Ever wonder how some of the most famous video games ended up with the names we have all come to know and love? We’ve compiled a list of some of the best stories behind famous video game titles, from Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last stab at working in the games industry with Final Fantasy, to DOOM being inspired by a certain 1986 Tom Cruise film. Here’s how some of the industries most popular games got their names.
Originally, Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson simply referred to Minecraft as “cave game” during the first stages of development. In a YouTube video published back in 2009, Notch showed off his “cave game” for the first time, a clone of similarly styled block-based sandbox game by developer Zachtronics Industries titled Infiniminer. One day later, Notch announced a lengthier title on his blog, Minecraft: Order of the Stone. Notch says, “The awesome but insane people in #tigirc helped me come up with a title for this game, and it’s Minecraft: Order of the Stone. Minecraft because it’s a good name. Order of the Stone because it sounds like Order of the Stick, one of the best things on the internet,” with Order of the Stick referencing the popular webcomic series by Rich Burlew. The title was shortened to just Minecraft, but in 2015 the name was revamped for Telltale’s episodic Minecraft Story Mode: The Order of the Stone.
Thanks to the man who suggested Minecraft himself, @rinkuhero on Twitter, you can check out the #tigirc log to see the moment Minecraft: The Order of the Stone was chosen by Notch. (9:05:08 to be exact) Other suggestions included Digmaker, Stonelands, Kidcave, Cavecraft, and many more in a long brainstorming process before the final name was official chosen.
The Legend of Zelda
What video game franchise has become more household name than The Legend of Zelda? Across its numerous releases since the original in 1986, Zelda has become a titan in the industry as arguably the most recognizable series known to gamers. However, for those who have ever dressed up as Link for Halloween and been mistakenly called Zelda all night, the question as to why it’s not called The Legend of Link comes to mind. The answer to this is surprisingly simple: game creator Shigeru Miyamoto just really loves the name Zelda.
Miyamoto first heard the name Zelda in reference to American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda Fitzgerald. In a 2007 interview with journalist Todd Mowatt, Miyamoto stated through a translator, “Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. 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.” For a look at the beauty that inspired the name of the series, check out Zelda Fitzgerald’s wiki page here. A novelist herself, one can only wonder if she ever thought her name would become one of the most recognizable in video game history.
The origination of the Kingdom Hearts franchise name arose through both a combination of IP licensing issues and a nod towards the lore of the game itself. In an E3 2013 interview with Kingdom Hearts director Tetsuya Nomura, he stated that initially he wanted to find a title that fit the Disney aesthetic, similar to the types of words used in Disney theme parks. The word Kingdom came to mind, and in the interview Nomura says, “I couldn’t get the IP of ‘Kingdom.’ So, we thought about ‘Heart’ as a core part of the story, and we combined them together.”
In Kingdom Hearts mythology, a heart, body, and soul are the three components that make up a being. Exactly what constitutes a heart is researched in the Ansem Reports collected by the player in Kingdom Hearts I and II. What is gathered is that a heart contains both lightness and darkness. Like a spectrum, beings can rest on a scale ranging from the seven maidens of pure-light with no darkness in their hearts, to the shadow-consumed Heartless that engage with protagonist Sora as the enemies of the game. The largest heart of all is that of the Kingdom Hearts, full of wisdom and power it stands as the physical representation for the game’s title.
Luckily, the name of this series didn’t just stick to Kingdom as Nomura originally intended. By adding Hearts to the title, it gives the franchise more depth in its meaning. In the true spirit of Disney meets Final Fantasy, the whimsical nature of the word Kingdom combines with the complex lore known to the Final Fantasy franchise in Hearts to formulate a title that is as meaningful as it is catchy.
This series’ title is founded on the feelings of desperation game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi felt when he was experiencing hesitancy in remaining in the games industry during the development of what would eventually become Final Fantasy. Some believe the Final in Final Fantasy references Square Enix (formally Square) allegedly being on the brink of bankruptcy during its production. However, in a 2007 interview Sakaguchi stated, “The name ‘Final Fantasy’ was a display of my feeling that if this didn’t sell, I was going to quit the games industry and go back to university. I’d have had to repeat a year, so I wouldn’t have had any friends – it really was a ‘final’ situation.”
Therefore, the name was inspired not by financial issues from the publisher, but through the personal fear this might be Sakaguchi’s last chance at working in an industry he loved. With Final Fantasy XV right around the corner, it seems that Sakaguchi’s final jab in the games industry wasn’t so final after all.
Although the Donkey part might require some more explaining, the Kong portion of this game’s protagonist simply stems from the fact that kong is a Japanese nickname for ape, along with the popularity of the 1933 classic film King Kong that showcased a massive gorilla.
