded — thus, he has no problems exhibiting muscular control. Tenuous, I’ll admit, but slightly more meaningful than if the character had been assigned an almost unheard-of masculine form of the feminine name Sabina for no reason at all. Equally as unclear to me is the origin of the character’s Japanese name. Those who weigh in on various online forums on such matters disagree over whether Mash would be better translated as Matthew or something like Matthius or Mattheus.60 If nothing else, this confusion demonstrates how problematic it can be to translate from Japanese into English. (A commenter has pointed out that Mash may come simply come from the fact that Sabin’s special moves are triggered by entering specific button combinations, or by mashing the control pad. I like it.)

On a similar note, there’s a previous post I put up here on two other Final Fantasy VI characters: Celes and Terra. They’re arguably the game’s two central characters, with each being the protagonist of one of the game’s halves. When considered as a pair, with Celes meaning “sky” and Terra meaning “earth,” the names make for an interesting symbolic reading. Terra’s Japanese name, Tina, blows the connection, however.

(A reader emailed me with another note about Terra’s name that I felt was worth mentioning. He asked if the name could have a double meaning — “earth” from the Latin and “monster” from the Greek root terato-, meaning “monster.” This second root would actually seem to be the present in Final Fantasy VI in the name of the earth-elemental summon Terrato. As a name, Terra is pretty much always means “earth,” but because Final Fantasy VI’s Terra can actually transform into a monster, terato- doesn’t seem completely implausible.)

final_fantasy_VI_6_doomtrain_phanto
your run-of-the-mill phantom train

As does any good video game, Final Fantasy VI features an evil, sentient locomotive. It’s called the Phantom Train in the English versions of the game. A later sequel, Final Fantasy VIII, features a similar character called Doomtrain in the English version and, seemingly without explanation, something that approximates either Grasharaboras or Gurasharaborasu in the Japanese version.61 In a previous post, I talk about how the bizarro Japanese name is a mangling of a Glasya-Labolas — the name of an obscure demon in fringe Christian lore and whose appearance is described as being decidedly un-locomotive-like. This small oddity is marks one of the strangest video game references I have encountered.

Final Fantasy VIII uses the series’ rich history of meaningful names to enhance the game’s plot. Specifically, the game repeatedly flashes back to events in the life of a character called Laguna, whose name is Spanish for “lagoon” but also allegedly references Laguna Beach — neighbor to Costa Mesa, which was once home to the California offices of Squaresoft, the company that released Final Fantasy VII.62 The real hero of the game, however, is a pouty orphan named Squall, who leads a band of ragtag warriors to save the world but who never gets any confirmation as to who his parents are. The careful player knows, however: It’s Laguna and his ladyfriend, Raine. The game strongly hints at this but the names practically confirm it: Laguna, Raine, and Squall each reference water in some way.57 The fact that Laguna’s last name is Loire — a river in France — seems to further emphasize the importance of water names. Entirely separate from this water-themed nuclear family but equally notable for this entry is another central character, Irvine, who is named for the Southern California city of the same name.62

squall_laguna_raine
left to right: son, dad and mom of the water family

As if that wasn’t enough meaning to pack into or extract from Laguna’s name, there’s one bit more: Like most Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy VIII features an airship on which the heroes can jet around the world. In this case, it’s named Ragnarok, after the kinda-sorta-apocalypse from Norse mythology. The word appears a few times in various Final Fantasy games, but in Final Fantasy VIII, it’s especially significant because its syllables, when represented in Japanese, bear a resemblance to those of Laguna Loire’s name represented in Japanese: ra-gu-na-ro.63 (If this little theory is correct, that final “K” apparently gets squeezed out of the Japanese pronunciation.)

That classic “L”/“R” confusion rears its head often, especially in earlier installments of the series. To this day, incarnations of Final Fantasy IV still feature a female character named Rydia, for example, though it seems fairly obvious that her name should be Lydia, an old-fashioned but not uncommon Western name. However, it’s always been Rydia , even in the Japanese literature featuring English characters, so Square is either running with the error or honestly wanted to name the character this.

rydia_edward_gilbart_edge-1
rydia, then the two prince edwards

In Final Fantasy IV, Rydia finds a love interest in a ninja named Edge. And you have to admit: For a manly ninja character, Edge is a damn cool name. In what I can only interpret as a subtle joke, however, the character’s name is actually a contraction of his first name, Edward, with his last name, Geraldine, which is far, far less cool. I mean, I’d go by Edge too. Edge’s real name is especially notable in that he shares it with another playable character, Edward, a bard. Both characters happen to be princes. In the Japanese version, this second Edward is named Gilbart — that is, not Gilbert — and I wonder if that second syllable is supposed to be a play on the word bard. Most likely, Gilbart ended up being Edward in the American version as a result of the fact that Gilbart has more letters than the American system was programmed to accept. Nonetheless: two princes named Edward in one game.

The latter, lute-playing Edward — whose full name is Gilbart Chris von Muir, curiously, with Chris being his middle name rather than Christopher — is clearly the inferior of the two, though he, like Zelda II’s Error, has helped generated one of the most famous video game geek catchphrases. The original script of Final Fantasy IV had another character denounce Edward as a “spoony bard” — a line that has remained in subsequent translations of the game despite its strangeness. Though quite a few regard the line as a mistranslation, it’s not technically incorrect.64 The word spoony, “enamored in a silly or sentimental way,” is both a legitimate English word and an accurate description of Edward. It gets made fun of anyway.65 The original Japanese insult, however, has been translated as “son of a bitch.”66

Excluding a giant chunk yet to come, the only other Final Fantasy IV characters I felt merited etymological discussion were two that previously got their own posts: Ogopopogo and Octomammoth. Click through if you remember them or have any interest.

Regarding further “L”/“R” confusion, the cast of Final Fantasy V fares even worse than poor Rydia — and that would seem more or less typical for the game I consider the one “feminist” Final Fantasy game. One character gets translated variously as either Lenna or Reina, the latter of which means “queen.” A second is always known as Faris, though I can’t help noting that her name, if it were to suffer an “L”/“R” switch, would become something a lot like the English word phallus, which seems especially notable when you consider that Faris is a woman masquerading as a man. (And then some: The male protagonist’s name, Bartz, is Butz in the Japanese version. That puts Phallus, Butz and Queen going on an adventure together.) Partway through the game, the player finds that Faris is Lenna’s long-lost sister and her real name is Sarisa. Considering it refers to a type of Greek spear but nonetheless sounds feminine, it’s a fairly appropriate name for a strong female character, phallus jokes aside.67 Unfortunately, the game’s first English translation mistakenly transliterated Sarisa as Salsa, which isn’t a good name for anyone. And yet the biggest loser in the translation game would be a third female character, Krile, whose English name was apparently the best approximation of the Japanese Kururu, even though previous fan-made translations used the far-better Cara and even Carol would have probably done the trick.

And one of the spin-offs, Final Fantasy Tactics, seems to feature the same famous name translated in two different ways and assigned to two different characters. The game’s hero is a member of a family by the last name of Beoulve, which looks a great deal like a mistranslated version of the name of the epic hero Beowulf. Appropriate though the connection might be, it’s probably a near-miss, as the game features another character named Beowulf. Still, the resemblance is remarkable. And I have never heard of any better theories for where the name Beoulve comes from.

My big feat for this Final Fantasy-themed section, however, is the under-reported background behind some Final Fantasy IV villains who reference Dante’s Inferno in ways people might not have expected. In short, the situation is this: Even if someone knew Inferno well, the fact that any bit-parters had showed up in this particular video game would be hard to spot, mostly as a result of the translation process. Like any good Final Fantasy game, the four classical elements — earth, water, air and fire — come into play in a few ways, including in the form of four major bad guys known as the Elemental Fiends. In the original English translation, these four are introduced as Milon (dirty dude), Kainazzo (wet and wild), Valvalis (bag of wind), and Rubicant (flames aplenty).

final_fantasyIV_four_fiends
left to right: flamey, drippy, dusty, and naked

However, the first three of these probably don’t ring a bell with Divine Comedy scholars, mostly because the character names from which they come didn’t survive the transition from the original Italian into Japanese and then into shoddily translated English that was even further complicated by space restraints. (Japanese text uses fewer character spaces than does English, leaving translators to choose between truncating names or futzing with game’s programming to allow for longer names.) Unlikely though it might have initially seemed, all four names do, in fact, come from demons in Inferno. They appear in cantos XXI though XXIII as the members of the Malebranche (“evil claws”), the guardians of the Malebolge (“evil ditches”), the eighth circle of hell.68 Included alongside such forgotten demons as Grafficane the Doggish, Dragnignazzo the Fell Dragon and Farfarello the Scandal-monger are Scarmiglione the Baneful (Milon plus some extra letters), Caynazzo (sic, more properly rendered as Cagnazzo, close enough to Kainazzo), Barbariccia the Malicious (a radically different transliteration of Valvalis) and Rubicante the Red With Rage (a recognizable version of Rubicant). Later revamps of the game featured the longer Italian names, and Final Fantasy IV DS featured an optional superboss called Geryon, who also takes his name from a member of the Mallebranche.

There’s one more Inferno boogeyman whose name appears in Final Fantasy IV: Calcabrina the Grace-Scorner. This name remains mostly intact in the game’s original English version as Calbrena, the name of a bizarre evil doll boss. And when I say “bizarre evil doll boss,” I actually mean to say that it’s a group of dancing puppets that assemble Transformers-style into one hulking instrument of pain. Weirdness aside, Calcabrina (whose name has also been represented as Calcobrena) is a minor character in Final Fantasy IV. That didn’t prevent the game’s sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years from featuring controllable boy and girl robot characters named, Calca and Brina.

calbrena_calcobrena_calcabrina_f-1
calcabrena: disassembled concept art on left, godzilla-size in middle, in-game sprite on right

Etymologically, these Final Fantasy IV names have little apparent relevance on what kind of video game monster they became associated with. It’s almost as if Squaresoft staffers chose the names in the same random fashion that they same to borrow elements from different cultures and literatures: Flip open a book to whatever page it lands on, take a name and then attach said name to something irrelevant — giant evil doll or fire-spitting dinosaur or fiend with the head of an ice cream cone, the body of a hot dog and rollerskates for feet. I found various sites that explain possible etymologies of the names. By most accounts, for example, Barbariccia means “curly beard,” which might imply that the Final Fantasy IV character’s namesake is male and not a hot half-naked chick.69 I wonder, however, if the original Americanization of the name, Valvalis, could have been influenced by the late, great platformer series Valis, which star warrior women in armor bikinis much like the one Barbariccia wears.

barbariccia_valvalis_valis_final_fa
fatal flaw: slutty battle suits that expose the very body parts they ought to protect

Calcabrina
can be translated as something like “he who can walk on brine,” but other sources take this to figuratively mean “nimble-footed,” which would actually make sense, given that the character’s base form comprises dancing dolls.70 An 1890 engraving by Gustave Doré seems to represent that sense of the name, showing Calcabrina and another demon, Alichino, as flying things with pterodactyl-like wings.71

calcabrina_inferno
calcabrina: less doll-like, and therefore less scary

Caynazzo — again, more correctly Cagnazzo — seems to confuse even the Dante know-it-alls. In reference to his analogue in Final Fantasy IV, the name is often cited as meaning “big dog nose.”72 In a literal sense, this could be true, as the Italian words for “dog” and “nose” are cane and naso.67 Some scholarly work even supports this: An annotated 1997 edition of Inferno notes that Dante uses cagnazzo as a generic word that the translators interpret as referring to the purple color of dog’s nose and lips. The same book explains the reference to the proper name Cagnazzo as meaning “evil dog,” with -azzo being a pejorative noun suffix.73

kainazzo_cagnazzo_caynazzo_final_fa
tortoise-looking cagnazzo in on top; more doggish concept art below

It so happens that a Japanese person could also read the name as the characters kai, “sea,” and nazo, “mystery,” which would make a lot more sense, given the character’s water associations.71 There’s yet another guess that the name could have something to do with the Biblical Cain. This could also make sense, since the Cagnazzo reveals himself in Final Fantasy VI only after having masqueraded as an ally for the first half of the game. This deception and betrayal would really make him more of a Judas than a Cain, however. Furthermore, the game already includes a character named Kain who also betrays the heroes — repeatedly, in fact. Ugh.

Attempted translations of Scarmiglione are suspiciously rare online, especially compared to those for Cagnazzo and Barbariccia, but the 1997 Inferno edition offers “tangle head” as a suitable English version of the name.74 Another site offers “troublemaker,” which is perhaps a figurative extension of “tangle head” that works better in Italian than in English.69 Finally, Rubicante is translated variously as “he who grows red” and “ruby-faced.”75, 76

It’s also worth noting, however, that some Dante scholars suspect that the poet created the demons to also reference the names of certain powerful individuals and wealthy families living in Italy at the time, so even these guesses at what the names may not properly explain what Dante was trying to accomplish in creating them.77

So, now, with all that text I just spat out about Divine Comedy associations, you might think that the people who made Final Fantasy IV were huge fans, right? I’m actually not so sure, for although these characters each appear in Inferno, they also appear in Devils, a little-known 1904 novel on demonology by James Charles Wall. (It’s an entertaining read, if you have the time. Did you know that the demons of Hell marry and divorce, just as humans do? Back when I read it, I put up a whole post devoted to its non-video games-related aspects, if you’re interested.) Devils is often cited as an apparent inspiration for Final Fantasy IV by especially literate games-‘n’-names folks, and with good reason: All five of the aforementioned monsters are in here.73 So is a sixth, actually, and this fact helps both to explain one of the stranger names in the Final Fantasy IV and also to indicate that Final Fantasy IV could have actually never read Inferno.

Throughout much of the game, the villain is an unreasonably evil dude who goes by the improbable name Golbez. As the story progresses, Cecil, the hero, discovers that Golbez is actually his long-lost brother. (This sort of thing apparently happens all the time.) Among many other questions are these: If the two are brothers, why did Cecil get a relatively normal name while the other was saddled with something as unfortunate as Golbez? Was having such a bum name what drove Golbez to villainy? And where does Golbez come from, anyway? For me, these remain unanswered, more or less, until just recently, with the release of the latest incarnation of the game, Final Fantasy IV DS. In it, the player even learns that before his days as big bad, Golbez went by a more typical landwalker name, Theodore. The game even offers a flashback in which Theodore is controllable. It’s short-lived, however, as the lad quickly falls under the influence of evil, so much so that the game’s ultimate big bad even renames him Golbez, calling him “an insect born from a dragon’s corpse.” The phrase has its own implications to the plot of the game, but it also recalls a relatively obscure legend that appears in Devils. Wall writes:
One legend places the scene of the combat between St. George and the Dragon in one of a range of caves near the castle of Golubaes, in Servia. These caves are infested by the Golubaeser Fly, a venomous insect resembling a mosquito [whose] presence is accounted for by the assertion of the peasants that the decomposed body of the dragon has continued to generate these insects to the present day.78
As I understand it, Walls refers to the Golubac (or Galambóc) region of Serbia, home to the Golubac Fortress, which was allegedly was beset by bloodsucking insects at one point. The scientific name for the species seems to be Simulium colombaschense, which appears on the Wikipedia listing for the black fly genus Simulium but, notably, not as a specific page, which suggests that the species is rather obscure. In any case, Golubaeser or Golbaeser or some other form of the name went into Japanese — where it would be represented as something like Gorbeza or Golbezo — and finally came out as English as Golbez.

golbez_golbezo_man_in_black_final_f
golbez: hey there, mr. black fly

Of course, the story has absolutely nothing to do with Inferno, making its mention in Devils potential evidence that the latter, not the former, inspired the people who made Final Fantasy IV. Even further evidence, now that I think about it: Wall’s book lists the demon’s name as Caynazzo, which is how it would be pronounced, rather than Cagnazzo, which is how it would be correctly spelled in Italian. If the game’s creators were working directly from Devils and not Inferno itself, it would make sense then that that American translation of the name would end up being Kainazzo, without the “G” it should have had. I’d call sloppy work on Square’s part if it hadn’t been so much fun to research.

Syntyche, the poster who pointed out the Golbez/Golubaeser connection, also theorizes that Golbez essentially means “pigeon house,” citing that golub means “pigeon” in Serbian.79 (And it does, and in Croatian Bosnian as well. It also means “dove” in all three languages. Golub is related to the Latin columba, also meaning “dove” or “pigeon.”) The theory is supported by Wikipedia, which notes that the town of Golubac is sometimes called “the town of doves.”

And believe it or not, that actually does it for Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy in general and all things relating to The Divine Comedy. There’s nothing much else left save for odds and ends. And, yes, I do realize that I began this post stating that it would be a depository of odds and ends. We’re finally there. It just took us a while to arrive.

One of the more curious names in video games, in my opinion, is that of the protagonist of the Metroid games, Samus Aran. In the first Metroid, the fact that Samus is a woman is kept secret until the end — and only then if the player meets certain conditions. Thus, I’d assumed that Nintendo purposely gave her a manly-sounding name to throw players off. How else would the surprise be preserved until the end? While Samus may not sound feminine, it is, I was surprised to learn: It’s the female form of the name male Celtic Séamus, which itself is a form of the name James.80

samus_metroid_zero_suit_samus
samus, armored and not: retro on the left, the current look on the right

There’s not much written on Samus’s name, but I did find one site that puts forth a nice theory. In short, some sources claims James — and, by extension, Séamus and Samus — means “one who supplants.” If Aran is taken to be a reference to the Aran Islands, which lie of the coast of Ireland, one could take Samus Aran to mean “one who supplants an island” or “one who overthrows an isolated area by force.”81 A stretch, yes, but a nonetheless fitting interpretation given that Samus has become famous for venturing off into deep reaches of space and blowing bad guys to smithereens. The originator of this theory even admits that it’s just as plausible that Samus’s creator, Makoto Kano, could have just selected whatever name sounded good. Still, it’s as much sense as anyone’s made of the name, so I’m willing to mark it down as the best guess so far.

There’s a second name associated with Samus, if only in the first Metroid game: Justin Bailey. Entering this name at the password screen allows the player to control an armor-free version of Samus — essentially the cat-suited heroine that in Metroid: Zero Mission and Super Smash Bros. Brawl was dubbed Zero Suit Samus. (Taken literally, shouldn’t that mean “naked Samus”?) Many players wondered who the hell Justin Bailey was. No such person helped create Metroid and, contrary to popular folk etymology, Justin Bailey was not a play on “just in bailey,” with bailey purported to be a British term for a bathing suit. (See, because Samus “just in bailey” was down to her skivvies, even if that undersuit looked more like a leotard than something she’d wear to the beach.) However, bailey doesn’t mean “bathing suit” anywhere, except possibly in Metroid fanatic circles. The name, however, has in recent years been purported to be a coincidental combination of letters that someone, somewhere plugged in to find that it yielded a good result. (I’m willing to bet this person’s name might have been Justin Bailey.)82 Apparently other names that include the proper number of spaces can have equally impressive effects.

In trying to research where Samus came from, I saw article after article that explained how her creators looked to that other badass, planet-trotting space heroine, Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies, as an inspiration. I’d guess then that the recurring Metroid villain Ridley derives his name from Ridley Scott, director of the first Alien movie and the only one that had been released when Metroid would have been in development. But that’s just my guess.

Kid Icarus — once considered a sort of sister series to Metroid, now having fallen by the wayside — stars a protagonist who like Samus suffers from a seemingly inexplicable name: Pit. If it weren’t for Pit’s recent appearance in Smash Bros. Brawl, most casual Nintendo players would probably still think his name is actually Kid Icarus, as it was in the cartoon Captain N: The Game Master. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fine name, certainly good enough to appear in my blog’s URL. I’ve never heard anything conclusive about Pit’s name, though the best guesses so far suggest it and its representation in Japanese, Pitto, could have some relation to the worth Pythian — perhaps most often attached to the Pythian Games, forerunner to the Olympics — or the pythia, the priestess who presides over the oracle at Delphi.83 Either one seems appropriately classical for the sandals-and-togas world of Kid Icarus, though apparent connections seem to end there. (Commenter Laird pionts out the similarity between Pit and the last syllable of the named Cupid, whom Pit resembles. I felt it was enough of a good point to merit an inclusion in the article.)

kid_icarus_pit_palutena-1
wingman and green-hair, then and now

More interesting is Palutena, the character who gets to be both the game’s damsel-in-distress as well as its presiding deity. As I’ve written about in a previous post, Palutena’s name seems to be a corruption of Parthenos, or something thereabouts, which was an appellation of the goddess Athena that emphasized her virginity.

