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Zelda – The Legend of Zelda series (1986-present)

A fantasy action-adventure series, The Legend of Zelda is set in a fictional universe where the land of Hyrule was created by three goddesses. They leave behind a magical artefact called the Triforce – three linked golden triangles which symbolise Courage, Wisdom and Power. Although medieval in style, the Zelda series has unexpected Australian influences, with boomerangs as standard weapons and a boxing kangaroo as animal companion. The series has been immensely successful, selling over 59 million copies, and being made into an animated TV show and various comics and manga. It is the longest-running video game series so far. The eponymous Zelda is an elfin princess of Hyrule who is the Guardian of the Triforce of Wisdom. There have been many incarnations of Princess Zelda, but usually she is slender and blonde with dark blue eyes. She is often cast as a damsel in distress, who is kidnapped, imprisoned or placed under a curse, and must be rescued by the hero of the story. However, most of the Zeldas have magical or psychic powers which help to protect them. Creator Shigeru Miyamato has said that Princess Zelda’s name was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Beautiful, glamorous and daring, she was an icon of the Jazz Age, until her intensity and high spirits descended into obsession and mental illness. Zelda’s mother named her after characters in two different stories; in both of them, Zelda is a gypsy. The name is a feminine form of the Yiddish name Selig, which means “blessed, happy”. Actor and comedian Robin Williams named his daughter Zelda in 1989 because of his love for the video game series. Some of dad’s gaming must have rubbed off on Zelda, as she is now a huge Halo 3 fan. Maybe Zelda Williams’ daughter will be called Cortana …

Lara – Tomb Raider series (1996-present)

Lara Croft is the heroine of the Tomb Raider series. The daughter of an English lord, she was raised an aristocrat and attended the poshest of private schools. She could have lived in idle luxury, but instead she becomes an Indiana Jones-like archeologist, travelling the world in search of daring adventure. Each Tomb Raider game sees Lara Croft searching for artefacts possessing mystical or alien powers in ancient tombs and hazardous ruins, having to beat a sinister and shadowy league to get there first. The games are action-adventure, and require stealth, agility and puzzle-solving in order to complete each of Lara’s quests. In appearance, Lara is beautiful and athletic with long brown hair usually tied into a plait or ponytail; she is most famous for her spectacular bust line. In more recent games, Lara has been made more muscular and her proportions slightly more realistic. She is intelligent and quick-witted, and consistently shown to be confident, brave and slightly reckless. Tomb Raider has become a lucrative franchise which has spawned movies, theme park rides, merchandise, comic books, novels and an animated webseries; Lara Croft has become an iconic figure of popular culture, appearing on the covers of magazines as a celebrity. Neither damsel in distress nor love interest to a more dynamic hero, Lara was a catalyst for more strong, independent female leads in video games. Originally, the character was to be named Laura Cruz, a South American adventurer, but English creator Toby Gard was told that would not be acceptable to a US audience. (Sadly, this cultural prejudice still holds true: there has been only one Hispanic lead role in a video game – Rico Rodriguez in the Just Cause games – and fifteen years later we are still waiting for a Hispanic female lead). South American Laura Cruz became English Lara Croft; her surname was picked from a British telephone directory, but I am unsure why they changed Laura to Lara when Laura was a very popular name in the UK during the mid-90s. Lara is a Russian short form of Larisa, which may be taken from the name of an ancient Greek city; the city’s name means “stronghold”. The name Lara became known in the English-speaking world from a character of that name in Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel, Doctor Zhivago. When it was made into a successful movie starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, the name became one considered both exotic and romantic, and some of that aura still remains. I think it makes a softer and more feminine alternative to names such as Laura, Laurel or Lauren.

