The History of Mario's Name
History of Mario
Before Mario was "Mario," he went through three different names in Japan: Ossan, Mr. Video, and Jumpman.
Here's the evolution of Mario's name, in Japanese and English:
As we've seen in Donkey Kong's Fuzzy History, Mario's early history is not always clear. One such part is how Mario got his name. The story has been told many times -- but not always accurately.
Don James, now the Nintendo of America (NOA) Executive Vice President of Operations, was part of the group of NOA employees who gave Mario his name. In February 2012, he told the story in Game|Life Podcast episode 018 (the interview starts at 51:16):
A long time ago, they sent Donkey Kong over to us when we were at a little tiny warehouse down at Southcenter in Seattle. We were standing out there, myself and Mr. Minoru Arakawa, who was president [of NOA] at the time, and the character in Donkey Kong was called Jumpman in Japan, and they said, what do you want to name it in the USA? And so we sat there and we thought, the guy who owned the lease on our facility was named Mario Segale, and so we thought, this guy is a recluse, no one's ever actually met him, so we thought, "wouldn't it be a great joke if we named this character Mario?" And so we said, "that's great," and we sent a telex to Japan, and that's how Mario got his name.
When people who weren't there report the story, we get some interesting results.
Let's start with the most well-known version of the story, written by David Sheff in his book Game Over, first published in 1993. The following excerpt is from page 109:
[The NOA staff was] trying to decide what to call the rotund, red-capped carpenter, when there was a knock at the door.
If that last line sounds a bit odd to you, it's because Mario wasn't called "Super Mario" until Super Mario Bros. was released (about four years after Donkey Kong). It's quite possible the embellishments in Sheff's account don't end there.
This next quote is from what is likely the first time the story was told to the public: A Reuters article from 1986.
[Shigeru Miyamoto] said the character was dubbed Mario by colleagues who said the big nose, moustache and overalls resembled the Italian caretaker at the small New York hotel where Nintendo employees stay in the United States.
It's easy to pass off the inconsistencies as translation errors, but Miyamoto gave a similar account to MTV.com in September 2005:
"Apparently the landlord of the warehouse in New York had a striking resemblance to the character that we had designed in Japan for the game," said Miyamoto. The New York-based Nintendo players took note. "They kept calling him Mario, and eventually we made that the formal name of the character."
It looks like Miyamoto was under the impression that NOA's warehouse was in New York instead of Seattle. And as far as we know, no one at NOA has mentioned any resemblance between Mario and Mario Segale.
Lastly, here's a quote from a Japanese picture book titled "The Stars of Famicom Games," published in December 1989, and translated by Chris Covell in 2010.
Even the name "Mario" and the idea for his moustache were borrowed from a man living in the same apartment as a Nintendo employee in the United States.
This version of the story further shows the confusion in Japan about Mario's name origin. By the way, though the name was borrowed, the moustache was not: Miyamoto has stated that Mario's moustache was a design choice based on the limited amount of pixels available.
Super Mario Bros.: The Movie
Taking the "Mario Bros." label literally, the Super Mario Bros. movie called the duo "Mario Mario" and "Luigi Mario." It's not too crazy to think that if the movie were a smash hit, Nintendo might have adopted the full names for the Mario brothers. But the official story is that the Mario Bros. don't have last names. "Mario is really just Mario and Luigi is really just Luigi," Shigeru Miyamoto said in a recent interview with Game Informer. He also told Game Informer what he thinks of the name "Mario Mario":
There was a scene in the [Super Mario Bros. movie] script where they needed a last name for the characters. Somebody suggested that, because they were the Mario Bros., their last name should be Mario. So, they made him "Mario Mario." I heard this and laughed rather loudly.
Prima game guides
At least two game guides published by Prima Games have used the "Mario" surname.
Prima's Mario Party 2 guide, released January 27, 2000, includes a helpful "Note" on page 5: "Did you know that Mario's full name is Mario Mario?"
The Prima Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga guide introduces the brothers on page 31. Luigi's description starts with, "Luigi Mario is Mario's brother, and the two share in the epic adventure that is Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga together." Mario's description includes, "When it comes to beating the stuffing out of the bad guys, no one in the Beanbean or Mushroom Kingdom does it better than Mario Mario." This guide was released on November 25, 2003.
This sighting of the "full names" didn't get much attention: A flyer for the 3-in-1 Donkey Kong / Donkey Kong Jr. / Mario Bros. arcade machine released in 2004. A line from the Mario Bros. game description reads, "Two brothers, Mario Mario and Luigi Mario must defeat various critters who come pouring out of the waterworks." Perhaps someone at Namco was a fan of the movie.
It's possible that there are more non-Nintendo publications that have used "Mario Mario" or "Luigi Mario." Let us know if you seen these names anywhere else and we'll add the info to this page.
Thanks: The Chef.