The first comment I got on this post was from someone calling himself Professor Hazard, who noted that Palutena could just as easily have come from Pallas Athena, a more common form of the goddess’s name. He could well be right. Either Parthenos or Pallas Athena necessitate the elimination of an “S,” either in the middle or at the end of the name, in order to turn into Palutena, and I’m not sure which one would be more likely to be the source.

Incidentally, reinforcing the bonds that the Kid Icarus and Metroid series once shared, the first Kid Icarus game includes a minor enemy called Komayto, which looks a lot like the jellyfish-like generic Metroids who give their name to the series.84

komayto_metroid
komayto on the left, the real deal metroid on the right

The ko in Komayto would seem to be the Japanese word part meaning “small,” will the mayto is probably the first two syllables of the Japanese pronunciation of Metroid: me-to-ro-i-do. (Not may-to-roi-du, as I originally said, which was corrected by this commenter.) The Kid Icarus instruction manual seems to tease their origin outside the series, noting “Nobody knows where it came from. One theory is that it came from a planet other than Earth.”85

A “no duh” about Captain Commando: In 1991, Street Fighter creators Capcom released the arcade beat-’em-up Captain Commando, which starred a hero of the same name. Only recently did I realized that the character’s name is based on that of the company itself: Captain Commando.

In 1996, Capcom put out another brawler, variously titled Red Earth or Warzard in different geographical regions. It never got a sequel, though a handful of its characters appeared in later games. One of these is a sexy witch named Tessa in the U.S. and Tabasa in Japan. I’d always assumed Tabasa was a slightly mangled take on the more common name Tabitha, maybe as a result of having watched Bewitched as a kid, but I recently found another witch character with a similar name. Mario’s second Game Boy outing, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins features an otherwise forgettable boss character named Sabasa. She’s such a non-entity, in fact, that her name doesn’t even appear in English version the game, which makes me think Sabasa might only be her Japanese name. Regardless, Sabasa seems pretty damn close to Tabasa.

tabasa_tessa_sabasa_warzard_witch
sexy witch on left, more standard witch on right

I couldn’t find any connection between the two or an explanation as to why two witches might have such similar names, however, though I did have to laugh at the fact that Sabasa’s German name is apparently Heiße Hexe, which translates into English as “hot witch” and which also would an accurate description for sexed-up Tabasa.

Translation issues have consistently made the long-running Castlevania series more interesting. I can recall a few instances in which the name of the Belmonts — the central family that gets stuck with the unenviable task of killing Dracula every hundred years or so — was rendered as Belmondo or Beaumont, neither of which are all that far off from the proper name.86 In fact, as commenter Josef points out, the family name has always been Belmondo in Japan. Most recently, materials for Castlevania: Judgment, which acted like a sort of retrospective for the series, stated the name of the original Castlevania protagonist Simon Belmont as Shimon Belmondo.

shimon_belmondo
is “shimon” pouting because his name was screwed up?

Less fortunate is the name of another clan that tends to pop up often: the Belnades family, whose women often help out the Belmont men in their quest to stake bloodsuckers. However, do to a massively different interpretation of the name, it might not be apparent to casual players that the characters known as Sypha Belnades and Yoko Belnades are supposed to be directly related to those called Carrie Fernandez and Camilla Fernandez. It’s hard to catch; in addition to an “R”/“L” switch, there’s also “B”/“F” switch, which I feel is rare, even though “B,” “F,” “P,” and “V” tend to get swapped around quite a bit when translating between one language and the next. In certain Castlevania: Judgment materials, Sypha’s name is also incorrectly rendered as Sypha Velnandes.

sypha_velnandez
magic powers can’t protect the spelling of her name

The series spans hundreds and hundreds of years, meaning that the heroes themselves rarely appear more than a few times. The vampire villains, however, are longer-lived, with three in particular rising again and again to cause trouble: Dracula, Alucard and Camilla. The game’s version of Dracula happens to also be a version of Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler and the real-life prince of Wallachia known for his propensity for bloodletting. Ol’ Vlad was also likely a major inspiration for Bram Stoker in writing the novel Dracula, so the amalgamation of the bloodsucker and the impaler is nothing new.87

dracula_castlevania
the castlevania big bad, shown above in non-bat forms

In or out of the context of Castlevania, the name Dracula comes from Vlad’s surname, Drăculea, “son of the dragon,” which in turn arose the fact that his father was known as Vlad II Dracul.88 The word dracul means “devil” in modern Romanian but formerly meant just dragon. Ţepeş, literally “impaler,” became attached to Vlad after his death and was never part of his actual name, though it’s treated as Dracula’s last name in Castlevania and is shared by Dracula’s son, Alucard.

alucard_castlevania
alucard, the stereotypical son who declined to inherit the family business

Apparently having originated in the 1943 film Son of Dracula, the name Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards, which makes sense in the games in that Alucard frequently fights on the side of the good guys despite his batty tendencies. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the heroes encounter an enigmatic man named Genya Arikado, who, of course, turns out to be Alucard himself, his name barely disguised through its representation in Japanese. Some games offer Alucard’s real, full name as Adrian Fahrenheit Tepes, but I have no idea where these originated.

camilla_carmilla_castlevania
even bad girls can appreciate the value of multiple wardrobe changes

In true vampire fashion, Camilla, whose in-game name is sometimes offered as Carmilla over the course of the series, rose from minor character status to close enough to big bad status that she was a playable character in Castlevania: Judgment. Her name apparently is taken from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla, a vampire story that predates Dracula by twenty-five years.83 In the book, Carmilla attempts to seduce the protagonist, Laura. The connection between Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Castlevania’s Camilla seems to be supported by the existence of a minor enemy named Laura who appears alongside Camilla in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Furthermore, the novel has Carmilla hunting prey at masquerade balls, while the games associate Camilla with mask imagery.

I tried to take on the character names in the Mega Man series in a previous post. In it, I talked about how a vast majority of recurring characters take their names from music terminology. The one-timers — that is, the Robot Masters — are pretty straightforward, though there’s some interesting sex change business that went on in Mega Man 9, with the transformation of the would-be boss Honey Woman into the guy who made the final cut, Hornet Man.89

mega_man_rock_man_roll_proto_blues_
robo music: rock, roll, blues and non-genre forte

Since the original post on the Mega Man musical connection went up, it was brought to my attention that a spin-off series — the even further-into-the-future Mega Man X — has a particularly good music reference. Whereas the bosses in Mega Man proper are all “men” — Cut Man, Bubble Man, Magnet Man, and so forth, until the single exception of Mega Man 9’s Splash Woman — the bosses in Mega Man X are based on various biological species — usually animals, with the rare exception of weirdos like the onion-inspired Tornado Tonion in Mega Man X7, when Capcom apparently was running low on ideas. The English-language version of Mega Man X5, however, boasts a cast of robot bosses whose names each reference a member or collaborator to the rock band Guns N’ Roses.90, 91 In detail:
  • The boss Axle the Red (a spiked-and-angry rose; Japanese name: Spike Rosered) references Axl Rose.
  • Angry teddy bear Grizzly Slash (Japanese name: Crescent Grizzly) references Slash.
  • The batty Dark Dizzy (Japanese name: Dark Necrobat) references Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed.
  • Duff McWhalen (Japanese name: Tidal Makkoeen) references bassist Duff McKagan.
  • Mad hornet Izzy Glow (Japanese name: Shining Hotarunicus) references former Guns N’ Roses member Izzy Stradlin.
  • Fiery dino Mattrex (Japanese name: Burn Dinorex) takes his name from former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum.
  • Electropus Squid Adler (Japanese name: Bolt Kraken) references another former drummer, Steven Adler.
  • And lastly there’s the greatest stretch of the lot: the pegasus-derived boss The Skiver (Japanese name: Spiral Pegacion), who allegedly takes his name from Finnish rocker and Guns N’ Roses collaborator Michael “High in the Sky” Monroe.
As I’ve mentioned before in this post, music names such as those in Mega Man aren’t exactly rare. The Guilty Gear fighting game series, for example, went crazy with them, though grasping all of them on your own would require a command of rock bands as wide-ranging as Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Helloween, Testament and Metallica. Some are obvious: guitar-toting witch I-No namechecks Brian Eno. Others, of course, are more obscure, either intentionally or accidentally. For example, the nod that the name Millia Rage makes is only clear if you have any notion that there exists a heavy metal band called Meliah Rage.92 When translation mucks up the spelling, spotting the allusion gets twice as hard: Even if you knew of the Swedish pop band Cloudberry Jam, you might not suspect that the fighter named Kuradoberi Jam was a reference to it.92 Now, the latter beats out the former in terms of Google hits. And the fact that the series protagonist Sol Badguy references Queen only becomes apparent when you learn that Mr. Bad Guy was the name of Freddie Mercury 1985 solo album.92

Queen’s work pops up in other games. Notably, the Ogre Battle series of strategy games is itself a reference to Queen’s 1974 song by the same name. (And yes, now that you think about it, it does seem strange that the games featured relatively few ogres.) The first game bore the subtitle March of the Black Queen, and indeed that too is one of the band’s songs.93 A sequel, Ogre Battle: Let Us Cling Together, also borrows from a Queen song, though the track is more commonly known as “Teo Torriatte.” This song also happens to feature two verses sung in Japanese.94 The games also feature a geographical area known as the Rhyan Seas, which references yet another Queen song, “Seven Seas of Rhye.”95

So while some games traffic in allusions to some segment of popular culture, others aim for something more highbrow. Doesn’t mean they don’t make a mess of things, referencing this and that and ending up referencing all over themselves. Take Samurai Shodown, for example. (And while you’re taking it, if it strikes you as odd that the second word of the series title is missing a “W,” know that I have a post explaining that apparent mistake. It’s somewhat intentional.) Generally speaking, characters in these games tend to have real-life historical counterparts. Some directly influenced the game, while some loosely inspired it. For example, one of its recurring characters is Hanzo Hattori — a name that should be familiar at least from the Kill Bill character if not other manifestations of Japanese culture. The man was real. The historical Hanzo Hattori may not exactly resemble his representations in movies and video games, but the fact that his legacy continues to inspire writers and game creators today shows that he probably registered fairly high on the badass scale.

hazno_jubei_charlotte
hanzo, jubei and charlotte — revived to duel for our pleasure

Among the other characters directly inspired by historical personages:
  • Jubei Yagyu is a 17th-century samurai based on the 17th-century samurai Jubei Yagyu Mitsuyoshi, who is arguably the most famous figures to emerge from Japan’s feudal era.
  • And Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, depicted in the game as a kind of satanic wizard, is based on Amakusa Shiro, a leader of the largely Christian Shimbara Rebellion of the mid-17th-century. (The fact that a Christian revolutionary would be demonized as as an effeminate villain is fairly telling as to how Japanese history has chosen to remember this particular person. In the games, the character is so unmanly in his mannerisms that a person could easily mistake him for a woman. And the American dub of the Samurai Shodown skirted the gender confusion altogether by just depicting the character as a woman.)
  • The American fighter Andrew, who first shows up in Samurai Shodown VI, seems to be based on Andrew Jackson, Mr. Twenty Dollar Bill himself. I’ve put up a previous post on this blog that focuses on this strangeness and how the game seems to use Andrew to rag on American military policy. Worth a look.
  • And then there’s my absolute favorite of all the characters based on real-life: Charlotte, the French fencer. Her full name is given as Charlotte Christine de Colde — an odd-seeming surname for a Frenchwoman. In fact, it’s a likely mistranslation of the name of the woman she’s based on, Charlotte Corday, the celebrated assassin of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.96
Other characters have historical ties, but more to the point of this post is that fact that others yet have names that mean something, even out of historical contexts. The first name of the very dark, very Crow-esque Kubikiri Basara, for example, literally translates as “throat-cutting.”97 The later games also feature a towering cannibal named Gedo Kusaregedo, whose name, I’m told, translates to “rotten bastard.”98 And Samurai Shodown 2 features a Prussian fighter whose name, Neinhalt Seiger, is a very bad approximation of the German for “nonstop victory” or “nonstop winner” — the German version of Engrish, maybe?99

“Period piece” fighters such as Samurai Shodown aren’t the only ones who can feature characters whose names actually mean something, of course: My astonishment that such-and-such Japanese character has a name that doubles as a meaningful chunk of syntax is pretty silly, when I think about how many American names mean something that would be obvious to an English-speaker. On the flipside, I can’t help but be amused, for example, that Kyo Kusanagi, hero of the long-running King of Fighters series, has a last name that means “grass-cutter.” My association? The decidedly unheroic literal translations lawnmower, even after I’ve read that the name Kusanagi has certain significance to Japanese folklore.

Other characters’ Japanese roots are less pronounced, though no more apparent to the casual English-speaking video game player.

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inky, pinky, blinky and... miru?

A while back, Destructoid put up a good post on the meaning of the names of the Pac-Man ghosts — that is, both the real names and their nicknames that the game’s attract mode displays. Far from being meaningless, they actually help explain why Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde behave the way they do, though it’s a bit clearer in Japanese.100 I have my own post on the ghosts and their names, and I also talk about some of the other ghosts, which exist apparently. Also-rans like Miru and Yum-Yum deserve their fair share of shout-outs, I say. As for Pac-Man himself, it’s pretty well-established that his name comes from the paku-paku-paku noise he makes as he gobbles dots. And it’s an often-told and pretty self-explanatory story about why his creators eventually opted not to go with their first choice for his name, Puck Man, for the character’s American debut. I have a post on these Pac-matters here.

Back in the eight-bit days, Nintendo released a very Pac-Man-like title called Clu Clu Land, the protagonist of which has suffered from some gender confusion issues. In some regions, the character’s name is Bubbles and seems to be female, while in others the character is called Gloopy and seems to be male. Essentially, he/she is Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man rolled up into one. I have a previous post on this strangeness, if you’re interested.

Yet another early inhabitant of the arcades is Mappy — not a clone of Pac-Man but instead a wholly different title by Pac-Man’s developer, Namco. Mappy perhaps doesn’t stir up as much nostalgia as other Namco titles, but it’s a solid one. Billed as a literal cat and mouse game, players control a policeman mouse in environments crawling with feline cat burglars. About five seconds into the first quarter and any sane person would realize the game has fairly little to do with maps. The odd title comes from the Japanese slang term mappo, meaning “police officer.”101 The online dictionaries of Japanese slang that I found didn’t include mappo, but I’m inclined to believe the term means what it’s purported to mean and that the etymology for Mappy is true. An otherwise unrelated police robot named Mappo appears in two Nintendo releases, GiFTPiA and Captain Rainbow.

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it’s not about maps

In the Japanese version of the game, one of Mappy’s villainous cat characters goes by the name Nyamco — a cross between the name the developer, Namco, and the Japanese onomatopoeia for the noise a cat makes.101

I’m pretty sure Nintendo has never said anything official on the subject, but it would seem very likely that they got the name for their character Kirby — a puffball whose main source of attack involves inhaling anything and everything, much in the manner a wind-powered carpet-cleaner might — would come from the Kirby Company, whose chief products are vacuum cleaners. Commenter awa64 points out another theory: that the name of Kirby the sucking entity could also come from the name of attorney John Kirby, who defended Nintendo in a lawsuit by Universal Studios alleging that Donkey Kong was illegally inspired by King Kong. Kirby and Nintendo won. Kirby’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, now apparently claims to “not remember” where he got the name.

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kirby as croquet: colored balls and one guy with a mallet

Longtime gamers should take a some interest in the fact that the Kirby games contain a subtle reference to another series that has long since fallen by the wayside. The games feature a recurring antagonist in the form of King Dedede, a mallet-toting penguin. Matching his three-syllable name pattern are two minor underlings, Lololo and Lalala — respectively blue and red block-pushing thingamajigs who bear a striking resemblance to the protagonists of the series known in the U.S. as Adventures of Lolo and in Japan as the Eggerland games. Both the Lolo-starring series of puzzle games and the Kirby games were developed by HAL Laboratory. In the older series, Lolo and Lala are heroes, who advance from one level to the next by pushing blocks much as Lololo and Lalala do. I have no idea why the addition of an extra syllable should follow their transformation into villains, but it’s an interesting development nonetheless.

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pikmin’s olimar and louie, plumbers in space

Another Nintendo series, Pikmin, stars Olimar, a sprout-tossing, round-nosed spaceman, and his sidekick, Louie. The pair’s appearance plus Louie’s name should be tip-off enough that Nintendo wanted to reference its big mascots, the Mario Brothers, but, as this post notes, Olimar’s name is more subtle: It’s the three characters that spell Mario’s name — mah-ri-oh — reversed and then anglicized in a way that makes the connection hard to spot.

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clay boys: ninten, ness, lucas and claus

And in Nintendo’s Earthbound/Mother games — the character models for which are, like Pikmin’s, rendered in clay — a gradually increasing amount of cleverness went into naming protagonists. In the first game — Mother in Japan, unreleased but unofficially called Earthbound Zero in the U.S. — the little boy who saves the world is named Ninten, which is about as obvious as a Sega hero being named Ages. The sequel features a new hero, named Ness, who despite only being a slightly altered version of Ninten is, as a result of his appearances in the Smash Bros. games, infinitely better known outside Japan. His name is either a reference to the American name for Nintendo’s first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), or its successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, (SNES).102 (If it’s the latter, it’s an anagram of an acronym — and that’s not something you see everyday.)

The third game, Mother 3, stars another little boy, Lucas, whose name doesn’t allude to any Nintendo system, but another major character in the story is his twin brother, Claus, whose name happens to be an anagram for Lucas’s. Since this post went up, an anonymous commenter has pointed out that the series’s creator, Shigesato Itoi, has admitted to borrowing the notion of twins named Lucas and Claus from the twin narrators of Le grand cahier, also known as The Notebook, a 1986 novel by Hunagrian author Agota Kristof.

The extent of Earthbound’s references doesn’t end with Nintendo in-jokes and anagrams. In fact, it takes on pop culture more broadly than most games do. Included in its targets are a whole slew of references to The Beatles and their work. With respect to these, I have a few theories about where the minor character Tony might have gotten his name, but I’ll admit right now that they stretch plausibility. Plus, the explanations are long enough that I’d rather leave them all in their own post here.

The Earthbound creators did a neat little verbal trick with the heroines in the first and second games. Much in the way Ninten and Ness bear a more-than-passing resemblance, their respective love interests, Ana and Paula Polestar, are also essentially the same character, slightly reworked from one game to the next. Ana’s theme song from Mother is titled “Pollyana” in a way that would seem to foreshadow Paula in the sequel, which is a nice way of tying the characters together. Considering the character’s sunny dispositions, the song title also arguably makes a reference to the children’s literature character of the same name. (A slightly redone version of the song exists in Earthbound as the theme played in Ness’s home.) The line of pink-dressed, politely behaved Earthbound/Mother heroines ends with Earthbound; in Mother 3, the sole female character is a tomboyish character given the suitably fierce name Kumatora, which translates to “bear tiger.”103

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earthbound’s youthful pokey on right; mother 3’s pasty porky-of-the-future on left

While the heroes change from one game to the next, Earthbound and Mother 3 have a common villain in the form of a horrible, pudgy child. In the first game, he’s Pokey, Ness’s next-door neighbor, who eventually crosses over to the dark side. In Mother 3, he’s Porky — the same bad seed but having blossomed many years in the future into the leader of an army of humanoid pigs. This job title makes the second, retconned version of his name more appropriate, even if his Japanese name, Poki, would seem to allow for either Pokey or Porky, though some cite Pokey as a mistranslation.104 If Mother 3 ever gets an official Nintendo-sanctioned translation, perhaps we’ll know for sure what to call him. Commenter mkkmypet suggests that Porky may be the more appropriate name for the character, noting that his brother Picky, who appears in Earthbound, is much skinnier. Porky and Picky may refer to the brothers’ eating habits.

Early in Earthbound, the player can meet Pokey’s awful parents, Aloysius and Lardna Minch. It’s been pointed out here and there that the name Aloyisus Minch sounds suspiciously like Atticus Finch, the father from To Kill a Mockingbird, though Mr. Minch is about as bad a father as Mr. Finch is a good one.105 I don’t know if I buy the connection, but I’ll put it here just so I can reference To Kill a Mockingbird twice in a post about video games. Never thought I’d be able to do that.