Coco – Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997) and beyond

Crash Bandicoot is a series of platform games which are mostly set in the fictitious Wumpa Islands, an archipelago to the south of Australia, and star an Eastern Barred Bandicoot named Crash. His quiet life is often interrupted by the villain, Dr Neo Cortex, who created Crash as part of a project to artificially evolve animals to superhuman strength. Because he cannot control Crash, Dr Cortex now wants him dead. It is the task of Crash to foil Dr Cortex and any plans for world domination he might have going as a side project. The games have been a commercial success and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. Coco Bandicoot is Crash’s younger sister, and just like him was genetically engineered by Dr Cortex. She has an IQ of 164 and is utterly fearless. She likes martial arts films, professional wrestling and NASCAR, and is a skilful scooter rider. She helps Crash by inventing gadgets for him and tagging along as a sidekick. In appearance, she’s … well … a bandicoot, with blonde hair in a ponytail and big green eyes. The game makers created her so that girl gamers could have a playable female character who wasn’t a sex symbol. It probably says something that this could only be achieved in bandicoot form. Coco is not usually a full name, but a nickname for names such as Colette or Nicolas. This was the case for Coco the Clown, whose real name was Nikolai Poliakoff, an immigrant from Latvia to the UK. (His son Michael kept the stage name Coco, moved to the US, and designed the Ronald McDonald clown). However, French fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel got her nickname from her days as a cabaret singer. She sang a song called “Coco”, which was short for coquette, used as a slang term for a kept woman or a mistress. English-speakers sometimes give this nickname to someone with brown skin or hair because it sounds like the word “cocoa”, or the breakfast cereal Coco Pops. This was chosen by actress Courtney Cox as the name of her daughter, Coco Riley Arquette, in 2004. In 2008, actress Diane Farr called one of her twin daughters Coco Trinity Chung, so it has been given the celebrity baby name seal of approval. Since then, I have seen a handful of people call their daughters Coco, and even though it is, strictly speaking, a unisex name, it now seems to be considered a feminine one only.

Ayame – Tenchu series (1998-2008)

Tenchu (Japanese for “Divine Retribution”) is a stealth game. The story takes place in 16th century Japan, and revolves around two ninjas, male and female, who serve a noble lord, working as spies to gather intelligence and uncover corruption. Their work is hampered by an evil sorcerer who sends a demon warrior after them; even after the sorcerer is finished off, the demon continues to be the main antagonist of the series for some time. Ayame is the female ninja, and although not as strong as her male counterpart, is faster and more agile. Originally named Omon, as a young girl she was found wandering in Kyoto, the city ruined by war, unable to remember anything except her name and age. She is taken in by the Master of a ninjutsu, who trains her to become a ninja. Possessed with raw talent, she is initiated at the age of 14, and takes the name Ayame, which is the Japanese word for “iris”. In appearance, Ayame is petite, with thick hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her features are elegant and feminine, but her expression is one of indifference or distaste. As a teenager, she became known for her sharp tongue, and for most of the series appears tough, bitter and sarcastic. A cold-blooded killer, she is a cunning and aggressive fighter. This name is pronounced ay-YAH-me, and has been used for other fictional characters in video games and manga. I have come across two little girls called Ayame and heard of another, so it seems to be in occasional use in Australia. The soft sound of the name and floral meaning make this an attractive and usable choice.

Rinoa – Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

Final Fantasy is a highly successful science-fantasy role-playing video game series, which has branched off into various other media, such as films, anime, books, soundtracks and merchandise. The central conflict concentrates on a group of characters battling an evil villain who dominates the world of the game. Relationships between the characters are also essential to the story, as the personal lives of the characters have a major influence on the plot. Final Fantasy is one of the best-selling video game franchises, and Final Fantasy VIII is its fastest-selling instalment. Rinoa Heartlilly is the main female character in Final Fantasy VIII, and the love interest of the hero. Seventeen years old, she is a member of a resistance faction seeking to liberate a small nation from occupation. She fights in battles, and later gains magical abilities which render her a “berserker” during warfare. She is Asian in appearance with shoulder-length dark hair, and is “cute” looking rather than beautiful, with a warm and friendly personality. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, game experts believe that Rinoa’s name is supposed to be a Japanese rendition of the name Lenore, which is a short form of Eleanor. Lenore has a long history as a literary Gothic name, appearing in a Gothic German ballad as well as a poem by Edgar Allen Poe; it is possible that this dark side was intended as part of the character of Rinoa. As there is no spoken pronunciation of her name, you can say it however you like, but RINN-oh-uh seems to be the most commonly used.