Some believe the Donkey of Donkey Kong came about because of a mistranslation of Monkey Kong from Japanese to English due to either a blurry fax or miscommunication during a phone call. However, the more credible story is that designer Shigeru Miyamoto was looking in an English dictionary for a word similar to stubborn, and stumbled across donkey. In Steven Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games, he says, “Since Miyamoto spoke only a little English, he used a Japanese-English dictionary to find the correct words for the title. He wanted to name the game after the ape – ‘Stubborn Gorilla.’ Looking in the dictionary, Miyamoto selected the word donkey as a synonym for ‘stubborn’ and the word Kong for ‘gorilla.” Thus, Donkey Kong was born.
During one of the interviews for IGN’s extensive 2013 investigation into the History of Naughty Dog, the origin story for how the Uncharted name came to be was shared while talking with Naughty Dog’s Co-President Evan Wells. In 2006, Naughty Dog’s latest unnamed series was nearly ready to be revealed at E3. All they needed was a name to end off the reveal trailer with. Wells said to IGN, “We put the name in the trailer. It was going to be Uncharted. We made our peace with it and said, ‘Okay, this is going to be awesome.’”
However, former PlayStation Executive Vice-President Phil Harrison had an issue with the name Uncharted, as those from the UK had a negative connotation with the word that was often used to describe a media that didn’t do well, or was unable to reach the top charts. The studio opted to just place a Naughty Dog logo at the end of the video, which inspired an onslaught of “Dude Raider” comments from Internet users due to the game’s similarities with the Lara Croft franchise, Tomb Raider. Three months later, Harrison came around and decided Uncharted was a fitting name for the series, but the Dude Raider nickname has somewhat stuck around since then.
Super Mario Bros.
It appears both the name and Italian heritage for everyone’s favorite suspender-wearing plumber stems from a real man, namely Mario Segale. Back during Nintendo’s origins in the 1980’s, Segale rented a warehouse to the developers that served as their headquarters. Nintendo of America (NOA) was having financial trouble while trying to launch Donkey Kong, and according to Technologizer the legend states that after a heated argument arose regarding the payment of back rent, NOA president Minoru Arakawa noticed similarities between Segale and their short and dark-haired sprite, and decided to nickname him Mario after their landlord. All the while assuring him he would be paid, of course.
As for the Bros. portion of Super Mario Bros., brother Luigi’s name came to fruition through a combination of pizza and Japanese word similarity. It’s said that a pizza parlor near Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington was named Mario and Luigi’s, and designer Shigeru Miyamoto noticed that the word ruiji translates to ‘similar’ in Japanese. Fitting, as he was attempting to design Luigi in a way that similar in size, shape, and gameplay to protagonist Mario.
In an interview with Doomworld, lead programmer John Carmack explains that for a while DOOM was set to be named ‘It’s Green and It’s Pissed’ until Carmack watched a particular scene in the 1986 film, The Color of Money. He says, “There is a scene in The Color of Money where Tom Cruise shows up at a pool hall with a custom pool cue in a case. ‘What do you have in there?’ asks someone. ‘Doom,’ replied Cruise with a cocky grin. That, and the resulting carnage, was how I viewed us (id Software) springing the game on the industry.”
Check out the scene that inspired DOOM’s name here. Perhaps it would have been apropos for DOOM to have a pool minigame in tribute, or at least a Tom Cruise cameo.
Pokémon truly is a unifier when it comes to bringing together the gaming industries in the East and West, and it’s fitting that the way Pokémon got its name was by smashing together Japanese and English etymology through a process called wasei-eigo. Wasei-eigo, or ‘Japanese-made English’ refers to language expressions that appear to originate from English, but are actually from Japan. Other examples include words like reberu appu meaning level up, or kikkubokushingu that becomes kickboxing.
For the creation of Pokémon’s name, Japanese speakers took the English words they wished to associate with their series, being ‘pocket’ and ‘monster’, and transformed them so they sounded more similar to Japanese phrasing. Thus the first syllables of those words, poketto monsutā, were spliced together to form the powerhouse that is Pokémon.
Chris Kramer, Senior Director of Communications and Community at Capcom US, explained the reasoning behind Resident Evil’s title in a 2009 interview with GamesRadar. Back in 1994 when Capcom US was beginning marketing plans for Resident Evil, they arrived at an issue when it came to naming the title in the US. In Japan, the game was set to be named Biohazard, but Kramer pointed out getting that name registered in the US would be next to impossible. Kramer says, “I pointed out that a crappy ODS-based game had just come out in the US called ‘Biohazard’ (not to mention the New York hardcore band of the same name) and that we’d never be able to secure the mark. As a result, the head of marketing held a company-wide contest to come up with a new name for the game.”
That new name eventually became Resident Evil, a pun referencing that the first in the series was set in a mansion. The individual who came up with the chosen name was a designer at Capcom Digital Studios, and Kramer notes he voted against the name when it was suggested, thinking it was “super cheesy.” Hopefully he has come around to it since then, as Capcom states in their sales data that over 100 titles have been released (including various console versions, spin-offs, etc.) under the header of Resident Evil thus far.
Do you have a favorite story on how a game got its name? Or what about your favorite video game name of all time? Let us know down below.