And then there’s the enigmatic entity big bad that presides over both Mother and Earthbound, a spaceman boogeyman called Giygas. Literally represented from the original Japanese as something like Gigu and referred in the unreleased text of the American translation of Mother as Giegue, the character would seem to take his name from a Greek word meaning “giant.” Thought the original name seems to hit more at the word geek, so little has been written about Giygas and his name that I can’t make heads or tails of where its creators wanted to go with it.

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the most horrifying thing in video games — ever

As a side note that doesn’t seem totally out of place in a round-up post about words in games, the Earthbound incarnation of Giygas speaks in strange phrases that Itoi has described in interviews as coming from his memory of walking into a theater as a child and glimpsing a horrific rape scene. (During the climactic battle, it says horrific things like “I’m h... a... p... p... y...” and “...It hurts, ...it hurts...” and “...go... b... a... c...k...” and “...I'm so sad....”106 Pretty damn horrifying.) Earthbound fans have since found the movie Itoi mentioned, The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty, and found that it actually contains no rape scene.107 This does nothing to make the villain any less scary, at least in my opinion. The fact that some have compared Giygas’s form to that of a human fetus viewed through an ultrasound and the layer leading to him to the female reproductive organs make the situation all the more uncomfortable.108, 109 It puts the Japanese title to the series, Mother, in a strange new context.

Though this post may put my geek credentials over the top, I have to make an admission: I know next to nothing about Pokémon. The series does gangbusters, so good on it, but it has for the most part escaped my attention. That doesn’t mean I don’t know who Pikachu is. He may well now be a more famous rodent than Mickey Mouse.

The Pokémon games, as I understand them, are a fertile breeding ground for puns, but I’m sure there’s someone else out there with the passion and free time to collect them all. World, have at it. I have read, however, that Pikachu’s name comes from a combination of two Japanese onomatopoeia: pika pika, which represents the sound of sparkling electricity, and chuc hu, the noise mice make.110 Given the mascot’s status as an electric mouse, this makes sense, so I have to assume the name’s resemblance to that of a certain species of rodent-like lagomorph — the pika, whose name may come from the Russian pikat, “to squeak” — may be entirely coincidental.

The single other Pokémon I have any awareness of is a lesser critter — known in the U.S. and Kadabra and in Japan as Yungerer or Yun-Gellar — simply because supposed psychic Uri Gellar unsuccessfully attempted to sue Nintendo on grounds that the character infringed on his trademark spoon-bending and, in its Japanese form, his name as well.111 And although I may not know much about Pokémon, any video game that can enrage Uri Gellar is okay in my book.

What I know quite a bit better, however, is Animal Crossing, which offers puns and wordplay in spades. Some of them are rather simple. There’s a sheep named Baabara, for example. That’s not clever. Though since I’ve brought her up, it bears mentioning that this particular sheep is now known more for her inappropriately racist language than for her dumb pun name.112 (The game allows players to “teach” characters new words, and a promotional copy of Animal Crossing sent to reviewers had Baabara using the “N” word. Bad ewe.)

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two kinds of salty language: baabara and kapp’n

Other instances are more complex. Some requires a basic familiarity with Japanese culture. Like I said earlier about the kappa, Animal Crossing features a character named Kapp’n. Understanding the connection to Japanese mythology helps to make sense of the pun in his name — in addition to being a kappa, he’s also a sea captain who talks like a pirate. But if if you didn’t know what a kappa was, you’d probably just assume he was some kind of turtle and his abnormal penchant for cucumbers would go unexplained.

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nook, a tanuki scrotum attack; and super mario bros. 3’s tanooki mario

A similar case is that of Tom Nook — a raccoon-looking shopkeep who serves as the game’s de facto villain. He’s actually a tanuki — either the real-life Japanese Raccoon Dog or its mythological counterpart, the latter of which is known for trickery and a giant ball sack. (Seeing as how Nook first appears sporting a strategically crotch-blocking apron, I’m inclined to guess he’s the latter.) When Nintendo debuted the first Animal Crossing and introduced Nook to American audiences, I remember some muttering about the character also having racist implications. (If you wanted, you could associate his first name with Uncle Tom. As some even pointed out, his last name pronounced backwards also happens to sound like the word coon, which is both a shortening of the word raccoon and a racist term for a black person. The slur seems may or may not actually have an etymological connection to raccoon.113) I remember reading some of this online years ago, but Baabara’s dropping of the N-bomb seems to have pushed discussion any other racist Animal Crossing interpretations to the other reaches of the online world.

The name that took me the longest to get was the one attached to a certain lady pig who sells turnips that the player can then sell at either a profit or a loss, depending on the given day’s going rate. This system’s resemblance to the stock market now makes it seem obvious that Sow Joan’s name is a pun on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but I didn’t get that until years after I initially wondered why she had the name she did. And when I finally did, I wrote a post about it, of course.

In all, the game has more than a hundred characters, so I won’t bother to list them all, but I will say that I appreciate the humor in naming some of Animal Crossing’s anthropomorphic villagers after the things their real-life counterparts would be slaughtered for: an alligator named Boots, a pig named Rasher, a frog named Jambette, a duck named Pate, a cow named Chuck. And extra bonus points for a cross-dressing dog named Butch — yes, again, its own post here — and anteaters named Cyrano and Nosegay.114

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don’t shoot: mr. peepers and not-the-hogan

Two Nintendo light gun-related bits: The spiteful, laughing dog from Duck Hunt has a name, apparently: Mr. Peepers. (You, however, should feel free to call him “That Goddamn Dog.”) And in case you ever wondered where Hogan’s Alley, Nintendo’s shooting gallery simulator, got its name — you may have have noticed that it features no character named Hogan — know that the matter is complicated: There exists an FBI training facility by the same name, but it didn’t exist until after the video game Hogan’s Alley debuted in Japan. Both the game and the FBI location take their names from the titular crime-ridden slum from the late-19th-century comic strip of the same name. I explain it in somewhat greater detail here.

Early in the days of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo released a now mostly forgotten title, Pilotwings 64, which itself was a sequel to the first Pilotwings, released early in the days of the Super Nintendo. The later game features six selectable characters, each named after birds: Goose, Hawk, Lark, Ibis, Kiwi and Robin. The last of these is notable in that she’s known differently in Japan: as Hooter, which is both another bird name — if you consider Hooter close enough to Owl — and a reference to the character’s enormous breasts.115

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lark and robin, nester, nester and hester

Lark, the smallest of the male characters, is himself notable in that he’s the former Nintendo Power magazine mascot Nester, renamed to merit his flocking with the Pilotwings crew. Nintendo Power admitted that Lark and Nester were one and the same, though the character appeared later in another title, Nester’s Funky Bowling, which featured him with his original name and also paired him with a look-alike sister, Hester.115 Nester, like Ninten in Mother, takes his name from the first-generation Nintendo console.

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master higgins, master higgins, and master higgins’s japanese namesake

In an interesting marketing move, Hudson Soft — the developer and publisher behind the vaguely Mario-like Adventure Island games — at least twice rebranded the series protagonist for release in different language territories. American players know the grass-skirted, pot-bellied hero as Master Higgins, but in Japan, he’s Takahashi Meijin (“Master Takahashi”), which also happens to be the nickname of Toshiyuki Takahashi, real-life executive of Hudson Soft.116 (It wasn’t his idea, but he nonetheless went with the suggestion that he — then only the company’s vice-president and someone famous for video game-playing prowess — should be the character featured in the game, though he’s later admitted that being the protagonist in a notoriously difficult title was disconcerting because it was he would be was repeatedly dying.117) The name Master Higgins didn’t cut it Mexico, however, and when the game hit that market, the protagonist was unofficially redubbed Capulinita, in honor of the Mexican comedian Capulina, whom Higgins apparently resembles.118

The two Chrono Trigger games — both major presences in my wasted youth — each offer a few names worth examining by virtue of becoming problematic as a result of their translation from Japanese to English. Foremost is the first game’s protagonist, Crono, whose name defies etymological sensibilities by omitting the “H” that appears in the series title as a result of the five-character limit that wasn’t extended for the American version of the game; had six characters been allowed, the hero’s name might have been Chrono and therefore more correct. (In official Japanese-language press materials, the name appears with the “H,” it should be noted — or at least that is the case when it’s not rendered as Kurono.) I discuss Crono’s odd name in an older post that focuses on the unusual decision to strip his mother of a name in the game’s English translation. Whereas she had one in the original Japanese, she’s inexplicably known only as Mom in the English version.

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missing an “h,” missing a clear pronunciation, missing a distinctive name

Similarly problematic is the name of Chrono Trigger’s leading lady, Marle, which lends itself to a few different pronunciations — somewhere between Meryl and Marley, depending on who’s doing the pronouncing — but which appeared in early Japanese media and English translations of said media as Marl, Mal or Mar, none of which have particularly appealing, heroine-worthy connotations. And then there’s Lucca, a young scientific genius whose name happens to be shared — as it’s pronounced, if not as it’s spelled — by two other female characters of games that Square produced aside from Chrono Trigger: Final Fantasy IV’s Luca, who grows up into a master of robot technology in Final Fantasy IV: The After, and Luka, a young-looking but old-acting character in Secret of Mana.

Crono, Marle and Lucca aren’t the interesting ones, however. As a result of the game’s tendency to skip through time, the three end up meeting heroes from various epochs — among them, Ayla, Frog and Magus. The first, a fur-clad warrior cavewoman, would seem to take her name from the protagonist of Jean M. Auel’s 1980 novel Clan of the Cave Bear, who is also a prehistoric woman who excels at hunting.119 Japanese media offers Ayla’s name as Eira, however, and I wonder if the decision to link the character to Clan of the Cave Bear might have been made by the American translators and not the original creators. Given that the Chrono Trigger centers around time travel, I wonder if Eira could have any relation to the English word era but have never found an answer one way or the other.

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suitably prehistoric, appropriately changeable, and he of many names

Another of the game’s central characters is its representative of the medieval age — an anthropomorphic, sword-toting frog who happens to be named Frog. As the game progresses, the player learns that Frog was cursed into slimy, green amphibiousness and once had both a human form and a more suitable name, Glenn. In Japanese, Frog’s name is Kaeru, which literally translates as “frog,” appropriately enough, but can also mean “to change,” which might be just as appropriate, as well as “to return,” which is really neither here nor there.120 That Frog’s previous name was Glenn is probably not especially significant, but I can’t help but wonder if it was chosen for its resemblance to the word green, which would be all the greater if English-to-Japanese translation happened to render the name Grenn instead of Glenn. Furthermore, Frog and the rest of the Chrono Trigger cast were designed by artist Akira Toriyama, who also did the character designs for another Squaresoft game, Tobal No. 1, which featured an fair-skinned, green-clad character named Gren Kutz. This guy’s name was probably supposed to be Glenn.

And then there’s Magus, who I wrote about in a previous post. His various names are a rather complicated matter. If you include various identities he goes by in both the English and Japanese versions as well as characters in sequels closely associated with him, Magus has eight.

Both Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross, feature a pair of impish characters who represent a sword called the Masamune — a powerful weapon in the game as well as many other video games. (This weapon and all the others take their names from a famed 13th-century swordsmith, Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, who has become synonymous with masterful sword design.) The twin spirits, however, are strictly a Chrono series thing, and the origin of their names, Masa and Mune, is pretty obvious. In the Japanese version of the games, however, no famous Japanese sword is referenced. The blade is the Grandleon and the associated spirits are Gran and Leon.121 Not nearly as cool, really.

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masa, mune, and mr. masamune himself

The brothers also have a sister, Doreen, who doesn’t do much of anything in Chrono Trigger besides have a name that stays the same in both the Japanese and English versions of the game, despite the fact that Doreen is the most ordinary Western name of the whole lot. (It’s theorized that her name is supposed to approximate the English word dream, which could be significant in that it’s suggested that she and her brothers might have been dreamed into existence.122, 123) In Chrono Cross, however, all three siblings fuse together to form a new powerful weapon — something called the Mastermune in the English version and Grandream in the Japanese. (Oddly, Mastermune features only one sibling’s name; Grandream features only the ones excluded from Mastermune.) Grandream sort of resembles the name of Gran Dolina, an archeological site in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains where evidence of the first hominians in Western Europe has been unearthed. Given Chrono Trigger’s theme time travel, it wouldn’t be an entirely inappropriate reference, but I feel like it’s just a coincidence.

In keeping the time-honored tradition of naming video game characters after rock stars, Chrono Trigger features a trio of B-level villains named Ozzie, Flea and Slash, who would seem to take their names from Ozzy Osbourne, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and, again, Slash from Guns N’ Roses. (For the record, that’s three characters named after Slash, each in unrelated games. And here’s another: the Chrono Cross character Nikki, who is such a rockstar that he actually fights with his guitar and who happens to be known in Japan as Slash. I’m guessing Nikki takes his American name from the Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx.)

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the condiment crew: ozzie, flea and slash

In the Japanese version, the trio has themed names that honor another onomastic tradition: random-ass food names. Ozzie, Flea and Slash are Vinegar, Mayonnaise and Soy Sauce. Or damn close, anyway: The last two fall just a little short, at Mayonee instead of Mayoneezu and Soisuu instead of Soisoosu.123 The Condiment Crew also helps make sense of another Chrono Trigger character, Tata, whose English name is a clipped version of what the Japanese version was aiming for: Tarta, as in tartar sauce.123

Chrono Cross continues the condiment theme with minor, comic relief bosses named Solt, Peppor and Ketchop — or, in Japanese, Salton, Sugar Lou and, four some reason, Ludwig.120 Yeah, at this point, it seems like something that should be put to an end.

Whereas Chrono Trigger features only seven playable characters, Chrono Cross offers a whopping 45, including some like Glenn and Luccia whose names seem to reference those from the first game. I’m not going to try and tackle the whole cast, but I’ll make a note on one that always stood out to me: Macha.

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mammycha, essentially

For being a relatively minor character that only appears in a single game, Macha could inspire long academic papers on the subjects of racial depictions in video games and racial otherness as perceived by Japanese pop culture. In short, she appears to be an incarnation of the mammy stock character, even though the world of Chrono Cross doesn’t exactly have race as we in the real world do — that is, Africa and America don’t exist in the games, so the notion of an African-American representation doesn’t exactly work. But hell — she wields kitchen tools in battle and attacks by throwing dishes at enemies or literally folding them like laundry. For the purposes of this post, I’ll leave the matter at the fact that her Japanese name, Mamacha, even more closely resembles the word mammy. (She and her family members also suffer from a peculiar speech impediment that makes them add the syllable “cha” to the end of words for no apparent reason, but I’ve never been able to make any sense of this.) Macha was the subject of one of the earlier post of this style that I ever put up on this blog, so have a look if you’d like to read more.

Before Squaresoft released Chrono Trigger, it released Secret of Mana, another attempt to match the success of the Final Fantasy games. The first game to bear the Mana title made the odd decision of making its three playable heroes nameless — that is, their names must to be chosen by the player — even though the Japanese version of the game had default names: the oddly feminine Randi for the male character, the gender-neutral Popoie for the rather asexual sprite, and Purim for the female character. This last one is notable for two reasons: For one, it would seem to come from the name of the Jewish holiday of the same name, even though little in the story of the Israelites’ escape from a massacre has little immediately apparent significance to Purim the character.

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purim, porom and pullum: something in common besides their ponytails?

What’s always struck me about the name is that it seems to be extremely similar to those of two other female characters: Porom from Final Fantasy IV and Arabian fighter Pullum Purna in the Street Fighter EX games. There are differences, but given how certain letters and vowels can change from one language and back again, these three names are similar enough to possibly be all variations on the same source name, whether it happens to be taken from the Jewish holiday or somewhere else. If it is the holiday that gives the characters their names, it might make sense in that the story behind the holiday Purim in large part involves the heroism of Esther, the queen who saves the Israelites, and that Porom, Pullum and Purim are each women who each act heroically.

Secret of Mana offers a few other name peculiarities. For example, much of Purim’s story hinges around her search for her fiancé, a hapless soldier with the odd and unfortunately appropriate name Dyluck. (He’s unlucky and then he dies. Go figure.) I have no idea what this name is supposed to mean or where it came from, but it’s worth noting that Sword of Mana — a game released for the Game Boy Advance ten years after Secret of Mana that incorporates characters introduced in subsequent games — features a Dyluck look-alike named Durac. In all honestly, the original name might well have been Derek or something ordinary like that, but here’s to bad translations upping the exotic and mysterious factors.

The commenter scifantasy pointed out an additional interpretation for Dyluck’s name: du Lac, the surname of Lancelot of Arthurian legend. It’s plausible. Du Lac means “of the lake” and refers to Lancelot’s adoptive mother, the Lady of the Lake. I wonder if it’s meaningful that she too may have a counterpart in Secret of Mana: Luka, a water maiden who also lives on a like. As far as I remember, however, Dyluck and Luka never interact.

dyluck_durac_phanna_marley_mana
durac and old marley on top, dyluck and youthful phanna below

There’s similar doppelganger confusion between Phanna — a minor character who’s in love with Dyluck and who loses the ability to talk as the result of a curse — and her apparent Sword of Mana counterpart, Pamela — who loves Durac. As a result of a different curse, Pamela ends up much older than Durac. She changes her name to Marley, for reasons I’m not too clear on, and her love for Durac goes unrequited, like Phanna’s for Dyluck. The parallel becomes clearer when you learn that Phanna’s name is Pamela in the Japanese text to Secret of Mana.125 I have no idea why it would have been changed. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Secret of Mana also features a villainous character named Fanha, whose name is almost identical to Phanna’s. In short: It’s a goddamn mess.

bud_lisa_corona_legend_of_mana
marijuana and beer, essentially

Other matters in the Mana series are less complicated. For example, in Legend of Mana, the player can recruit a pair of magic-savvy tykes into the roster of playable characters. In the English version of the game, their names are Bud and Lisa. In the Japanese version, they’re Bud and Corona, and I can’t help but to suspect that the fact that the original set of names doubled as a slang term for marijuana and a brand of beer, respectively, persuaded the translators to switch out the female character’s name.

An anonymous commenter pointed out what I dumbly didn’t think of with this little theory: that Bud’s name is more likely just a reference to the Budweiser brand of beer, commonly called Bud. It would make more sense if both siblings were named after beer brands. Another anonymous commenter pointed out that a more innocent interpretation would be that Bud’s name just refers to a flower bud and Corona’s just to the solar coronoa, the beams of light around the sun.

One of the more recent entries in the series is Children of Mana, whose main cast is a trio of characters that seem to parallel the three heroes in Secret of Mana. In the U.S., the Children of Mana characters were called Ferrik, Tamber and Poppen. In the Japanese version, however, the three had names that all double as “action verbs”: Flick, Tumble, and Pop. And seeing as how the Mana games and this one in particular emphasize action — as opposed to the turn-based fight sequences in Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger — such names make sense. The names of the American counterparts are all sensible translations of the original Japanese, but the decision to omit the original verbal sense of action seems odd. The change from Pop to Poppen is especially strange, as poppen is a German verb that means “to fuck.”126, 127

Of all the notes I could have ended on, a chose a dirty German word to segue into the last section of this post: the most wacked-out video game characters. Many of these I came across in researching this post, and, often, I couldn’t fathom an explanation for why they exist. I just have to stand in awe of the their sheer nonsensical, bizarre, slapdash and linguistically baffling nature.

The Worst Names in Video Games
(with worst meaning poorly thought out, nonsensical,
whacked-out or just plain inappropriate)

pizza_pasta_punch_out

Pizza Pasta, Punch Out!!

