Your Favorite Video Game Character Names Explained

Video games have come a long way over the years. They hit the scene in the 1970s with basic graphics but have morphed into sophisticated works of art that cover every genre. 

Throughout their evolution, we’ve been introduced to a fascinating cast of characters who star in these games. They range from lifelike personalities to strange and wonderful creatures that spring from the imaginations of their creators. They have become household names, and some of those names have quite intriguing backstories.

So come with us and take a look at some of our favorite video game characters and how their names came to be.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Would everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog hero be the same if he was named Mr. Needlemouse? It’s hard to imagine, but he might have been. Needlemouse happens to be a literal translation of the Japanese word for hedgehog, and Sonic’s initial prototype was known as “Mr. Needlemouse.” Sonic means “of or relating to sound,” and since this hedgehog can run faster than the speed of sound, Sonic it is. 

Fun fact: there’s a gene in our bodies named Sonic Hedgehog. And it’s not a nickname either. According to the National Institute of Health: “Sonic Hedgehog plays a role in cell growth, cell specialization, and the normal shaping (patterning) of the body. This protein is important for development of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), eyes, limbs, and many other parts of the body.” Pretty cool, right? A researcher working at the lab that first uncovered the gene took the name from his daughter’s comic book.

Zelda 

Princess Zelda of the popular series The Legend of Zelda got her name from a famous lady: Zelda Fitzgerald, novelist and wife of Francis Scott Fitzgerald. The game’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, explains, “She 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.” What an honor.

Cortana

Cortana hails from the runaway hit series Halo. She’s an artificial intelligence and Master Chief’s right-hand lady. Her name reportedly stems from the word Curtana, which was the name of a sword used by a legendary knight named Ogier the Dane. With a lowercase Ccurtana, is a noun defined as “the unpointed sword carried before an English sovereign at a coronation as an emblem of mercy.” Evidence of the word dates back to the 1400s, stemming from the Latin word curtus meaning “short.”

Fun fact: Cortana is also the name for Microsoft’s personal productivity assistant—a rival to Siri. It was only supposed to be a temporary code name, but it stuck.

Mario 

Oh, Mario. He’s one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, but he wasn’t always named Mario. He first made an appearance in Donkey Kongwhere he was dubbed “Jumpman.” He was also a plumber back then and not the carpenter we know him to be today. 

His current name was chosen after the landlord at Nintendo’s US office interrupted a meeting to try to collect overdue rent. The landlord’s name? Mario Segale. Fun fact: Mario’s last name is also Mario, so his full name is Mario Mario.

Luigi 

Mario’s little brother’s name, Luigi, isn’t quite as dramatic. It’s rumored to have come from a pizza place named Mario & Luigi’s, which was located near Nintendo’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. That would be a fine story, if it were true. The real one isn’t quite as tantalizing. Sources say that because the Luigi character is just a “color swap of Mario,” developers used the Japanese word Ruiji, which means “similar,” and it morphed into Luigi.

Kratos

Star of the God of War franchise, Kratos is one badass protagonist. His name comes straight from the pages of Greek mythology, where he was known as the god of strength and power. A demigod, his lineage is a bit murky. Some say he’s the son of Titans Pallas and Styx (goddess of the River Styx), while others say he’s the son of Zeus. Either way, he has some serious cred.

The funny thing, however, is that the video game character wasn’t based on the mythological figure. In fact, Kratos at one point was to be called “Dominus,” but the studio’s marketing department nixed that, and Kratos was eventually born.

Fun fact: the first name of the game’s creator (Sig Asmussen) was also in the running for a bit as someone mistakenly thought his name on a document meant it was one of the choices up for consideration (it wasn’t).

Pikachu

Ah, Pikachu, that cute little Pokémon character the world has grown to love. His name evolved from the combination of two Japanese words—pika, a word for lightning flashing (since he’s an electric-type Pokémon) and chu, which is used to refer to the squeaking sound mice make. And let’s face it, Pikachu sounds a whole lot cuter than “lightning squeak.”

Pac-Man

This is why we can’t have nice things. The original name for this addictive game (starring a character by the same name) was Puckman in Japan. The name had nothing to do with the character’s looks (though he does look kind of puck-like). Rather puck refers to his chronic chomping, the Japanese word for which is paku. There were worries, however, about potty-mouthed defacers in the US replacing the P with an F, and so it became Pac-Man instead and still is to this day. 

Donkey Kong 

It’s a strange name for an ape and a game with no donkeys, but Donkey Kong has reigned king of the video games for years. The Kong is simple, as it’s a reference to another famous ape—King Kong. It’s the Donkey that’s more curious and has sparked numerous theories, including one that claims the name was mistranslated from Japanese (monkey was confused with donkey), but the merchandise was printed before the error was discovered, so they just went with it. The game’s creator, however, says it was no mistake, and they used donkey to convey the character’s stubborn nature.

Princess Peach Toadstool

While she goes by Peach or Princess Peach for short, her full, glorious name is Princess Peach Toadstool. But once upon a time, the darling of the Super Mario series had a name that was a bit less sweet—plain old Princess Toadstool. When the game was brought to the United States, they didn’t think the name Peach (as she was called in Japan) had anything to do with the mushroom kingdom, so Princess Toadstool it was. It wasn’t until Super Mario 64 that they brought back the name Peach, and she’s been Princess Peach Toadstool ever since, though most people just refer to her as Princess Peach. 

 

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