Mario’s surname

The Nintendo video game character Mario has gone through a number of name changes throughout the years – including, controversially, whether he has a surname or not.

Mario and Luigi hats
Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When Mario first appeared, in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, he was nameless. The creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, had the name “Mr. Video” in mind, but the game’s protagonist did not get an actual name until the game came over to the United States.

At that time, Mario was thought of only as “Jumpman” because of his signature jumping manoeuvre. He picked up his first name as a result of a rather unfortunate chain of events. In 1980, Nintendo of America was in trouble. The subsidiary’s founder (and son-in-law of the Nintendo president) Minoru Arakawa had made a big bet on a game called Radar Scope, but only managed to sell one third of them. Two thousand unsold arcade machines sat in a warehouse in Seattle, and Nintendo of America apparently didn’t have the funds to pay the rent. The name of the warehouse landlord? Mario Segale.

Nintendo back in Japan designed a new game that could be retrofit into those Radar Scope machines. That game was Donkey Kong. Nintendo of America put together the marketing materials for their new game, and when it came time to think of a local name for the protagonist they went with someone they knew: Segale.

Donkey Kong was an enormous success, and in 1983 Nintendo released a spin-off, Mario Bros. This game introduced Mario’s twin brother Luigi, but the title also implied (accidentally?) that the two brothers shared the surname Mario. So, were the Mario brothers Mario Mario and Luigi Mario?

(Luigi, throughout the Mario franchise, has played the second banana to Mario’s star power. So it would be just his luck to actually have Mario as a surname. Poor guy.)

The official and unofficial word from Nintendo has bounced back and forth on this. In a 1989 TV interview, it was denied. In the 1993 live action film with Bob Hoskins, it was confirmed. In games from 2000 and 2003, it was reinforced. But when the voice actor for Mario suggested the full name in 2012, the CEO of Nintendo specifically denied it. Miyamoto, the original creator, backed up his CEO… right up until the CEO’s death in 2015, when the creator changed his tune and gave his official seal of approval to the full name. Mario’s surname is Mario.

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