Some Nintendo staffer’s best effort at creating an Italian-themed boxer for the 1984 arcade installment of the Punch Out!! series: a Sylvester Stallone-looking cretin. Never appeared again. At least he fared better than the series’s representative of Russia, Vodka Drunkenski.128

caffeine_nicotine_samurai_shodown

Caffeine Nicotine, Samurai Shodown

His opponents may draw their names from historical personages and crude Japanese puns, but Caffeine Nicotine takes his fairly obviously from two addictive substances. I couldn’t tell you why, but his creators chose to drive the theme home with the back story that he hails from a temple known as Koka-in, or “Cocaine.” Which is cute. My best guess is that Caffeine Nicotine represents some distortion of the Capuchin Monks, but that wouldn’t take into account the nicotine element — unless you consider the fact that one of this grizzled, knee-high sensei’s attacks involves blowing tobacco smoke in his enemies faces. Bizarre, all around.

princess_moonbrooke_purin_pudding

Pudding, Dragon Quest II

Enix — a video game-developing company that has since married Squaresoft and created the entity now known as Square Enix — has a series that in its day rivaled Final Fantasy. In the U.S., it was initially called Dragon Warrior, but the longtime Japanese name, Dragon Quest, has now caught on worldwide. Early in the series, the American versions of the game made quite a few adjustments for non-Japanese audiences. Among them: the names of the cast of the second game. The singular heroine, known superficially as Princess of Moonbrooke, gets a proper handle when the player chooses it, and one of these possible default names is Purin. In subsequent appearances, unfortunately, she’s stuck not with Purin but with this Japanese word’s translation into English: Pudding23, 129 This is problematic for several reasons. First, while video games have a rich history of naming women after edible, nice-smelling or aesthetically pleasing objects, calling someone Pudding takes it too far. Second, the existence of the Japanese word purin makes it possible that the aforementioned female characters I tried to associate with the Jewish holiday Purim may actually be associated with pudding. And thirdly, Purin happens to be the Japanese name of the Pokémon character Jigglypuff. And that just sucks.

devilot_devilotte

Devilotte de Satan III, Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness

And then sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Devilotte de Satan III — who’s sometimes known as Devilot and whose middle name, really should be Subtlety — is a maniacal princess who appears as a playable character in the mech fighter Cyberbots and again in the Capcom crossover title Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. As her name suggests, she’s pure evil — over-the-top evil, in fact. Well, at least her name’s not Pudding.

marth_mars_marusu_fire_emblem

Marth, Fire Emblem

Had Nintendo never decided to take the Fire Emblem series outside Japan, poor Prince Marth might not be on this list. But they did — and shoved him into Smash Bros, exposing non-Japanese players to the franchise for the first time. For some inscrutable reason, the translators chose to interpret the Japanese name Marusu as Marth instead of Mars, which sounds a hundred times cooler and had already been used as the character’s English name in a dubbed version of a Fire Emblem movie. Not Mars, but Marth — as in some back-formed masculine version of Martha. Doesn’t Nintendo realize that guys who wear headbands need the most masculine names they can get?

wander_wanda_shadow_of_the_colossus

Wander, Shadow of the Colossus

The hero’s names don’t go all femme-y only in the U.S., however. For English-speakers, Sony’s awesome adventure title Shadow of the Colossus centers on a man named Wander who darts across beautiful landscapes Legend of Zelda-style and then fights various towering monsters. In Japan, however, both the game and hero’s names are different: It’s Wanda and the Colossus and the heroic monster-fighter is Wanda, at least in how the Japanese characters representing this name would be translated. (Commenter Josef points out that the Japanese release of the game includes English text that clearly states Wander, not Wanda.) A hero being named Wanda, even if only in specific contexts, amuses me. I guess that’s what you get for naming your character after a verb.

rungo_iron_toshinden

Rungo Iron, Toshinden

If a name like Devilotte de Satan III qualifies as less than subtle, consider that it takes one small mental leap to move from Devil and Satan to evil. With Rungo Iron — often represented even more obviously as Run-go Iron — there’s even less distance between the name and the thing the name refers to: “run,” “go,” and “iron,” which is appropriate in that the stone club-wielding fighter is less like his blade-toting opponents than he is a freight train, hitting fast and hard and without any of the finesse displayed by the other fighters. To make matters worse, Rungo is the sole American combatant in the original Toshinden — the Guile, in more ways than one — and none of the other characters throughout the entire series are nearly as dumbly named.130 I’m not sure whether this says more about video game developers or their attitudes toward Americans.

tiny_kong

Tiny Kong, Donkey Kong Country

In the beginning, Tiny Kong’s name made sense. After the first three Donkey Kong Country games, Rare saw fit to dispense with a lot of the simian hangers-on Donkey Kong had picked up and replace them with new ones. The substitute for Dixie Kong was a character introduced as her kid sister: the beanie-wearing Tiny Kong, who had the magic power of being able to shrink down to a miniscule size — for fun and adventure! As time passed, Dixie proved more popular than Tiny, but Nintendo brought Tiny back years later… and did in a way that made her name doubly irrelevant. She no longer could shrink and was now lanky, tube top-wearing teen whose form suggested an attempt at sexiness that simply should not be. Despite this anthropomorphic unpleasantness, Tiny Kong persists. Ew, Nintendo. Ew.

exdeath_x-death_exodus_final_fantas

Exdeath, Final Fantasy V

I suppose you can’t expect much from an anthropomorphic tree — and Exdeath is just that, a tree so possessed by evil that it gained sentience, took a vaguely human form and attempted to conquer the world — but for a character who serves as Final Fantasy V’s big bad, his name sucks. Exdeath. What is that? The official spelling is at least better than what’s offered in the fan-translated version of the game, released before the real deal hit U.S. shores: X-Death. Literally, it could be taken to mean “out of death,” but that doesn’t even make sense, especially considering that “out of tree” would have been more appropriate. Even worse: Many have posited that his name should have actually been Exodus, which still doesn’t work all that well but at least could be taken to refer to his trek out of the forest and into to the realm of villainy. Really, I don’t blame Exdeath for having a bad temperament. In addition to coping with the realization at some point that he, despite sentience, was only a tree, he has a stupid name. And life is rough for those with stupid names.

tiaramisu_terrormisu

Tiaramisu, Wario: Master of Disguise

For reasons I’ll never understand, the universe of the Wario games is oddly more populated with female characters than is that of the Mario games, from which the Wario ones spun off. Consequently, Wario has faced off against a lot of female big bads. Among these is Tiaramisu, a character who initially appears in the form of a tubby, masked woman in a red dress and who ultimately reveals her true form as a evil, bloated Princess Peach clone. Furthermore, as a big bad, she’s known as Terrormisu, which stretches the pun in the original name far enough to break it. Tiramisu is a thing. Tiaramisu is an attempt to make tiramisu more “princessy.” Terrormisu is just stupid. Other characters introduced in Wario: Master of Disguise — and likely to never be seen again, given the game’s unpopularity — include chaps named Carpaccio and Cannoli, so clearly Nintendo had Italian food on the brain when making this game. But the theme falls by the wayside with this one, who just has a little much going on in her name. Sometimes puns just go too far.

Trevor Pearlharbor, Killer7

I’ll admit right now that I’ve never actually played the Capcom-produced, multiple personality-themed shooter Killer7. I’ll also say that I’m not an excessively politically correct person. However, the fact that a character with the last named Pearlhabor exists in a video game does stretch the limits of good taste. If anyone can provide any elucidation as to why his name should not be considered inappropriate, I’d be happy to hear it.

princess_yoyo_bahamut_lagoon

Princess Yoyo, Bahamut Lagoon

She’s not just the heroine of a Squaresoft-developed Super Nintendo game that never made it out of Japan, she’s also another great example of what can go wrong with the trend of naming female characters after objects. Perhaps it’s best that Bahamut Lagoon never officially made it out of Japan, where the word yoyo can refer to the toy but can also just mean “idiot.”

ax_battler_golden_axe

Ax Battler, Golden Axe

Where to begin? Ax Battler is one of the three playable characters in Sega’s sword-slinging beat-’em-up Golden Axe, the other two being Red Sonja rip-off Tyris Flare and feisty dwarf Gillius Thunderhead, the latter of which himself has a pretty terrific name. Upon hearing the name Ax Battler, you might think the name is actually a description of the character. It’s not. You might also think he’d be the one of the three characters who fights with an axe — if not the very axe referenced in the game’s title. Nope again. Mr. Battler carries a sword; it’s Mr. Thunderhead who carries the axe. Finally, there’s the strangeness in the fact that the game officially spells the character’s name Ax — that is, without the “E” at the end. Now ax is an acceptable spelling of the word more commonly represented as axe, but the fact that both would feature in the game so prominently is just stupid. Matters got even worse when a later spin-off that focused specifically on Ax awkwardly included both spellings in the same title: Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe. Fortunately, this title is now remembered as little more than a rip-off of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, even down to the structure of the title.132 Sequels Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder and Golden Axe III replace Ax with clones with equally awkward names: Stern Blade and Kain Grinder, respectively.133

Yoko Harmageddon, Street Fighter Alpha 3

An extremely minor character appearing only in certain scenes involving a marginally less minor character, included here only because the name Yoko Harmegeddon needs to be recorded for the ages. Yoko is the frowsy manager and trainer of R. Mika, an impossibly buxom, blonde-haired Japanese woman and professional wrestler who appears as a playable character in Street Fighter Alpha 3 and who looks like a cross between Baby Spice and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls.134, 135 As far as I know, Yoko only appears in R. Mika’s win poses and does so riding a golf cart. Amazing.

geese_howard_art_of_fighting_king_o

Geese Howard, Fatal Fury

Most write-ups of Fatal Fury big bad Geese Howard note that he has an ill-fittingly comical name considering the extent of villainy. He’s like James Bond villain evil, to the point that most of the crime that drives the plotlines of the early Fatal Fury games — and in one existence, bad goings-on in the sister series, Art of Fighting as well — can be traced back to him. I haven’t got a clue why his name is Geese, however, or even why it would be the plural instead of the singular. The matter is further complicated by the existence of another Fatal Fury character, a lunatic in raver pants named Duck King. Drugs can account for that name; I can only surmise that Geese is a mistranslation of something, though I’m at a loss for what. The name irks me to the point that I’m actually focusing on it for this concluding list of bad, inexplicable names rather than that of another Fatal Fury fighter: a guy named Marco Rodriguez in the Japanese release but changed for English-speaking territories to be Khushnood Butt — literally cush, nude and butt — for literally no good reason that I can think off. A good result of Geese’s odd name is that it makes for accidentally funny related merchandise. For example, one of his theme songs is titled “Geese ni Kissu,” or, in English, “A Kiss for Geese.”136 And a manga centered on the character bears the title Geese in the Dark, which is misleading if you aren’t familiar with Fatal Fury.137
king_art_of_fighting_king_of_fighte

King, Art of Fighting

The short version: Despite what you might expect, King is a girl. The long version: If SNK’s Fatal Fury games are that company’s attempt at an answer to Capcom’s Street Fighter, then SNK’s Art of Fighting games are another attempt at an answer, if maybe you didn’t like the first one. The first Art of Fighting game features only one female character: a kickboxing bouncer named King. The character is initially depicted as fairly butch but has gradually been feminized in later appearances to the point that no one would mistake her for a man at this point. And that just makes her name more of a head-scratcher. She has never been given a last name, as far as I know, and I’m fairly certain she shouldn’t have been born with the name King. (This anonymous commenter points out that drag kings might have some bearing on the character, her name and her style of dress.) To confuse matter more, one of her motives behind entering fighting competitions is to win enough money to pay for an operation for her younger brother, who, in keeping with what could be a family tradition of bucking gender traditions, is named Jan.

saturday_night_slam_masters_muscle_

Pretty much everyone in Saturday Night Slam Masters

A nearly forgotten Capcom fighter known as Muscle Bomber in Japan, Saturday Night Slam Masters and its cast has mostly fallen by the wayside. Save for Mike Haggar from Final Fight, none of the characters have appeared in other Capcom fighters. And that’s a shame, really, because if quality were determined by the strangeness of their names, then these guys would be regulars. Often, the Japanese names are loonier.138 Take, for instance, the character known in the U.S. as Alexander the Grater — that’s right: Grater and not Greater. In Japan, he’s Sheep the Royal. The guy the English version of the game calls King Rasta Mon is known in Japan as Missing IQ Gomes. That’s not to say that some of the American appellations aren’t uniformly better. The series protagonist, known in Japan as Aleksey Zalazof got saddled with the name Biff Slamkovich in the U.S. Similarly, the rotund Kimala the Bouncer was renamed Jumbo the Flapjack, which is evocative, if nothing else.

And that’s it. I honestly never would have expected that this article would have grown to such an unwieldy length, but it did — and now I can say that it represents literally everything I can think of to say about words in video games. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing, and I fully expect the kind of people who will read this thing through to tell me what significant bits I missed. Please do. I hope that, other than proving that this much can be written on the subject of video games and etymology, I’ve demonstrated that video games are just as wired into every other facet of culture as any other medium. They may not be held in as high regard as literature or film or music, but they draw on the same sources, even though you might not expect them to do so.
Like video games? Then feel free to subscribe to the “games only” flavor of this blog’s feed. And check out previously posted video game-related content as well.

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192 comments:

  1. A couple of things - in Japan, Toad is called "Kinopio", which seems to both be some kind of joke about mushrooms, from what I've inferred, and a re-arrangement of "Pinocchio".

    We did some research at my website a while back regarding the Captain N series. You may find it interesting to note that Palutena and Princess Lana both share the same staff and asymmetrical loincloth. We also assumed that "Palutena" was a portmanteau of "Pallas Athena", run through the Japanese language.

    All in all, great article. I've got enough tabs open from your links to keep me busy for the rest of the afternoon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey. And thanks.

    It did occur to me that Kinopio and Pinocchio sounded awfully similar, which seems like it might be significant in light of the fact that Geno in Super Mario RPG basically is Pinocchio, but I couldn't think of a meaningful way to tie the two ideas together. And I also have yet to find a exact English translation for Kinopio.

    And I remember reading somewhere about the similarity between Palutena and Princess Lana but didn't remember it until you just now mentioned it. I suppose the name could be a corruption of Pallas Athena almost as easily as Parthenos. Either one seems to be magically missing an "S."

    Who is "we"? Which website have you posted this stuff at?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Wow, Drew. This is extensive, to say the least. Where did you find the time to do this? I'll have to tell you what I think when I find the time to read it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Actually I wrote "the thousand-*petaled* lotus, located over the fontanel." This is an incredibly cool post.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous: Yeah, I can't imagine most people would have the time to take it all in in one sitting.

    Goofy. Doh. Have fixed it. And thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I saw this on Dtoid. They weren't kidding when they said it was huge. I got as far as the Zelda stuff and realized I have to check back later. But I'm wondering if you're know about this post I read somewhere about the meaning of the names of the Zelda goddesses Din, Farore, and Nayru. I probably read it on a gameblog a few years ago, but can't remember where. Do you know what the names mean?

    Nice work!

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  7. 10.4 MB of a text file, sheesh!

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  8. Anonymous4:00 PM

    do you have friends?

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  9. As far as an explanation for how this got to be so long, I'll just restate what I said in the intro: This was originally supposed to be something short, mostly centered around the Dante stuff, but I never got around to finishing it, so it would just sit, unposted, and I'd add more here and there, when I had a spare few minutes. So it actually wasn't so much this great undertaking as it was something that just kind of fell together in the state is is now, however long that might be. I can't actually remember when this began. It was well before Christmas.

    I guess I probably could have broken it up, but what's done is done. And it IS done. I'm kind of happy to not have it hanging over my head any more. But I'm also happy that this kind of stuff is lumped into one place, in case people looking into this stuff are curious to know what's been put together.

    Kif: No clue.

    Test: I'm dumb when it comes to file size, but I'll guess that means it's big.

    Anonymous: Yes.

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  10. Killer 7 is mainly about a very troubled relationship between Japan and the United States. It's unclear if Trevor Pearlharbor created the Handsome Men, or if he just knew it was going to happen (through clairvoyance) and wrote a comic book about it, but the Handsome Men are a US-affiliated team to combat the Japan-affiliated terrorist group, Heaven Smile.

    It's all very weird and pretty hard to understand (being an art game, and all) but yeah, but I don't think the name "Pearlharbor" is particularly offensive given the context.

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  11. Regarding the paragraph about Killer 7's Travis Pearlharbor: Killer 7 is an analogy for relations between Japan and the US during World War II. Travis' name is only offensive in it's brusque symbolism. Something worth looking into.

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  12. Anonymous4:48 PM

    i have one for your list of stupid video game names... he's a non-important character from the first lufia game. when you meet him he says "i am flake, elder of arus". they used a screen of this in the advertisements for the game in video game magazines even. why is his name flake? that's not a good name for a person. i think i played the game in fourth grade and i could tell then that his name was stupid...

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  13. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Wow.

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  14. maverick_hunter5:21 PM

    sorry, double post

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  15. Roto 13 and Benco: I bow to your superior knowledge. Had I actually played the game, I might have a completely different impression of the name. Probably shouldn't have spouted off on something I didn't know enough about.

    Anonymous: I think I remember Flake. And now I'm racking my brain trying to think of what it could be a bad translation of. Frak? Frake? Flaco?

    Maverick: That's not a bad guess. I've never heard of that particular character. Shall look into.

    Kif: And speaking of Zelda, since you bring it up, I do feel like there's something tempting in those characters' names. As with a lot of Zelda characters, I'm hesitant to say that they were simply made up for the game and have no prior significance. There's quite a few others specifically from this series that I looked at but couldn't find anything interesting to say. They remain mysteries.

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  16. Enjoying this!

    Have only made it as far as the Street Fighter section, but a couple of points:

    Although Ryu can mean dragon when written 龍 as in 昇龍拳 [shoryuken], the character used to write his name is 隆 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryu_(Street_Fighter)], which means "noble", among other things.

    Did you know that Fei-Long (飛龍) and [Strider] Hiryu (飛竜) both mean "flying dragon"?

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  17. MINT!6:50 PM

    I had only played the first Final Fantasy before I played FF3/FF6, so when I discovered Celes my first reaction was TCELES B HSUP, which is what the talking broom said in Matoya’s Cave. Prob just me tho. :)

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  18. In the "Ken" section, you incorrectly identify Hasbro as the producers of the Barbie toyline. the Barbie toyline is produced by Mattel.

    However, Hasbro *did* produce the Street Fighter toyline, as a subset of the GI Joe toyline for whatever reason. And, considering Mattel had a trademark for the name "Ken" as applied to a toy, Hasbro *did* need to come up with a last name to be able to put the toy on shelves without infringing on Mattel's trademark.

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  19. "Zero Suit Samus" comes from the blue catsuit being the suit Samus wears in the new-content portion of the otherwise straightforward-remake of Metroid 1, titled "Metroid: Zero Mission."

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  20. There's an alternate theory as to the source of Kirby's name--John Kirby, the lawyer who represented Nintendo when they were sued by MGA/Universal for violating their copyright on King Kong.

    Masahiro Sakurai, the character's creator, is on the record as saying he "doesn't remember" where the character got his name.

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  21. Anonymous9:11 PM

    Have you seen that the American version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years switched the name of the character Hal to Harley?

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  22. Anonymous2:26 AM

    Bud and Corona - Sounds to me like the bud is a reference to the Budweiser brand of beer rather than marijuana

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  23. Anonymous6:14 AM

    Wow, this is really sweet. It's nice to learn something about the background of the characters you have playered with for hours. Thanks a lot and keep up the good work :)

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  24. Kevin9:08 AM

    I feel like you've left some out from the Super Mario games. Most of the names are puns, some are just more obvious than others. For example, you left off E. Gadd, which I didn't realize was a joke until I learned that word in class.

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  25. Anonymous12:23 PM

    links isn't a german word, it's a dutch word. and in dutch it means left

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  26. mountainchops4:24 PM

    In your discussion of Wario and Waluigi and the end of the "wa" characters, you left out Washi, the evil Yoshi from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. He was called Boshi in the U.S. and Washi in Japan. I read somewhere that you could read Washi as being a reasonable translation of Waruishi, which would be closer to Wario's name.

    Also what about Geshtar in Secret of Mana and Geshtahl in Final Fantasy 3? They have to be the same right?

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  27. Anonymous4:58 PM

    also, in yoshi's island and i think a few other games, you can hear the shy guys saying hey-ho, hey-ho as they walk. they are actually just saying their name. in japan, they are called hei-ho.

    http://www.mariowiki.com/Shy_Guy

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  28. "links isn't a german word, it's a dutch word. and in dutch it means left"

    It's definitely a German word, too.

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  29. Anonymous8:17 PM

    Actually, while Dr. Robotnik is his name, "Eggman" the moniker which he currently goes by is the name he had from the start when he was introduced in Japan. The reason why his name was changed to Dr. Ivo Robotnik when introduced to the English-speaking world was because SEGA feared a lawsuit, more than likely due to the estate of John Lennon concerning the Eggman title. Actually, one of the new names chosen for the portly scientist was the nonsensical "Dr. Badvibes."
    One idea where the name 'Robotnik' came from was a Russian book by the same name which spoke of a future where automatrons served humanity, of course there needs to be proof about this idea.

