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Video Game Names: Will any of them catch on?

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We’re pleased to welcome as guest blogger the prominent name scholar Cleveland Kent Evans–professor of psychology, author of several name books and a president of the American Name Society.

Fictional characters have inspired baby names for centuries. Samuel Richardson‘s novel popularized “Pamela” in the 1700s. The movie “Splash” gave us the name Madison for girls. TV characters inspired real baby Bretts (from “Maverick”) and Chandlers (from “Friends”).  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that video games now are a source for baby names.

Of course, game creators must come up with character names first. Mario, one of the most popular game characters, was called “Jumpman” in the original Japanese version of “Donkey Kong.” When Nintendo brought its games to the United States around 1982, Jumpman was going to be called “Mr. Video” in the American version. After Minoru Kawabata, president of Nintendo America, had a heated argument over warehouse rent with landlord Mario Segale, “Mr. Video” became “Mario.” Nintendo executive Shigeru Miyamoto says, “If he had been called ‘Mr. Video,’ he might have disappeared off the face of the earth.”

David Javier, who works for Tribune Inc. in Boston designing the “Asheron’s Call” series, tells me he has to follow cultural guidelines based on the game’s setting when creating names.

“For example, I named a character after my friend Eugene, but the character came from an East Asian race, so in the game he was named Yo-jin.”

A character based on Col. Tanner from the film “Red Dawn” became “Count Tenera” in a game with an Italian setting.

Video games haven’t yet had a huge impact on real baby names. Many characters have names that are too common to appeal to young parents, like Chris, Jill, and Rebecca from the hit “Resident Evil” series. Players think many fantasy names like Guybrush Threepwood from “Monkey Island” are cool, but too far-out to give a child. “Final Fantasy XIII” probably won’t inspire many namesakes. Its main characters include Lightning, Oerba Dia Vanille, Sazh Katzroy and a boy named Hope. Americans will see these as too odd to be the perfect “different but not too different” baby name.

A few game names are turning up on birth certificates. Many players I’ve consulted like Kain, from “Legends of Kain.” Thirteen Kains have been born in Nebraska since 2005. Rinoa, a Japanese version of “Lenore” created for Rinoa Heartilly in “Final Fantasy VIII,” has turned up on a few American girls. Kairi, Japanese for “ocean,” is now an American girls’ name because of a character in “Kingdom Hearts.” Five Kairis have been born in Nebraska since 2004.

Raiden is the name with the biggest potential. The name of an ancient Japanese god of thunder and lightning, it’s used for a main character in “Mortal Kombat.” Since Raiden rhymes with the hugely popular Aiden and Caden, it’s a perfect “different but not too different” choice.  In 2008, Raiden was already the 780th most popular name for American boys (note: it rose to 670 in 2009). In another decade it may be the first video game name to make the top 100.

This article appeared previously in the Omaha World-Herald and is reprinted by permission. Mr. Evans’ take on the 2009 SS list appears in that paper today.

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