    Going with Ivo Robotnik in itself could be a joke on John Lennon. Robotnik translated from its Czech roots is also described as "slave worker". Ivo the first name in itself is shortened from 'Ivor' which is a variation on the name Ivan that has roots in the Russian/Scandinavian language. Ivan to boot is the Russian/Scandinavian version of 'John'.

    But if you remember, John was 'The Eggman'. Translated from the Slavic meaning, Ivo Robotnik could be translated as "John the Slave Worker" or as a song we all know, "John the Working Class Hero." This might of been a joke that Sonic team pulled over our eyes for years. Also to boot, Robotnik's media version from the early Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon (shortened to SatAM) had the first name of Julian, which was also the first name of John Lennon's first son. In the cartoon, Robotnik's name was Julian, but his middle name was Ivo. Whether or not that someone was privvy to the whole etymological joke has yet to be seen, but the connections are eerie. a naming more befitting of a Mario character than a Sonic one (Robotnik yellow cape retcon!)

    Also a bonus, 'Ivo' means "archer" while the first name of his grandfather,Professor Gerald, is Old German for "spearruler" or "spearhard". Yes, both men are named after projectile weapons.

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  30. Karin was slightly based off Cammy. She was a fan character in the fan comic called "Sakura Ganbaru" and is a creation of the artist, Masahiko Nakahira. Nakahira, being a Cammy fan, ended up designing Karin to have similar features. Karin Kanzuki eventually became a part of canon.

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  31. maverick_hunter9:53 AM

    Kaepora Gaepora might have some connection with the brazilian mythology character Caipora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caipora). It seens likely as it's said that Shigeru Miyamoto is a hugh fan of the brazilian music style "bossa nova", even naming one of the songs in zelda majora's mask as "new wave bossa nova"

    (This is actually Drew, reposting maverick's post. I just realized when I trashed the double post, I accidentally scotched the actual comment. Apologies.)

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  32. Parsley: Thanks for the clarification. Also, did not know that about Strider and Fei Long, though Strider's last name would make sense in light of the Hiryuus (wind drakes) in Final Fantasy 5.

    Mint: That one hadn't occurred to me. Also, are you by any chance affiliated with Parsley?

    Awa64: Thanks for the Ken correction. I will go through and fix errors like these this weekend. Also for the Zero Suit and Kirby tips.

    Anonymous 1: Hadn't heard yet that Hal had become Harley. I guess the switch makes sense, but I'm less than happy about it.

    Anonymous 2: Duh. Bud = Budweiser. Don't know why that didn't occur to me before, aside from the fact that I don't drink Budweiser. I shall make a note of it.

    Kevin: You're right. That was partly intentional, as I didn't want to cover every single Mario character. But I realize now that I left out a few noteworthy ones --- E. Gadd especially. The pun in his English name is pretty obvious --- and also pretty appropriate, when you consider that we was introduced in Nintendo's take on a horror game --- but it's twice as interesting in Japan, where he's Prof. Oyama. In Japanese, Oya Mā is an interjection something along the lines of "oh my," but Oyama also happens to be the last name of Nintendo designer Yoshiyuki Oyama. The character is named in his honor.

    Anonymous 3: No, you're wrong. It definitely is a German word.

    Will attend to other comments later today. Thanks for commenting, everyone.

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  33. Anonymous11:26 AM

    "Noembelu" comes from "novembro" in Portuguese. I guess it got spelled this way due to lack of "v" and "r" in the Japanese language .

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  34. Anonymous11:46 AM

    IIRC, Horsehair actually shows up as an item in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, wherein it can be found on the latter end of the trail leading to the Koopa village (which name escapes me)

    it's called Horestail, but I think the connection it obvious http://www.mariowiki.com/horsetail

    Also the name 'Ness' is a legitamite name, as it shows up in the film, The Untouchables.

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  35. spence12:34 PM

    "Links" is the Dutch adverb. In German, "Linke" is the noun, "link" is the adjective, and "links" is the adverb.

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  36. It was both surprising and very satisfying seeing my own article referenced in yours. Glad someone got something out of it.

    Though I did already know about a good portion of what you point out in this article, there were some in there that I certainly didn't know. Educational and entertaining!

    Cheers,
    --Infinity's End c/o Metroid Database

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  37. Anonymous11:09 PM

    For the record, Oyama didn't happen to get the E. Gadd character named after him. He actually desined the character, so it seems probable that he would have actually named the character himself.

    http://zeldapower.com/images/features/insidezelda/201/Page01.jpg

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  38. Anonymous2:48 AM

    Per the naming of Lucas and Claus in Mother 3, Itoi himself stated that the characters were a loose adaption of Lucas and Claus from Agota Kristof's novel 'Le Grand Cashier' (http://starmen.net/eb64/interviews/5.php).

    'Le Grand Cashier' is part one of a trilogy that is available in the US as 'The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie'.
    (http://www.amazon.com/Notebook-Proof-Third-Lie-Novels/dp/0802135064/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245404594&sr=8-1)

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  39. I have a theory on Valvalis and Barbariccia.

    I don't know how many characters were allowed in the English language version, but Valvalis is probably cut down from Barbariccia and might not have any other meaning besides that. In Japanese, the 'v' sound does not exist. Foreign words are transliterated using a 'b' sound (which makes you feel like you have a speech impediment when you talk in Japanese if you are not a native speaker). It's possible that the 'ba' sound was mistakenly thought to be a 'va' in Italian, so they made a mistaken when backtranslating it into English. Just a thought off the top of my head. :)

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  40. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Something to keep in mind with the Japanese games--many times the localiszation teams makes choice about names.

    Case in point, in Zelda Wind Waker, Beedle was named after PR guy Mike Beadle, who worked with Nintendo at the time. I have no idea what the original name of the character was in Japan. But now Beedle is a part of the Nintendo cannon.

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  41. Elena9:55 AM

    According to Zelda Wiki (http://www.zeldawiki.org/Ooccoo), Ooccoo from Zelda Twilight Princess gets her name from the 6 character code for the shade of green that appeared on Link’s default outfit in the NES Legend of Zelda, #00CC00. But in Japan, she is Oba-Chan, which means something like little aunt. It’s also said that she may have been modeled after similarly weird, bird-looking creatures from an Escher work, Another World.(http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/escher/another_world.jpg).

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  42. Also, you left out Tamagon, the main character from Devil World. He's often thought to be a forerunner to Yoshi, as they are both lizards and they make the same noise when they hatch from their shells. Tamagon gets his name from the Japanese word for egg, tamago. Tamago also appears in Tamagotchi and Tamagotchi cases were shaped like eggs.

    And you said you didn't know Pokemon so I thought you also might not know that it's not only the Pokemon themselves whose names are puns. A lot of the human characters have names that are puns or some other form of wordplay relating to the type of Pokemon they control. Like Misty, who controls water types. And Brock (rock) controls rock types. This goes on and on for almost all of the human characters.

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  43. Okay, last one. Sorry for the multiple posts, but I keep thinking of things as soon as I put something up!

    Like how you mentioned that the Zelda fairies Navi and Tatl get their names from what they do in the game, there's Tippi, the butterfly who gives "tips" in Super Paper Mario. But her name is also very similar to her human form Timpani, which works in the theory of girls named after things.

    Also in Super Paper Mario, there's Mimi. I remember reading somewhere that her name can be viewed as a shortening of the word mimic, which is what she does when she makes herself look like other characters and poses as them. But it also could be "me me," as in me and me or two selves, since she appears as other people. She also has two forms, the girl form and the creepy monster spider form.

    You left out on obvious pun from Warioware. Kat and Ana, the little girl ninjas, are katana, like the sword. They even say that when they attack in Smash Bros.

    Finally, you mentioned in the comments that you didn't know where the names of the Zelda goddesses came from. I don't either, but Twilight Princess uses their names for locations in a way that's kind of hard to notice. Locations include the Lanayru province (Nayru), the Eldin province (Din), and the Faron province (Farore).

    And I have a question for you. Can you explain why Princess Peach is named Christine in Zelda: Link's Awakening? There's a character named Christine, but she's a goat. She gives you a photo to Link give to Mr. Write (who looks just like Mr. Wright from SimCity). But when the player sees the photo, it's Peach, with the name Christine signed at the bottom. Do you know why?

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  44. Okay all. More responses. Once again, thanks for your input, everybody.

    Mountainchops: Good point. I’d forgotten about the Boshi/Washi/Waruishi thing. This character actually predates Waluigi and would therefore be the first “wa” character spun off from Wario. It’s really too bad that none of the Super Mario RPG characters got much play beyond that single game, as a lot of them had some cool designs. As for Geshtar and Gestahl, it seems almost certain to me that the two names are different translations of the same original Japanese word. There’s a lot more written online about the latter than the former, however, and I’m not sure what Geshtar’s name might have been in the original Japanese version of Secret of Mana. The Final Fantasy name origins list suggests that, in its original form, the name is Ghastra, perhaps akin to the word “ghastly” or various German verbs meaning “to steal.” Personally, I feel tempted to relate the name to the Greek word meaning “stomach” that appears in gastric, gastronomy, and other such words, but I can’t think of any reason why this root relates to the character.

    Anonymous 1: Ah yes. And it would make sense that Shy Guys would be saying their name and only their name, as that seems to be a trend with Japanese-created, less-than-intelligent creatures, like Pokemon and Yoshi.

    Roto13: Thanks for backing me up.

    Anonymous 2: WHOA. Good one. It never occurred to me that Eggman could be viewed as a Beatles reference, and the John/Ivo/Julian and slave/working class hero stuff is pretty surprising. I’m not sure the similarity would necessarily be enough to warrant a lawsuit from Lennon’s estate, but I suppose people have been sued for lesser things. Curious about Dr. Badvibes, I Googled it and found a pretty interesting page on various things relating to development for the early Sonic games, including early concept art and quite a few characters who never made it into video games. A good read.

    http://info.sonicretro.org/Game_Development:Sonic_the_Hedgehog_(16-bit)

    Miluda: Interesting how that works. I enjoy it when something initially perceived to be minor or non-canonical in nature ends up getting rolled into the bigger picture, like with Charlie/Nash or Ken’s last name.

    Anonymous 3: Noemblu could be corrupted Portuguese, but it could also just be the Spanish Noviembre, similar corrupted. Given that the plot guide specifies her as being Latin American, I suppose it could be either, as both Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in the region generally considered to be Latin America.

    Anonymous 4: Interesting. Could very well be a connection, even though the Paper Mario games tend to be better at staying true to bits of old nostalgia. There is actually a plant called horsetail — or, scientifically, Equisetum, literally meaning “horse bristle” — so perhaps it was a retcon of field horsehair plants. And I’ve only heard of Ness as a last name, most prominently attached to the very Eliot Ness you refer too. I imagine there’s probably a real-life person out there with Ness as a first name, but I’ve never met him. Or her. Hopefully him.

    Spence: Thanks for the clarification.

    Infinity’s End: Glad you’re glad. Thanks for the work.

    Anonymous 5: Ah, well there you go. I didn’t realize Oyama worked for Nintendo on non-Zelda projects. Nice that he got the opportunity to insert himself into a game.

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  45. Because Blogger limits how much you can comment at once — and also because I got a few more comments since I started crafting the initial response — here’s the rest:

    Anonymous 6: Thanks for the info. I’d never heard that before, and I’m not surprised in the least that Itoi would crib from such works of literature.

    Andy: Actually, that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t say so specifically in what I wrote on Barbariccia, but I’m positive that Valvalis was either just a different translation interpretation or the most accurate one that could fit in the number of letters spaces available in the English version. I still do thin that the Valis games may have played a role in it or could have at least been hovering in the mind of whoever did the translating, bikini armor and all.

    Anonymous 7: I hadn’t even thought of Beedle for this post and didn’t know of the real-life Beadle. I looked up the character and couldn’t find if he had a different name in Japanese, but Zeldapedia points out that he has early-era Beatles hair. Also, he likes bugs, especially beetles. No idea which of these actually contributed to his name. Maybe all of them did.

    Elena: Another WHOA. Thanks for all these tidbits and theories. As for Christine, I feel like the photo being of Peach is just a silly cameo that isn’t mean to be taken seriously. That is, we’re not supposed to think that Peach’s name is actually Christine or that she’s disguising herself as a goat or whatever.

    Since you bring it up, however, I do actually have a different bit of trivia to offer regarding the name. In Japan, the Goombas from the Mario games are called Kuribo, which I’m told translates as something like “chestnut people.” (This I don’t understand. Regardless of what they’re called, the Goombas seem to pretty clearly be mushrooms and not chestnuts. If anyone can explain what chestnuts have to do with mushrooms, I’m all ears.) Keeping that word Kuribo in mind, consider that the helpful, playable female Goomba character in the second Super Mario RPG — whose name in the American version is Gombella — is known in Japan as Kurisuchiinu, which is a fairly good portmanteau of Kuribo and the name Christine. I just thought it was neat that a non-Japanese given name and the technical Japanese name blended so perfect. Better than Goombella, at least.

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  46. castaspella6:34 PM

    here's one you may not know. amy rose, sonic's girlfriend, was initially named rosy the rascal and was planned to be sonic's sister. (ew.) sega had initially planned to make her the main character in a game called Sister Sonic, which was going to be a remake of the sega cd game Popful Mail kind of like how Super Mario Bros. 2 was of Doki Doki Panic. it didn't happen, and the character was instead in Sonic CD, but the English version called her sally acorn, after the character from the comics and cartoon show. only after that did she get the name she has now.

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  47. Anonymous7:40 PM

    While an interesting read, you really should've gotten someone who knows Japanese to proof read the japanese parts. For example, you write that the japanese way of spelling delta is "zeruda". In reality you spell it like deruta. Also, you wrote Metroid is pronounced "may-to-roi-du", when it's actually "Me-to-ro-i-do"(you did get the explaination for "ko" right!).
    Sorry if I sound like an a**hole, that is not my intent. I think it's a really interesting article.

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  48. Anonymous9:23 PM

    Fire Emblem has some pretty cool name shenanigans as well. Albeit, none are partticularly hard to figure out, a few are interesting.

    For example, in Fire Emblem 7 the name of the leading country of the time was Ostia. It was known for its wealth and military strength. It just so happens that the port city of Rome (known for wealth and military might) was named Ostia.

    Durendal, the sword used by Eliwood (who in himself probably has some kind of historical reference) was a sword of ancient Christian lore pertaining to a sword containing the hair and blood of Saint Peter iirc.

    Then there's your obvious ones like the units Kain and Abel, and the ice spell known as fimbulvetr relating to ancient Norse mythology.

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  49. Anonymous11:09 PM

    Have you ever been to Japan?
    I recomend you go around Kamakura... there is a Zen Buddhist temple where its Crest is the TRIFORCE... Dig on that and get a life...

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  50. Regarding Kaepora Gaebora, the phonetic explanation is that 'Gaebora' is the voiced version of 'Kaepora'.

    ka/ga
    pa/ba

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  51. Anonymous11:45 PM

    I've never studied Japanese, so I can't help you with the actual translations, but maybe I can be helpful regarding facts/theories about the games themselves.

    Secret of Mana was not the first game in the Mana series. Secret of Mana is actually known in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2, whereas the Game Boy game entitled Final Fantasy Adventure in America is the original Seiken Densetsu (although it was marketed as a FF spinoff in Japan as well, at least initially).

    I hadn't heard FFVI Sabin's Japanese name prior to this post, but my mind at least associates it with blunt or unintelligent methods of solving problems (e.g. mash buttons, appropriately for the video game context). Sabin's behavior throughout the game would seem to support this theory.

    Art of Fighting King's name might be a reference to a drag king, the less-celebrated female counterpart to drag queen? It makes more sense in a Japanese context considering such groups as Takarazuka Revue, which is composed almost entirely of drag kings; SNK, being a Japanese country, might have assumed this connection where it's a lot less apparent in a Western context. I'm a lot less sure about that one, but her appearance would seem to support that, at least in my mind.

    That's all I've got. Hope it helps.

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  52. Anonymous12:40 AM

    Robotnik was changed to Eggman because they added voice acting. They didn't want to have to reanimate the lips for Sonic Adventure so they changed his name to make it easier to fit english words into japnaese lip-synced animation. Sorry, I can't find the citaion right now...

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  53. Anonymous1:02 AM

    about the adventure island and the "capulina" reference, it is know in Mexico that way, not because it was renamed for Mexico but because the fact that it arrived like 2 years before the us version, the title was in japanese and it does resemble the comedian Capulina, so it was more like a vox populi thing, but never officially renamed.

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  54. Anonymous3:55 AM

    Don't know if it's been pointed out, but "Margarita", Wario's damsel in distress' japanese name is Spanish for "Daisy". There's a word game that flew over most people's heads...

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  55. Anonymous5:42 AM

    Koopa = Nokonoko

    Nokonoko = Nok Nok Shell from Super Mario RPG?

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  56. I don't know if anyone mentioned this about the street fighter series, but the "third brother" is already in.

    Like Abel and Seth, Cammy was also a clone of Bison (dictator). now, not only the name "Cammy" sounds a lot like "Cain", but during her time working for shadaloo, Cammy used the name "Killer Bee". the name "Cammy" was supposedely given to her when she joined Delta red.

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  57. Generic9:33 AM

    Actually Robotnik wasn't changed to Eggman.
    The two names were merged.
    Eggman his evil scientist alias, and (Ivo) Robotnik his real name.
    This is suported by one of the games (Sonic Adventure 2) where we learn that Robotnik is a family name (Ex: Maria Robotnik, Eggman's cousin & Gerald Robotnik Eggman's Grandpa).

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  58. a Dyluck look-alike named Durac.

    It literally hit me as I was reading this...I'll bet money that Dyluck, and Durac, are both taken from Lancelot...du Lac.

    (Given Secret of Mana's history as originally made for a CD size and then requiring cutting down to cartridge--something I didn't know until earlier this year, myself--I bet a lot of the naming elements got lost in the excission.)

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  59. Anonymous10:22 AM

    I'm pretty sure that in the book, "How to Win at Video Games" that came out in 1981 (http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-at-Video-Games/dp/0671458418), the author states something along the lines of "The game calls him 'Jumpman', but my friends and I call him 'Mario', because he looks Italian."

    Because this book was very popular, the story has it that Nintendo then quickly changed the "villain" in Donkey Kong Jr. to have the name Mario, because that's what everyone (who had read the book) started calling him.

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  60. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Seth, the final boss of Street Fighter IV, is named after Seth Killian, who is not only a long-time member of the EVO fighting scene, but now works at Capcom, and helped with Street Fighter IV.

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  61. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Just a note on Adventure Island: Master Higgins wasn't renamed by Hudson or anyone in Mexico. People just called the game "Capulinita" because the sprite resembles not "Capulina", the actor, but "Capulinita", Capulina's comic book persona.

    Capulinita comic book:
    http://img504.imageshack.us/img504/4898/arkivcapulinita.jpg

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  62. I doubt no one's pointed it out, but especialy with the "kuppa" spelling it seems awfully silly to completely dismiss the idea that it's a take off kappa, a turtle like humanoid demon from Japanese mythology.

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  63. Or, I could scroll down slightly farther and see the comparison made. :[

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  64. I believe you got Pikachu's origins wrong. "Pika" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a small jolt of electricity, like a spark. "Chu" is the sound a mouse makes. Seeing as Pikachu is an electric mouse, this makes sense.

    Another tidbit is the game Chu-Chu Rocket. The mice, known as Chu-Chus, are named as such for the same reason.

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  65. Congratulations, you've been linked to from Kotaku. This is your lucky day. :P

    ReplyDelete
  66. Sarreq Teryx11:49 AM

    I need to dispute one thing you said about FFV's Cagnazzo:

    "Even further evidence, now that I think about it: Wall’s book lists the demon’s name as Caynazzo, -> which is how it would be pronounced <-, rather than Cagnazzo, which is how it would be correctly spelled in Italian."

    that's not correct at all. The letter combination of "GN" is pronounced ny-, so Cagnazzo would be phoenetically spelled as Kanyatzo (think lasagna, double z being pronounced with a leading t, as in pizza), not Caynazzo, which was probably Mr Wall, being a denizon of the early 20th century, using a lack of cultural understanding while researching for his book.

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  67. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Wedge and Biggs is a reference to Star Wars, and are use most of the time as comic relief in Final Fantasy.

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  68. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Here in the US, we have a company that makes heaters called Reznor, which might have led to a fire-breathing set of monsters called Reznor in Super Mario World...

    Kevin T

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  69. Anonymous12:10 PM

    When I saw "Geese Howard", the first thing that came to mind was Howard Huges and the Spruce Goose. Not that this makes anything like sense.

    Was hoping to see a mention of FF9's "Armstrong" house-with-legs,-fish-and-canon somewhere...

    Fun read, thanks!

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  70. Sarreq Teryx12:13 PM

    "....One of these is a sexy witch named Tessa in the U.S. and Tabasa in Japan. I’d always assumed Tabasa was a slightly mangled take on the more common name Tabitha, maybe as a result of having watched Bewitched as a kid, but I recently found another witch character with a similar name. Mario’s second Game Boy outing, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins features an otherwise forgettable boss character named Sabasa. She’s such a non-entity, in fact, that her name doesn’t even appear in English version the game, which makes me think Sabasa might only be her Japanese name. Regardless, Sabasa seems pretty damn close to Tabasa."

    the similarity between Tabasa ans Sabasa does not disprove your Tabitha theory, as the names Sabitha (Indian meaning "Ornamented") and Sabbatha (Latin meaning "born on Sunday/the Sabbath") do exist

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  71. Raving Griff12:37 PM

    Concerning Error...

    I think there is still a chance that his name is the result of a glitch, even if another NPC refers to him as "Error." If the names used in dialog are drawn from a database of names (say Error's quote would be "I am $1-3" and $1-3 points to a spot in the database that doesn't actually exist), it's reasonable to think that both Error and the other NPC would try to draw a name from the same spot in the database, thus both resulting in an error.

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  72. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Hi,

    I have another, more simple relation between Tetra and Zelda/Delta.

    The ancient greeks didn't have digit symbols, and used their alphablet to represent numbers. The letter delta had a value of 4 according to this system.

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  73. Anonymous12:45 PM

    You forgot Gazebo Boobowski.

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  74. Anonymous12:49 PM

    I didn't read your whole post but your Guile/E. Honda/Blanka section appears to be missing some obvious things.

    From a martial perspective, the word guile can be a compliment (crafty while facing an opponent), or an insult (duplicitous dealings)... And the character is wearing U.S. military fatigues. Hmm.. I wonder what they were going for there.

    E. Honda is the least clear of the three - but if someone asked me to find a meaning within the name I would tell you that Edmond translates to Edomando in Japanese. Two hyphens and some heavy squinting later and we have Edo-Man-Do - a cheap play on words describing a sumo wrestler - literally 'The Way of the Man from Tokyo.'

    The Blanka thing is pretty clearly a backhanded compliment to grapplers, but a slap to white women. This joke has its roots in a racist past, but is pretty irrelevant these days. Basically, the way of Brazilian grappling used to be compared to the way in which white women who married into middle-class Japanese cultures controlled their husbands. A rough translation of the concept to English would be 'the fighter that nags you like a white woman until you can't take it anymore.'

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  75. I submit to you that perhaps some of these names were created simply because they sounded appealing to someone. Why must every name have some mysterious, hidden symbolism or meaning?

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  76. Anonymous1:17 PM

    As an addition to the Castlevania section, it should be noted that Richter Belmont's first name in German translates as Judge.

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  77. Of all the Zelda characters that have names that I thought meant something, its the Lonlon Ranch people. I mean, I know that Malon and Talon in Ocarina were based off Marin and Tarin in Link's Awakening, and that both Tarin and Talon look like Mario, but it seems like there could be a reason for the other characters' names. Like Ingo. Why Ingo? Does it relate to Luigi, who Ingo looks like? (Also, did you notice that the guy who keeps the chickens in Link's Awakening looks just like Luigi and therefore like Ingo too?) And they were the Bowser medallions, too. It just seems like Nintendo put a lot of thought into these what these characters looked like and they might have thought as much about their names too.

    Also, I didn't realize until way after I played Ocarina that the Lonlon Ranch got its name from MaLON and TaLON. Ha :)

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  78. Oh, and I didn't even mention the Majora's Mask versions of everyone from the ranch. Way weird names. Gorman is Ingo and Malon gets turned into two different characters named Romani and Creamia. Weird names, right? The only one who makes sense is Talon, who becomes Mr. Barten. And that seems like it's pretty obviously supposed to be bartender. These names have to have a reason for why they exist, right?

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  79. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Noteworthy about the characters 'Juni' and 'Juli' is that they also are Swedish for June and July.

    Just a little fun fact :)

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  80. More responses. Will get to others later.

    Castaspella: Didn’t know that, though now that you mention it, the name Rosie the Rascal sounds familiar. Thanks.

    Anonymous 1: You’re right. And I don’t think you’re an asshole for correcting me. I don’t understand Japanese-to-English transliteration very well. At times, it seems almost random what can be dropped and what has to be included, but I’ve at least seen a few patterns among certain letters shifting around in specific groups. Since a lot of what I put in here was from online and therefore not necessarily right, I’ll just have to rely on including corrections that people send in.

    Anonymous 2: Thanks for the Fire Emblem stuff. I don’t know the games at all, so it’s all news to me.

    Yagisencho: Thanks. So that means Kaepora Gaebora’s name is quite nearly the same word repeated twice. Interesting.

    Anonymous 3: I actually new that Secret of Mana was preceded by Final Fantasy Adventure, but for the purposes of trying to move things along — which, I know, must sound hilarious considering how long I wrote this — I just tried to gloss over that. Secret of Mana was, for the record, the first game to bear the Mana title. Good call on the Sabin/Mash/mashing the buttons thing. I guess it’s been a while since I played. And yeah, drag kings probably should have been brought up in the King section.

    Anonymous 4: So Robotnik was changes for voice acting? In the games you mean? Which Sonic game introduced voice acting?

    Anonymous 5: So you’re saying the Mexican release of Adventure Island still had the character being called Master Takahashi and that he was informally renamed Capulinita. Do I understand correctly?

    Anonymous 6: Margarita/Valentina isn’t Wario’s girl. She’s a bad guy in Super Mario RPG who ends up marrying a guy who looks a lot like Wario. Odd nonetheless that her Japanese name would effectively mean the same as Daisy’s, even if Daisy the Mario character wasn’t a big deal around the time Super Mario RPG came out. I’d still guess that Margarita comes from the name for the alcoholic drink and not the flower, however.

    Anonymous 7: Yeah, I’m certain the Nok Nok Shell gets its name from a Japanese-to-English transliteration of Noko Noko, either intentionally faulty or not. Could have been a space restraint issue too, for all I know.

    Toninho 3rd: Not having played the game, I didn’t know Abel and Seth were clones. And the missing Cain is Cammy? Nice little theory, especially in light of the nickname Killer Bee.

    Generic: I didn’t realize both names still get used now. Thanks.

    Scifantasy: Real good call there. Hadn’t occurred to me, but I bet you’re right. Also, coincidentally or not, Secret of Mana has its own Lady of the Lake in the form of Luka, though I don’t remember her having any interactions with Dyluck to speak of.

    Anonymous 8: Interesting. Now that you mention it, I’ve never heard exactly what inspired Nintendo to change the character from Jumpman to Mario, aside from the alleged resemblance to Mario Segale. This could very well be true.

    Anonymous 9: Ah, you’re right about Seth and Seth Killian. Now I know.

    http://www.joystiq.com/2009/02/17/joystiq-interviews-capcoms-seth-killian-at-street-fighter-iv-la/

    Anonymous 10: I think you just clarified what Anonymous 5 said.

    WordsHere: To be honest, given how long this thing is, I’m surprised more people haven’t pointed something out that I only touched on later. No worries.

    Adam: Actually, that’s how I had it in the post. And chu chu makes a hell of a lot more sense for the noise a mouse makes compared to squeak squeak.

    Thomas Foss: Yeah, no kidding. Hits go kaboom. Thanks, Gawker family of blogs!

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  81. Anonymous2:30 PM

    Sarisa (from FFV) also sounds similar to russian Tsaritsa which also means Queen (a female Tsar).

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  82. Anonymous2:47 PM

    On the note about Blanka/White Women in Japan posted earlier... Blanka used to bite people on the face, right? That makes the connectin between the perspective to white woman marrying social climber Japanese male and the game character seem pretty well planned if it is the case... because that was the joke. And also same comparison to observing customs in relation of Sumo to grappling.

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  83. Anonymous3:37 PM

    I was watching "Wages of Fear" and there are two characters who look a lot like Mario and Luigi. A fat strong guy and a tall thin guy. What's really funny though, is the fat guy is Luigi and the skinny guy is Mario. Coincidence?

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  84. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I'm pretty sure that in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (the English version), Pokey is addressed as "Porky" (as well as with the Porky Statue). So while we don't have an official translation through M3, we have it translated as such in Brawl. :)

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  85. Chun-Li was not the first female in a fighting game, Edwina from Tongue of the Fat Man, AKA Mondo's Fight Palace was.

    http://www.highervoltage.net/herv5/2006/09/25/review-tongue-of-the-fat-man-pc/

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  86. Anonymous8:01 PM

    hi, from japan.

    in japanese culture, japanese parents want to name their child a one-and-only/not-in-dictionary name.
    on the other hand, western parents want to name their child a written-in-bible name.

    some japanese creators use this method for naming their character.

    is my english understandable?
    thanks.

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  87. Anonymous10:19 PM

    The first Mega Man X has a boss maverick that's not apparently any animal, Boomer Kuwanger, whose name is the same in both language versions even though is doesn't make much sense in English. He's based on a stag beetle and his name comes from the Japanese word for this insect, kuwagata. Boomer Kuwanger's brother shows up in Mega Man X3, Gravity Beetle (in Japan Gavity Beetbood), which means the games feature two different stag beetle bosses, which I think is strange.

    Also I didn't know robot scould have brothers!

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  88. Another! In addition to Boshi, there's also a Doshi, who's called Dorrie in the English (http://www.mariowiki.com/Dorrie). She's the dumb sea serpent who you can ride by stomping her on the head, from Marui 64 and New Super Mairo Bros.

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  89. Anonymous11:57 PM

    Dunno if this was mentioned in any comment - got through that behemoth of an article and just couldn't read any more - but in Final Fantasy 6, I always assumed the Biggs and Wedge characters in the intro were reference to Luke Skywalker's wingmen in Red Squardron, Biggs Darkligher and Wedge Antilles, in A New Hope.

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  90. mkkmypet1:17 AM

    I don't know if anybody mentioned it already, but Dr. Ivo Robotnik's real name was actually Julian Kintobor.

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  91. Anonymous1:29 AM

    In Super Mario Bros. 2, why the hell was the three headed snake named Triclyde? What the hell does that even mean? Why does he have the only name out of all the bosses that doesn't make sense? You've got a mouser named Mouser and a living ball of fire named Fry Guy and a crab named Clawgrip and a frog named Wart. Those all make sense. But the stupid snake is Triclyde. Why? Why should this be?

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  92. mkkmypet1:35 AM

    also, if there is any dispute about the names in the MOTHER series, just contact the people at starmen.net or even the Mother 3 translator, Tomato, at earthboundcentral.com . :]
    as a MOTHER fan myself, though, i'd like to say some things:
    Brawl officially clarified that Pokey's real name is Porky. even in the Japanese version of Mother 3, though, there are some graphics in New Pork City (a pun which still exists in the original game) that show the English lettering of the name: "PORKY". it makes more sense too, because his little brother is named Picky. this implies that one eats too much, and the other eats too little... this is reflected in their looks as well.
    Claus and Lucas are named after a pair of twins from a book that Shigesato Itoi read. i believe it was a French book called "The Notebook"...?
    Many Mother 3 characters have interesting names. there are the characters Lighter and Fuel, who are involved in a forest fire in chapter 1. Hinawa and Flint, Lucas's parents, are named after two types of guns. Duster and Wess had something to do with cleaning, dust, rags, etc... i think. Kumatora means "bear tiger", but that was never confirmed as the official meaning behind her name.
    there are many more names, which i would like to know the origins of. Itoi always put plenty of obscure references in his games.
    also, if you haven't played all the MOTHER games, you should. they're great! :3

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  93. Chance1:56 AM

    This was a lot of fun to read.
    Regarding Animal Crossing's slaughteriffic names, Elmer the horse will always stick in my mind.

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  94. Anton2:27 AM

    Hello!
    Just a side note:
    The japanese manuel of Shadow of the Colossus reads WANDER AND THE COLOSSUS in big fat letters on its back cover. Go figure!

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  95. So, here's an interesting tidbit about Mario Segali: I'm almost sure he's in one of the Game Boy Camera minigames. Remember that shooter game? Remember the giant faces that served as bosses? One of them is a bald Italian-looking guy with a bushy moustache. I think it's Segali. I don't have any proof, but fish out a camera, play the game, and try to tell me that guy doesn't look like a human Mario.

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  96. Floyd3:38 AM

    "In Japan, the Goombas from the Mario games are called Kuribo, which I'm told translates as something like "chestnut people." (This I don't understand. Regardless of what they're called, the Goombas seem to pretty clearly be mushrooms and not chestnuts. If anyone can explain what chestnuts have to do with mushrooms, I'm all ears.)"

    Goombas/Kuribo do have a striking resemblence to water chestnuts (Eleocharis Dulcis)...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleocharis_dulcis

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  97. A very enjoyable (if long) read, but I have a few things I want to comment on.

    First, regarding Street Fighter - as parsleyboots rightly points out, Ryu's name does not mean "dragon", but rather "humble" or "noble", by all means a fitting name for the character. However, while I suppose "隆" is still officially his proper name, with the release of Street Fighter II and onwards, his name has always been written as "リュウ"; "Ryuu" in katakana.
    Similarly, Ken's name actually WAS the inexplicable and nonsensical "拳", or "fist", as seen in promotional materials for the original SF title - but in any and all future installments it has been simply "ケン". Unlike Ryu though, I'm more inclined to believe that this is an actual retcon, especially considering the fact that he eventually also received an English-sounding last name.

    As for Abel and Seth - Yoshinori Ono, producer of Street Fighter IV, has gone on record saying that the new final boss was at one point intended to be named after Cain, but it was deemed inappropriate as there was already a similarly named fighting game last boss; Kain R. Heinlein of Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

    I would also like to point out that Rainbow Mika's coach is most likely not actually named Yoko Harmageddon, but that it's probably her ring name. As far as wrestler names go, it doesn't really sound far-fetched or ridiculous to me.


    Some notes on Castlevania: You mention that the name Belmont was "accidentally rendered" as Belmondo or Beaumont, however the family is and always has been "Belmondo" in the Japanese versions of the games.

    Similarly confusing transliterations appear in several games in the series, as mentioned, but I would like to add a few examples in the only Mega Drive entry in the series (Vampire Killer/Castlevania Bloodlines/Castlevania: The New Generation). Most notable is the spear-wielding protagonist known as Eric Lecarde; the character being Spanish and his name originally being written as リカード (rikaado) lead me to believe that a far more sensible name would be "Ricardo". His weapon was also clumsily transcribed as "Alcarde Spear", when it clearly should have been "Alucard Spear". Also worth noting is that the other protagonist, Johnny Morris (John in the English version) is the son of Quincy Morris, from Bram Stoker's novel.


    Lastly, the protagonist in Shadow of the Colossus is not named "Wanda" in any version of the game. His name is written ワンダ (wanda) in katakana, but the game's instruction manual and disc clearly states (in English) that the name of the game is "Wander and the Colossus".

    I think this reply itself is starting to get overly wordy, so I'll try to wrap up. Again, thanks for a very entertaining article.

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  98. Naturally, typing up that took like half a day, so I guess a few of my points have been addressed already... so don't get me wrong, I'm not intentionally trying to step on anyone's feet or anything, just too lazy to edit a post I've already spent too much time on. :P

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  99. Anonymous4:41 AM

    Look up the word borborygmus!

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  100. Anonymous5:18 AM

    Waaaa !

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  101. Wow, I bow to the master.

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  102. kudos to you on this great iconographic work!

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  103. Anonymous7:39 AM

    Blanka doesnt mean anything in Portuguese!
    it could be barely similar to "branca", that means white in a feminine sense (most adjectives in portuguese have a gender)

    btw , Im from Rio , so I know what Im talking about...
    (and Blanka's stage doesnt have anything to do with Brazil, except for a few coutryside places)

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  104. Anonymous7:45 AM

    let me also point to you that there is a lot of white people (at least half the population) in Brazil.

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  105. Anonymous9:40 AM

    About Waluigi's name being an anagram of iriwaju. I have in front of me volme 135 of Nintendo Power magazine (with Mario Tennis, the first game to feature Waluigi, on the cover). On page 16, it says that Waluigi is indeed an anagram of iriwaju. Here's the direct quote:

    "Finally, Luigi gets his very own archrival. Like Wario is to Mario, Waluigi is to Luigi. In his debut, the wiry, mustachioed villain emerges as a menace to tennis with his skilled technique on the court. Perhaps the only thing more unwieldly than his smash returns is his clumsy name, which, believe it or not, comes from a rearrangement of the world igiwalui- Japanese for someone who's bad."

    I assume that the igiwalui is just some kind of translation mistake made in the wording of ijiwaru, but spelling aside this is solid, straight from the source proof in my book. I have no camera or scanner with which to show you the article itself, but I assure that it is quoted precisely.

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  106. Juat a thought here... maybe it's been covered, idk... but Field Horsehair Plants I think is just a bad translation for horse radish. The white root type plant that is featured in mario games. The white root plant that you can pick out of the ground in Mario 2.

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  107. Anonymous11:13 AM

    Bud and Corona (Secret of Mana) - A different take on this is that bud refers to the form of an undeveloped flower and corona refers to the outer layer/atmosphere of the sun.

    I'm not sure about the character's personalities or story development, but maybe the fact that flowers need sunlight to grow/live ties into the reason for their naming.

    Anyway great write-up. Read all of it in one sitting besides the Castlevania bit since I didn't really play it. Even read all the comments before me.

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  108. Anonymous11:21 AM

    As for important names in Zelda, you should have mentioned Chris Houlihan.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-u_mv_jjV8&NR=1

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  109. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Also, you should have said that a lot of these theories are just guesses and not actually the real story. Why didn't you write to people who made the games and just ask them?

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  110. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Did it occur to you that with all the switching of Ls to Rs that Tellah from FF4 has basically the same name as Terra from FF6?

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  111. in mario & luigi super star story, nearly everything is named after beans or laughter. i always wondered why and if there is relation between beans and laughing that maybe exists in japanese but not english?

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  112. Anonymous5:57 PM

    When you know that Wart's name is actually Mamu, it makes sense that the rolling TV camera things in the ice stages of Mario 2 have the letter M on them, doesn't it?

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  113. Brilliant list! Well done!

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  114. Enjoyed reading this, though most of the games here were after my time! Back during the peak of the original NES boom I worked as a translator at the U.S. office of a lesser-known Japanese videogame company, and saw first-hand how so many curious names like this were born. And I would guess that a vast majority are due to phonetically garbled back-transliterations.

    The company I was at had an "Arabian Nights" themed-game, and in the U.S. version there were a character named Curly and a spell named Alalart. To an English speaker, a fire-demon named Curly (brother of Moe?) is comical, but that's the best that the Japanese translator could come up with for what was in Japanese "kaa-rii" (カーリー). In all likelihood it was from the Hindu god Kali, but with the Japanese language's ambiguity between L/R and ah/ar/ur, it's impossible to determine. Similarly for Alalart, which is plainly from Mt. Ararat (of Noah's Ark). Back then as now, software translators are undervalued, and your average translator is not likely to have much background knowledge in exotic cultures -- which the game developers probably don't have either, they just happen to see a cool character in some book of mythology and use it, knowing only the name in Japanese katakana, of course...

    (If you're wondering why I didn't speak up and correct these errors at the time, believe me, I often asked to speak to the game developers in Japan to ask where they got their inspiration from, but management's attitude was "Bah, what do you know? Besides, those game creators are too busy for such trivialities. And what does it matter?" Well, it does matter. Unfortunately back then there was no internet so I couldn't point them to a Wikipedia page and say "Hey, check this out, look familiar?..." ;)

    In an earlier martial arts game from the same company there was an old kung-fu master whose name was, in Japanese "ju-an" (じゅあん). If you transliterate that with no hyphen to separate the syllables, you end up wondering why the wise master is a Mexican guy. (On the other hand, the Spanish pronunciation "hwan" sounds kind of Chinese...)

    Big companies like Nintendo must have had substantial localization teams who had the authority to create entirely new and more appropriate names for the English-language market, and I think it shows in the quality. But for the smaller firms, I bet they were all in the same situation we were in. (Yeah, going to CES and seeing the new titles from the Japanese publishers was always amusing.)

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  115. Regarding "Tabasa", there is absolutely no question that it's directly from Tabitha in "Bewitched". The show was hugely popular in Japan in the seventies. There's even a famous Japanese fashion brand these days called Samantha Thavasa; obviously there is no real designer by that name, it was just made up from the names of the Bewitched characters.

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  116. Anonymous7:56 PM

    "Exodus" is very likely the correct name for Exdeath. The name does make sense, because he wants to send the entire world into the "Void," thus an exile/exodus to nothingness.

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  117. Timothy8:58 PM

    I've heard Guile referred to as General Uile, or G. Uile. Tried to do some research, but most of it comes from Spanish and Portuguese websites.

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  118. Anonymous9:27 PM

    Thanks for the great read! (I noticed some typos, but I'm sure they would be very difficult to catch in a gigantic post like this. Maybe you will be fixing them in the revised post? )

    + Concerning "Navi" in Ocarina of Time:
    Until I realized many years later the connection between her name and the words navigation/navigator, I had assumed that the name was a reference to (or an intentional misspelling of,) nabi, which means "butterfly" in Korean. She even has butterfly-esque fairy wings in the official art! (One could even argue that this is a b/v translation issue.) "Navigator-butterfly" aptly describes Navi, wouldn't you agree? :)

    In addition, "Kokiri" is the best-possible romanization of the Korean word for 'elephant', although in this case, there is no apparent connection to elephants and the Kokiri children. Navi and Kokiri led me and my parents to conjecture that maybe someone on the Zelda staff were of Korean descent.

    + Concerning food, fruit, and object names for minor characters: Most of them referenced in this article seem to have Toriyama Akira's character designs. (Considering the character names in DragonBall, ) I'm wondering if there is a possibility that he had a say in naming the characters in the video games that he provided the artwork for.

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  119. And some more responses:

    Sarreq Teryx: I get your point and I understand what happens with “GN” in Italian. I was just saying that the fact that the name has been written as Caynazzo in the book by Wall might indicate that the monster’s name hadn’t been taken from the original text by Dante. I guess I misspoke with the pronunciation. Thanks for the correction. And for the note on the Tabasa/Sabasa thing.

    Kevin T: Makes sense. If Kirby could possibly be named after a vacuum company, then Reznor could be named after a heater company and not necessarily the musician.

    Raving Griff: I get what you’re saying, but would they tie the character’s name into a database if it’s only used, like, twice in the whole game? It seems like it would be easier to just enter the text manually?

    Anonymous 1: Knowing nothing about Greek numerals, I looked it up. This seems to say that delta was used to represent ten (deka).

    http://www.gap-system.org/~history/HistTopics/Greek_numbers.html

    Am I misunderstanding?

    Anonymous 2: Yes. Yes I did.

    Anonymous 3: Good points on Guile. I guess I forgot to consider that guile is just a word in about every instance besides Street Fighetr Doy. And that’s an interesting take on E. Honda’s name. I’m not sure I get what you’re saying about Blanka. Can you elaborate?

    Kaiptain K: Yes, there’s always the notion that some things are just what they appear on the surface and don’t have hidden meaning behind them. But you’re also talking to an English major who spent college looking at what a given author put into a book and asking why it’s there and what motivations the author had in creating it in a specific way. Sometimes you can over-read, but just as often you can glide right over something and miss a certain level of depth. Video games don’t necessarily work the same way and their designers could potentially be more technical than artistic or figurative in how they go about their creative process, but the fact that a lot of these names do have a story behind them was enough to motivate me to poke around and see what else I could turn up.

    Anonymous 4: Do you know if Richter is a common at all as a German name?

    Raz: Like I said earlier, there’s a whole lot of names like this. Haven’t been able to do much with them. Hopefully, with these kinds of comments going up here, someone more clever than I am might be able to point something out about where they came from.

    Anonymous 5: Well, Juni and Juli very well could be Swedish for all I know. I don’t think their country of origin is ever stated, though I could be wrong.

    Anonymous 6: I thought czarina/tsarina was the feminine of czar.

    Anonymous 7: I’m still not really understanding the connection between Blanka and grappling and white women marrying Japanese men. Can anybody explain?

    Anonymous 8: The Mario and Luigi in Wages of Fear are indeed probably just coincidences.

    Anonymous 9: Yeah, Smash Bros. Brawl uses Porky, so I suppose we can take that as the official translation. I’m still holding out for the official translation, though… if only because that means I get an official translation of Mother 3.

    Stercus: I can honestly say that I’ve never heard of Tongue of the Fat Man. It sounds… awful. But thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Anonymous 10: I wouldn’t say it’s the case anymore than Americans name their children after Bible characters so often, but I think you’re nonetheless right that the Japanese have a looser sense of what’s an appropriate name — for a child, for a fictional character — than do Americans. Thanks for making this so much fun.

    Anonymous 11: I didn’t know robots had brothers either. Is there any reason the Japanese would be so interested in stag beetles? Are they common in Japan?

    Elena: Dorrie = Doshi. Got it.

    Anonymous 12: Wedge and Biggs’s Star Wars origins are discussed in the article linked to in the Final Fantasy section.

    ReplyDelete
  120. Anonymous10:10 PM

    I'd just like to point out that mega man is also a lefty.

    ReplyDelete
  121. mkkmypet: Unless I’m mistaken, the name Julian Kintobor only exists in the Sonic comics. Regarding Porky and Picky, that’s a good point I hadn’t though of. Very interesting Mother 3 tidbits, foremost among them being the fact that Flint and Hinawa both refer to guns. If you have any more, don’t hesitate to mention them.

    Anonymous 1: I haven’t got a clue where Tryclyde/Triclyde might have gotten his name from. It does seem conspicuously strange in the context of the other bosses’ seemingly normal names.

    Chance: Elmer the horse. Good one. Thanks.

    Anton: As I now I think the confusion about Wander and Wanda stems only from how the name is represented in Japanese characters. In the western alphabet, it’s Wander, even in Japanese packaging.

    Jeff: Didn’t have the game and can’t confirm one way or the other. Does anybody else know or have a screenshot?

    Floyd: I suppose I can see a resemblance between Goombas and water chestnuts, especially when the latter group is unshelled or unpeeled or un-whatever you do to them that makes them all smooth and white.

    Josef: If Ryu’s name is now written always in katakana, what was it written in before? (Apologies — there’s a lot about written Japanese that I don’t understand.) Thanks for Seth/Cain, Castlevania bits.

    [And then I skipped a few…]

    Anonymous 2: Unfortunately, I feel like a Nintendo Power mention can’t be enough to constitute canon or authorial intent on the part of Nintendo. I do feel, howeve,r that I remember this article.

    Dustin: Could be. I feel like this is probably a stretch, but I don’t have the authority to say it’s wrong or not.

    Anonymous 3: It’s a very innocent interpretation of Bud and Corona. Also very sweet. I’d rather your take was the correct one.

    Anonymous 4: Chris Houlihan, Chris Houlihan, Chris Houlihan. There. Done.

    Anonymous 5: Okay. Yes, I suppose I could have tracked down the various video game creators who invented the characters described above and attempted to get them to answer questions about why they made their creations the way they did. The problems with this plan are as follows: (1) I don’t speak Japanese; (2) This post wasn’t initially intended as such an in-depth thing and I was pretty much just spouting off with my own theories. Getting in touch with the video game bigwigs would have necessitated even more time and effort. Though such a thing would be cool and fun, I’d need a lot more time to track these people down, one by one. Maybe one day.

    Anonymous 6: Didn’t notice that Terra and Tellah are essentially the same. Interesting.

    Isk: Good question. Aside from being the musical fruit, I have no idea if beans have some especially humorous connotation in Japan. There are a lot of bean names — Queen Bean, Lady Lima, Prince Peasley — and a lot of laughter names — Cackletta, Jojora, Dragohoho. Of particular note is Fawful, whose name happens to be a pretty good pun: a form of the Latin fava, meaning “bean,” and awful.

    Anonymous 7: That would explain the “M.”

    Akira: Thank you!

    Riktov: Thanks for the confirmation on the Bewitched thing. What else can you tell us about weird translation bits. Feel free to discuss them in whatever depth you deem appropriate.

    Anonymous 8: Awesome. Exdeath being more appropriately Exodus makes me feel better.

    Timothy: Haven’t heard this, but tell me if you find anything indicating that it’s true.

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  122. And just a few more:

    Anonymous 9: Yeah, I know Toriyama likes giving his characters food names, but I’m not especially familiar with his work outside Chrono Trigger. As for the typos, yeah, I know they’re there. I do what I can, but I’m exceptionally bad at editing my own stuff. If you see any, feel free to point them out.

    Anonymous 10: I guess Mega Man is a lefty, if only because shooting with his right hand would block his body from the screen. Neat.

    Also, just as an FYI, I’ve gone through and taken notable comments and incorporated them into the post — in particular those that clarified or corrected points I’d made in the original post. I may do this more in the future, depending on what people bring up in the comments section and what free time I have.

    ReplyDelete
  123. Wow, nice article. I haven't read it all yet, but I can't help but offer a theory I heard about Pit's name. He bears a strong resemblence a cupid. Well, take out the first syllable of "cupid" and replace the "d" with a "t" (possibly a botched translation), and there you go.

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  124. Anonymous12:12 AM

    This should seriously be made into a book - I'd pay to have this as a coffee table book - some nice gloss photos, the works.

    Anyone out there working in publishing should make this guy an offer asap!

    ReplyDelete
  125. Dammit, my browser crashed and seemed to take my post with it... -_- I'll try to briefly recount what I wanted to say:

    -Ryu's name was originally written with kanji, as "隆", at least in some material pertaining to the original Street Fighter. From SF2 on it's simply been "リュウ" though occasionally fans like to use the kanji.

    -Juni and Juli are both from Germany.

    -Honda's name isn't a play on words, it's just "Edmond". The "Edo-man-do" theory, while entertaining, is not accurate; the two words are definitely different (Edomondo and the proposed "Edo-man-dou"). Edmond is probably not his real name however - Real life sumo wrestlers do wrestle under assumed ring names. Using a foreign-sounding ring name would be very odd if not outright forbidden, but Japanese celebrities adopting foreign-sounding nicknames is far from unheard of.

    -Street Fighter gets lots of inspiration from popular culture, and the Japanese wikipedia page had the following to say about Guile: Guile was in part inspired by the popular manga "Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure". His hairstyle was inspired by that of the character Jean-Pierre Polnareff (who was also the model for The King of Fighters' Benimaru Nikaido), and his name is derived from "J. Guile", one of Polnareff's opponents in the comic. On another note, Guile has the rank of "major", "lieutenant commander" or "wing commander", depending on how you choose to translate "少佐". To the best of my knowledge, he is generally referred to as a major, though.

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  126. Anonymous6:56 AM

    "Juni" and "Juli" is swedish for June and July repsektively.

    ReplyDelete
  127. Anonymous7:00 AM

    Ehm. "respectively". That's what I get for posting anonymously. Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  128. Anonymous8:40 AM

    A note, when discussing King, you mention that the family might be bucking gender sterotype names by naming the brother "Jan". However, Jan is also a male name (though the J is pronounced like a Y).

    ReplyDelete
  129. RayK20999:00 AM

    Just wow. Kudos, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  130. Anonymous10:51 AM

    About the Legend of Mana names, Bud and Corona are both beer brands. Budweirser, as the other commenter said, and Corona. The corona beer webpage: www.corona.com

    ReplyDelete
  131. Anonymous11:26 AM

    A note about the Korean dish bipinbap. In one of the LoZ gameboy color games, there is a house with two parents and their baby. The parents being named bipin, and bap, I believe. You are allowed to name the baby, and get a reward depending on the name, if i remember correctly the best reward was recieved when you named the baby bipinbap. It might be wise to double check the finer details, but it is definitely interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  132. Anonymous11:30 AM

    For Goomba:

    "Gomba" is the Hungarian word for mushroom.

    ReplyDelete
  133. As pertaining to FFVI's Tina/Terra, her original naming was due to wanting (most likely the creator) to have the protagonist to have an exotic name (as Tina is a very uncommon and exotic name in Japan). When it was localized in America, her name was changed to Terra to maintain the exoticness of her name.

    source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characters_of_Final_Fantasy_VI (she is the first character listed)

    ReplyDelete
  134. Anonymous1:02 PM

    Considering the difficulty in figuring out whether to translate a character's name with an R or an L, I have been wondering if Ganondorf wasn't actually supposed to be "Ganondolf" or "Ganondolph" (from Japanese Ganondorofu). I mean, there are no -dorfs in real life names, are there? Whereas in German there are a lot of Rudolfs and Ad-*cough*. Also look at the Japanese' apparent obsession with German for that matter (perfectly presented in the hero of Chaos Legion's name, Sieg Wahrheit...).

    ReplyDelete
  135. Anonymous3:37 PM

    I would be willing to be entirely that 'Ray the Squirrel' and 'Mighty the Armidillo'were prototype characters for Tails and Knuckles, respectively.

    Color-scheme, basic character traits, etc.

    See it now? I certainly do.

    ReplyDelete
  136. Anonymous7:27 PM

    Consider the Greek myth of the ring of Gyges as a possible origin for Itoi's Giygas.

    ReplyDelete
  137. MoldySpore9:03 AM

    The character "Macha" from Chrono Cross is most likely a play on the slang term for mother "ma" and the fact that the whole family adds "-cha" to things. So "Macha" is just "Mother-cha" basically.

    ReplyDelete
  138. Captain Werewolf9:58 AM

    I like the theory one commenter brings up above concerning Guile's name, that it's taken from a manga character named "J. Guile." I always thought, however, that the name was actually a reference to his fighting style. He's kind of the prototypical "baiter" character found in fighting games. Especially in SFII, the best way to use him is to throw out sonic booms until your opponent tries to jump one, drawing him in so you can use your vacuum kick (this simple method doesn't work as well once they add air-blocking to the series). Rinse and repeat. Anyway, because his moves are charge-based (hold back for 2 secs, then forward, etc.) he requires a little more finesse and, in the case of the sonic boom to vacuum kick combo, better timing and rhythm. So, in that sense, Guile is kind of the perfect name for him.

    ReplyDelete
  139. Good article. Thanks for the effort.

    I'd like to note that Michael Monroe is not swedish, but finnish. There is a difference :-)

    ReplyDelete
  140. Anonymous4:16 PM

    Pikachu is actually named after the kinkajou (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkajou), an arboreal mammal native to Central and South America.

    Pika + Kinkajou = Pikachu

    ReplyDelete
  141. spence7:06 PM

    in re. the anonymous immediately above me: (at least) two schools of thought on that one:

    http://kotaku.com/347021/the-true-meaning-of-pikachu

    ReplyDelete
  142. Another commenter pointed this out, but regarding your section on King from The Art of Fighting: There's nothing feminine about the name "Jan." That's the Dutch form of John.

    ReplyDelete
  143. Without looking anything up, even reading these other comments, and at the risk of repeating stuff:

    I think that Daisy came from one of the gameboy Mario games. You could look it up I suppose. That is if anybody gives a shit.

    ReplyDelete
  144. Migaloo11:59 AM

    Really awesome stuff, great read! I just wanted to comment on Cammy's name - I always thought it was a play on camouflage, which she has painted up and down her legs. (I may have missed this in your post)

    ReplyDelete
  145. Paula7:55 AM

    Great post (took me some sittings to read, though)!!! Loved your blog, can't stop going through the old stuff now!^^

    You made me think about some other language-related things in games. I don't know if they fit the context, but here they go:

    - First of all, a Brazilian guy would hardly ever be named Sean (or Blanka, for that matter).

    - Castlevania's "Velnaldes" strikes me more as a "Bernardez" than "Fernandez"...

    - In FFIX there's a cute reference to the two previous FF's when Zidane says during the play "No cloud, no squall shall hinder us." using the literal meaning of Cloud's and Squall's names.

    - There's some online discussion (much to the style of "what's the plural of Birdo?") about the real pronunciation of Tidus' (FFX) name, because it is never said in-game. Now, I've been playing Kingdom Hearts and KHII recently, in which there's a younger version of Tidus. And if I'm not going crazy (I could be) it's spoken differently in each of those (one as Tie - Dus, and other as Tee - Dus)... OMG, what now??

    - Also, there's the Aeris/Aerith issue.

    - Kaepora Gaebora also reminded me of Caipora, as someone said before me. I read somewhere in the internet that this entity is supposed to protect all animals of the forest EXCEPT for the feathered ones. And Kaepora in the game is a bird. Could this be related?

    - Also, non-game related... "The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty" is a pretty disturbing (and possibly necrophilic) title per se.

    Well, that's all I can think of for now...
    And it's not a secret to everybody anymore, as for the repercussion of the post!!

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  146. Anonymous12:39 AM

    This one is quite obvious. I'm not sure if anyone has posted this yet or not.

    Super Mario World has an aquatic equivilent to the Bullet Bill, named Torpedo Ted. The names seem normal enough but it's from the movie, Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.

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  147. Kumatora's name meaning bear tiger makes me think of Ursula and Leonora in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, because their names mean bear and lion.

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  148. These all the games are looking very interesting, I am so excited to play these type of games. From where I can get these type of games.

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  149. Anonymous5:08 AM

    Actually, you got Mother 3's Hinawa's reference wrong. Hinawa, the twin's mother, is named after sunflowers, her favorite kind of flower, very important to the game's story, but I won't spoil.

    Sunflower in Japanese is Himawari, literally, turn with the sun, as sunflowers do. Himawari just became Hinawa in order to make it shorter and more name sounding. I'm pretty sure of it, I think it was mentioned in an interview with Itoi.

    GREAT JOB on the whole thing though. I second the thought of publishing it, it's a great idea, I would definately buy the book.

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  150. Anonymous2:44 PM

    In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, one of Diddy's alternate costumes is a pink version of his usual clothes, which is probably supposed to make him look like Dixie but also makes him look like pink Donkey Kong Jr. I think this supports your theory about Dixie being a reference to that fake, pink DK Jr.

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  151. Very good article, and I didn't know some of the things mentioned, such as Zelda's name being possibly linked to the Triforce or the various other points. On the Mario note, the landlord naming trivia is interesting, it's said to be true on the European site here:

    http://nintendo.co.uk/NOE/en_GB/service/nintendo_history_9911.html

    The US site just listed console names, and the Japanese site is really only navigatable in Japanese due to them using images for links and various stuff. But I thought that might be helpful, as with that the UK Nintendo Magazine said the same origin of Mario's name.

    On another note, I didn't really know about the Metroid reference in Kid Icarus, and various other names are generally new to me. I do remember the interview that talked about Link's name and such like saying about it referring to him being almost a representative of the player, hence the name and lack of given personality.

    As for the Koopalings and their musician inspired names... I think you already know that the names were originally given by the translators when Super Mario Bros 3 was translated, then readopted in the Japanese games when Super Mario World was created and their names taken from the US translations.

    But never the less, nice article, and I shall definitely be reading more of this blog and it's entries in future.

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  152. Anonymous4:51 PM

    The "Wages of Fear" thing is discussed in some detail on AskMeFi here:

    http://tinyurl.com/nwkz2q

    ReplyDelete
  153. Long, just skimmed some parts. Good work.

    Worth noting that, for example, Satsui no Hadou ni Mezameta Ryu, or "Ryu, who has awakened to murderous intent" was actually CREATED by capcom USA, and NOT Capcom Japan. Thus, 'Evil Ryu,' while perhaps more boring, is actually the original.

    Similarly (?) named would be "Tsuki no yoru orochi no chi ni kurufu Iori", Iori who, on a moonlit night, is driven insane by (his) orochi blood. Most call him Orochi Iori in the US.

    But in both of these cases, it's worth pointing out that these long names do not actually appear in the games in question (well, Iori's does, kind of, in the ending of '96). And nobody wants to type that. So in Japan, he's usually called Satsui Ryu. Iori is called 'bousou iori,' or wild Iori.

    A side note - Evil Sakura (of the VS. games) is usually referred to as 'suntanned Sakura' due to her darker skin color.

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  154. Anonymous10:47 PM

    You want a bad character name? Try the hero of Tales of Hearts, Shing Meteoryte. All of the characters are named after stones, you you'd think they could save one of the good ones for the main guy, but NO....

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  155. Super awesome and informative post. Thanks so much!

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  156. Oh look another Sonic n00b,

    Ivo Robotnik is Ovi Kintobor

    and theres alot more to it than that, the STC by Fleetway comics was an especially dark perspective to the global totalitarian rule that Ivo had over Mobius and it was about the Freedom Fighters fighting back and rebelling against the genocidal horrors being commited by Ivo.

    Do your goddamn research, archiefag

    ReplyDelete
  157. I read somewhere that there is a great pun in the first Paper Mario in the character Pop Diva, who is actually named Chanterelle. She's a toad (meaning she's a mushroomhead) and also a singer. The name Chanterelle is good because it actually is a type of mushroom but sounds so similar to the word chant and other words related to singing. A good pun!

    ReplyDelete
  158. @RuneBlade

    Your the n00b for mixing diffrent canons.
    This is about Sonic games canon, not comics.

    ReplyDelete
  159. Responses.

    Laird: I had never thought of that. That's enough of a good point to merit a mention in the article itself. Thanks.

    Anonymous 1: Or I could just keep doing it here, online, for free.

    Josef: Have corrected the E. Honda part. Interesting theory on Guile and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I really must look into this series. It kept coming up again and again when I was researching this post.

    Anonymous 2: Thanks for the tip.

    Anonymous 3: I know Jan is a male name, but it just seems to me as being more often a female one in the U.S.

    RayK2099: Thanks.

    Anonymous 4: Yeah, I think we're covered on the Bud/Corona thing is.

    Anonymous 5: According to the Zelda Wiki, the father is Bipin and the mother is Blossom. In one ending to the game, Link names their baby Bipsom. That's the English version of the game, anyway.

    Anonymous 6: Indeed, gomba does appear to be Hungarian for "mushroom." I should probably get something into this piece on Goomba at some point...

    atparker87: I knew this. It doesn't show up in the above post, but I link to a previous post I did specifically on Celes and Tina's names.

    Anonymous 7: Could be. Ganondolf does sound a bit more plausible than Ganondorf. But there are dorfs out there. Düsseldorf, for example.

    Anonymous 8: I can see it. Chromatically speaking, of course.

    Anonymous 9: Is there a connection between Gyges and Giygas aside from their names?

    MoldySpore: You have a point, I suppose, and I may well be overthinking the Macha situation. I mean, her Japanese name is Mamacha, after all.

    Captain Werewolf: Another good point. I put it in the post. Thanks for that.

    ReplyDelete
  160. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Kombo put up an article honoring the return of the Koopa Kids and in it they claim that Larry Koopa was named for the American rock songwriter Larry Williams, wrote composed "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and other things.

    The article is here: http://www.kombo.com/article.php?artid=13410

    It doesn't say where he got his info.

    ReplyDelete
  161. More responses:

    Samuli: Thanks for the correction. His is now Finnish.

    Anonymous 1 and Spence: Thanks for the theory, but Spence is right. No kinkajous here.

    Grimmfresh: You’re guessing that the name of the Mario character Daisy comes from a Mario game? By god! You’re right. Why didn’t I think of that?

    Migaloo: Cammy = camouflage. A good point. I’ve incorporated it into the post.

    Paula: Agreed that Sean might not be a typical Brazilian name, but Elena isn’t a typical name for an African princess and if Rose is truly from Italy, shouldn’t she be Rosa? I’m willing to allow for creative license on Capcom’s part. As for the Fernandez/Belnades thing, I’m actually surprised that the surname hasn’t been transliterated as Bernardez yet, given that Konami seems to play pretty loose when they transliterate. I remember the pun on squall and cloud, now that you bring it up. A nice touch. I’ve never actually played Final Fantasy X, sadly, and therefore can’t weigh in on the matter of how Tidus’s name should be pronounced. As for Final Fantasy VII, I’m always been kind of unimpressed with it. But even though it doesn’t interest me greatly and even though there’s already tons written about it online, I suppose I should have mentioned the Aeris/Aerith confusion and all the meaning people tend to read into it.

    Anonymous 2: The Bill & Ted connection to Bullet Bill and Torpedo Ted does seem obvious now that you bring it up, but it had never occurred to me before. Also: What a dated reference.

    Pati: Actually, If you take Leonora to be related to Eleanor, then there’s no linguistic attachment to “lion.” But Ursula is often cited as meaning “she-bear.”

    Jonathan: You’re either very confused or a malfunctioning spam bot.

    Anonymous 3: If you can dig up anywhere that says Hinawa’s name means “sunflower,” I’ll gladly put it in. At this point, the fact that both she and her husband’s names would derive from guns seems like a better explanation. So says me, anyway.

    G: Wait. So Satsui no Hadou ni Mezameta Ryu was coined by Capcom USA. But it’s still the character’s name in Japan, right? Or in Japan they just call him Evil Ryu or whatever the Japanese equivalent of that would be? Thanks for the tip.

    Anonymous 4: Yes, that names does indeed suck.

    Michael: Glad you liked it.

    RuneBlade: Whoa. Thanks for the correction, but no need for hatred. I’ve kind of avoided all the comics stuff. Glad I did, since it’s apparently pretty dense.

    Saori: Indeed, Chanterelle is a very good name for a singing mushroom. Nintendo teaches us so much.

    Guy: Not that I want an argument here, but just to be clear, the name Ovi Kintobor has never appeared in games, right? Excuse my ignorance, but there’s apparently a lot about the Sonic games that I don’t know.

    Anonymous 5: I saw that article, actually. It’s the only one I’ve seen that mentions Larry Williams in connection with Larry Koopa. Could well be the case, given that no one else seems to have an especially good theory about Larry’s namesake. But that article also claims that Super Mario World was originally designed as an NES game, which I hadn’t heard before. Again, not saying it’s wrong, but I’d have to poke around before I could make a call one way or the other.

    ReplyDelete
  162. Anonymous8:06 PM

    G: Wait. So Satsui no Hadou ni Mezameta Ryu was coined by Capcom USA. But it’s still the character’s name in Japan, right? Or in Japan they just call him Evil Ryu or whatever the Japanese equivalent of that would be? Thanks for the tip.

    You seem to have been confused by what G wrote. The story goes that Capcom USA came up with the character of Evil Ryu. It is not likely that Capcom USA also gave Evil Ryu his Japanese name, which is "Satsui no Hadou ni Mezameta Ryu" (or, as G pointed out, "Satsui Ryu" for short). So Capcom USA designed the character, Capcom Japan gave him his Japanese name.

    Evil Ryu's Japanese name is not a literal translation of "Evil Ryu", probably because it doesn't sound right in Japanese. Similarly, the literal translation of the Japanese name, "Ryu, who has awoken to the hadou of murderous intent", sounds wonky in English.

    ReplyDelete
  163. In regards to Trevor Pearlharbor, roto13 kinda mentioned it already, but one of the theories behind Killer7's story is a strong theme of Japanese invasion into the U.S. It has a lot of subtle references to WWII (and not so subtle ones) and then focuses, also, on the invasion through culture, how the U.S. is becoming more and more entranced by Anime, Video Games, and Power Rangers and stuff. So the name is very fitting. Check out GameFAQs... there is a great plot analysis FAQ on Killer7 there.

    Also, "King" in Art of Fighting's name is easily explained. I can't remember where I heard this from, but I remember that in the original Art of Fighting, King purposefully played herself off as a male because she was the owner of the bar (her original background in AoF), and if the thugs who frequented it knew the owner was a female, they'd be a lot less respectful of her property.

    ReplyDelete
  164. Anonymous6:32 AM

    Gannon is translation error. Dragmire is also translation only(and one game only)

    I heard that Town/Sage names are just literally translated from japanese ones...(blame the translators) Like how Link is written Rinku or something like that in japanese...

    Why do you people seem to think Robotnik as cooler name than Eggman?... I prefer Eggman...

    You forgot to mention that Akuma's japanese name is Gouki.

    I'm myself confused wether Poison and Roxy are really male or not... Since apparently someone complained about them being female(those day fighting girls was seen pretty problematic) so they said that they are transexuals...

    Actually for some reason Amakusa was woman is Japan anime adaption too....

    I like Grandleon better than Masamune... Since Grandleon/Masamune doesn't look like an Japanese sword...(its clearly western)

    I don't see hows Pudding is worse than other food names... I have seen that as name before..

    And I disagree at Mars being better name than Marth. I also disagree at Wander(no reason), Exdeath(My fav FF villain + cool name) and Geese Howard(cool villain having ordinary name is hilarious(maybe its just suppose to sound american? You know maybe to japanese it doesn't sound funny))being bad names...

    P.S... And to reply before anyone else. Ovi Kintobor is comic only name.

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  165. I didn't quiet understand how a character got its name based on a Korean dish, specially dolsot bibimbap.

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  166. No one got its name from bibimbap. That just happens to be one of the names that the creator of Bowser considered before he chose Koopa, which itself is said to be derived from a transliteration of another Korean dish, gugbab.

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  167. Who still says the Japanese version of Seiken Densetsu 2 still has default names??

    I own the actual Japanese game, and much like the US version (Secret of Mana) and the GameBoy prequel, you -cannot- have a "default" name because the game will not provide one and will not accept -a blank- as your name.

    In the Japanese manual, the given names are "Hero", "Girl", "Sprite" -- and then in the screenshots I recall they all alluded to "Squa" and "Reh" as part of "Square Soft."

    The closest I can speculate when it comes to the origin of Randi/Purim/Popoi is maybe it came from a magazine preview given by Square. Perhaps Gamest of Famitsu. Since I don't have any on hand, this is all still speculation. I do know that the SD2 manual has no citation of "Randi" anywhere, and the game (or ROM if you want to see for yourself) will not have default names.

    (Sorry, I tend to spout like this on the SD1 board @ GameFAQs about this. This article was an entertaining read nonetheless!)

    ~Kaz

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  168. Generic7:41 AM

    @Drew

    Ovi Kintobor isn't used in the games.
    It's very common to people to mix the comics/shows with the games. For example besides a cameo on a pinball game, the very know character Sally never was a character of the game's canon and there are uninformed people who thinks that Gerald Robotnik (Eggman's Grandfather) is the Dr. Robotnik from older games and Eggman a diffrent character.

    Robotnik is Eggman real name without doubt.
    If you wish to include more references about it you have diffrent media that states this after the merge.
    In Sonic Adventure the villain is refered by the two diffrent names "Dr. Eggman" and "Dr. Robotnik"
    In Sonic Adventure 2: while the Doctor is only refered by "Dr. Eggman" his family is refered as the "Robotnik" family and in a cutsceen his empire is refered as "Robotnik" Empire.
    In Sonic X, an anime based on the games, his family is named "Robotnik" and his profile after the "Sonic Adventure 2" Chapter states that Robotnik is his real name.
    In Sonic Raiders, most of boards that the characters use to race are made by a company controlled by Eggman named "Robotnik Inc."
    In Sonic Chronicles for DS: Dr. Eggman refering himself as "Dr. Robotnik" in one dialog
    And Finally, the recent Sonic Unleashed's Manual in the Characters field Eggman is listed as "Dr. Eggman (A.K.A. Dr. Robotnik)"

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  169. Currently I have nothing that could be added in this post or comments. I just wanted to say that this is an awesome post. I learned new things about my favourite video games, and they were all quite interesting. Thanks for that!

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  170. Having been curious about the name "Hinawa" myself, I looked it up on Jim Breen's online translation site and found out that hinawa is the Japanese word for "fuse" (from hi meaning fire and nawa meaning rope). This seems to further prove that "Flint" and "Hinawa" are gun (or possibly explosives) related.

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  171. Obviously you posted this quite some time ago, but, having only just found your blog recently, I wanted to say it's a great read! I did have one thought, though"

    On the subject of Pit, in the past I've idly speculated that the name comes from some weird corruption of "putto", which is a more proper name for the winged babies that most people (incorrectly, apparently) call "cherubs" or "cherubim". (I don't know how to insert a hyperlink, so here's what wikipedia has to say on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putto )

    Anyway, terrific work!

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  172. It's a bit late, but I found a Japanese Mario name source:

    (From the official Nintendo Magazine, Japanese version, as hosted on the Japanese Nintendo official site):

    http://www.nintendo.co.jp/nom/9908/profile/index.html

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  173. Just wanted to echo that your otherwise quite scholarly work here is terribly marred by grammar and spelling issues, and translate/transliterate confusion. I'd suggest getting someone you trust to read it over for you and make corrections.

    Also Gestalt references a psychology theory about "unity of mind" which would make sense for a conquering emperor.

    Otherwise, lots of awesome stuff, and having Riktov pop in and mention "Magic of Scheherezade" (even if he didn't do it by name!) made it doubly cool!

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  174. Anonymous6:22 AM

    Technically, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is named after the Reznor heaters. Reznor heaters of Mercer, PA was owned by Trent's grandfather. (And built in the town he was born and grew up in, Mercer PA)

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  175. I had played the Super mario many times but could not reach the queen as i got into some or the other trap many times. Though i am pretty close to it wish me luck.

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  176. Oh, and Mario's name theory, possibly the Nintendo Landlord one according to Miyamoto:


    Miyamoto : "Mario" is named NOA (Nintendo of America), but I put people who,

    I think that can be read as Mario being named by Nintendo of America, supporting the traditional theory about his name. Sorry if it's not clear, it's because Google Translate isn't very good at making Japanese sound remotely fluent when translated. But it's hard to find a source for any Nintendo character names from the top.

    Edit: Look for it under New Super Mario Bros Wii on Nintendo's Japanese website. Something about an interview.

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  177. Sorry for the late comment, but... they translated it, and Mario was probably named in the way people think he was:

    http://us . wii.com/ iwata_ asks /n smb/vol1_ pa ge 2. j sp

    Remove spaces.

    I felt that I had come up with a pretty solid character, which is why I thought: "Right, I'll keep using him from now on!" That's why I decided a solid, imposing name like "Mr. Video" would work best. But thinking back, I don't think I should have gone with that name. Someone at Nintendo of America actually came up with the name Mario. If he had been called "Mr. Video," he might have disappeared off the face of the earth. (laughs)

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  178. InuLink8:26 PM

    I'd like to share some things, that probably have small, or no link to this article barely at all. Chu Chus, a creature in LoZ, is named not for a sound mice make, but for a kissing sound, told i believe in wind wakers figurine store when the figurine is accquired, which could have something to do with pikachu.

    Also, Gulliver, from the animal crossing game series, is sortof a reference to Gulliver's Travels, as original Animal Crossing Gulliver travels by ship. Gulliver also makes references to Toad Town, and I believe a LoZ town, both references being in the first animal crossing.

    And to add to Metroid, Samus was born on the human planet K-2L, whereas later(and im guessing many years later) everyone but Samus was killed on the planet by the Space Pirates and their leader, Ridley, which would give a 2nd explanation why Samus chases after Ridley to Tallon IV in Prime 1, to get revenge, which, i guess would explain why she is a bounty hunter in the first place. And for Justin Bailey, im not sure, but try looking for a person named Justin that had anything to do with Metroid, or anything around its time-of-making. I heard he mightve been a person that hacked and inputted the justin bailey code before Metroids release, but it seems very unlikely.

    Anyway, very nice article. I learned alot of stuff for the variety of games i play. ^-^

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  179. ... HyneDAMMIT, I hate when I type a big ol' spiel only to have it whisked away. So, CliffNotes time:

    1) "cha" may be a Cajun-esque "child".
    2) Such French-like end-syllable droppings that still pervade ebonic dialects make me think of Cait Sith and the Ragnarok example, where the last syllable, if "Sith" is as it is in Star Wars, is dropped, with my rationalizations being non-vital/prominence(?) (unlike for "Aerith"), simplicity *"Ketto Shii" possibly being 'long'), and possibly awkwardness *would "Shiisu" be an odd occurance in Japanese?).
    3) In forgetting what my other response would've been:
    3a) "Tom Nook", when blended, sounds like "Tanook", of "Tanooki"/"Tanuki".
    3b) Assuming this was before the DS version, Magus has gained another title/moniker, the Fiendlord.
    4) Dissonance on which names I do or don't like, and do or don't prefer.
    4a) According to a baby names book I purchased because of its inclusion, "Mash" is African, though for what, I'm not bothered to check at this hour (and after losing my last attempt).
    4b/5) I may say later, since I've got this place RSS'd, an interesting find for clicking on the non-wiki Calcabrina image selection on a Google Search.

    *sigh* There, pretty much salvaged, I guess.

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  180. You mention that there's a nice relationship between the names Celes and Terra that exists in the English translation but isn't present in Japanese because Terra was originally named Tina. That does lead, however, to another potential reference: the medieval Spanish novel "La Celestina". In that work, the titular Celestina is a witch of sorts, and in FFVI, Celes and Tina/Terra are the two characters who begin the game able to use magic. Probably a coincidence, but it's a *nice* coincidence.

    Although it looks like Sabin's name really "should" be Matthew, his original Japanese name (transliterated, "Masshu") really can only mean "mash", as in the Japanese loanword for mashed potatoes, "masshupoteto". A recent Ultimania (produced by Square) suggests his given name is "Macias" (mashiasu), nickname "Mash" (masshu). Verdict: it's weird!

    Mido: I never knew that he was named after a town from Zelda II -- I always thought that his name was a sort of a pun. Mido appears in Kokiri Village, which is in the woods, and all the inhabitants wear green. The Japanese word for green is "midori".

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  181. Hobbs: In case you're interested, the post on Terra/Celes is here.

    http://kidicarus222.blogspot.com/2008/08/tiny-earth.html

    And thanks for the tip about Celestina. Never thought of that one.

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  182. Thanks for sending this to me, Drew.

    Two things:

    1) It looks like I was probably wrong about the origin of "éire"--wikipedia lists it as a "largely discredited etymology"

    2) "Samus" and "aran" don't mean anything in Japanese, "samasu" means "wake," as in "to awaken," and "aranu" means "riot." Make of that what you will.

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  183. I love when I'm searching for random shit and your blog pops up! This time it was I was Googling "Zelda Windwaker" for Offbeat Bride and POOF! there you were! :)

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  184. I was just talking about the Koopa Kids with my boyfriend, and we looked up their names. He then pointed out that perhaps an unintended consequence of naming one of them Morton Koopa Jr. is that it implies that Bowser's full name is actually Morton Koopa (or it's the name of whatever the Koopa Kids have for a mother). If that is the case, then it is perhaps no surprise that he chose for himself the decidedly more sinister nickname Bowser.

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  185. Anonymous5:21 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this over the course of about three hours. I just wanted to point out that the German "Heiss" is a reference to actual tempurature, not "hot" as America now knows it.

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  186. Seems interesting

    Well, I actually like this feature.


    This'll work PERFECTLY for YouTube annotation games!

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  187. Seems interesting

    Well, I actually like this feature.


    This'll work PERFECTLY for YouTube annotation games!

    ReplyDelete
  188. Re: Chrono Trigger's Glenn, the idea has been thrown out that it's short (and R/L transposed) for grenouille, which means frog in French. I always change his name back to Glenn when I play anyway, because I think "Frog" is a stupid name. Same goes for Skelly and Funguy in Chrono Cross.

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  189. Anonymous11:22 AM

    This article is so long it made me want to kill myself.

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  190. Logan C Monceaux1:36 PM

    You know, Exodus could has worked as a name for Exdeath. An Exodus is a large sending of people from a hostile environment. Exdeath wanted to send the entire world into the void, as well as himself. If you think about it, the existing universe is the ultimate form of anarchy. Everything is different from what's next to it, and spread out randomly, whereas in the void, all is the same nothingness. He was to be the exodus from the hostility of the chaotic universe.

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  191. Wow, exciting content. I love your posted anime review here. I just collect my Jojo's Bizarre toy for my younger brother and PS3 DVD for mine at PIJ. Now I look forward to collect these another anime toys from there too. Its really amazing.
    http://bit.ly/jojofigures

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  192. Found a few things, A reference to the "Caepora" of brazil etc.
    http://www.brasiliana.usp.br/bbd/bitstream/handle/1918/01000700/010007_COMPLETO.pdf.txt
    It's an 1870's account fo a journey trough the jungle. Found the Language it's from, Arawakan, a native brazilian language that translates it as dweller or person of the forest.

    The other thing to realize is that a greek word for "Eat" is "Boros" or "Vorous", from Latin Vorare. So Mal - Boro would mean bad eating, in latin and greek, int he same way as television is a portmanteau of latin and greek.

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