Kairi – Kingdom Hearts series (2002-present)

Kingdom Hearts is a collaboration between the makers of Final Fantasy and Disney, whereby Disney settings are crossed-over into a fictional universe, and characters from Final Fantasy interact with the player and popular Disney characters. The voice actors are an all-star cast which includes celebrities such as Jesse McCartney and Hayden Panettiere. The plot of the action role-playing game centres on a male protagonist and his journeys through various worlds accompanied by Disney characters such as Goofy and Minnie. Attacked by some mysterious beings called The Heartless and separated from his two best friends, the hero must stop the usual evil villain from gaining control over Kingdom Hearts, the heart of all worlds and a source of immense power. The series has garnered critical and commercial success, selling over 12 million copies and releasing related merchandise such as soundtracks, figurines, books and manga. Kairi is one of the hero’s best friends, and also one of the seven Princesses of Hearts – pure maidens whose hearts are free of all darkness. At the beginning of the series she is fourteen years old. The name Kairi was invented for the game and according to creator Tetsuya Nomura, her name is from the Japanese word for “sea”, just as the other two main characters’ names mean “sky” and “land”. It is pronounced KY-rhee, and has become easily accepted as a baby name here, being similar in sound to popular names such as Kyra and Kylie. There is an Australian Aboriginal tribe called the Kairi, whose name has been given to a small town in Far North Queensland, so the name does not even have a particularly foreign sound to Australian ears.

Tira – Soulcalibur III (2005) and beyond

The Soul series is a weapon-based historical-fantasy fighting game. The plot revolves around a sword, that after years of shedding blood, gains a soul of its own and is called the Soul Edge. The sword forged to counter it is called Soulcalibur. (Yep they crossed Excalibur with Soul, pretty clever huh?) Set in the late 1500s, a group of characters from all over the world searches first for the Soul Edge, and then later for Soulcalibur. The character of Tira was introduced in the fourth game of the series. Raised since childhood in a European organisation of secret assassins, she sets out on her own after the organisation’s leader goes insane. She tried to live a quiet life, but her urge to kill became uncontrollable. Learning of the evil Soul Edge, she pledges herself to it and works to destroy Soulcalibur. Something goes hideously wrong, and in the process Tira’s personality splits into two extremes of Jolly and Gloomy. Now bipolar as well as evil and murderous, she continues her life of service to the Soul Edge. Tira’s appearance reflects her madness, with rag-doll hair, tattered clothing and bizarre make-up. As her weapon of choice is a ring-blade which looks like a hula-hoop, she resembles a mental patient who has run away to join the circus. Tira is pronounced TEE-rah and has a number of possible meanings and origins. It is a Hebrew name which means “encampment”, a Scottish name meaning “land”, and a Hindi name meaning “arrow”. I don’t know if it’s because of the video game (which is a slightly disturbing thought), but I have seen and heard about quite a few babies called Tira recently. It seems to be popular to use it in a double name such as Tira-Lee or Tira-Rose.

Zafina – Tekken 6 (2007) and beyond

Tekken (Japanese for “Iron Fist”) is a fighting game. The story in each game revolves around a martial arts tournament in which the characters compete for the chance to win control of the company who hosts the tournaments. Tekken has inspired movies, a comic book and several anime and manga series. The character of Zafina first appeared in Tekken 6. She is a member of a group of spiritual warriors whose roots lie in far antiquity, and is the protector of a royal tomb. She uses her spiritual powers to gain omens from the stars, and when they tell her of two “evil stars” (other characters in the game) who must be eliminated in order to avoid destruction, she joins the tournament with the intention of saving the world. Zafina is of Middle Eastern appearance with short brown hair, has a calm temperament, and the story of her using astrology to predict the future suggests she may be Persian and a Zoroastrian. Her name is Arabic, and means “victorious”. I think this name is quite pretty and usable; it makes a more exotic alternative to Victoria, and sounds enough like familiar names such as Zara, Sophia and Seraphina to be easily accepted.

Elika – Prince of Persia (2008)

Prince of Persia is a long-running and successful video game franchise, and the 2008 game is, slightly confusingly, the seventh title in the series. It is an open-world game which depends on acrobatics, combat and puzzle-solving to complete the quest. The protagonist is an adventurer who is nicknamed “The Prince”. Set in ancient Persia, the complex plot is inspired by the religion of Zoroastrianism. The Prince encounters Elika, a runaway barefoot princess, and becomes drawn into her story. It is one of great spiritual forces battling each other, and leaders corrupted by their own power. Elika’s task is to systematically travel around and magically heal particular sectors of ground called Fertile Lands; unfortunately each time she does this her life force becomes weaker. The Prince’s task is to accompany her and fight off the corrupted leaders who try to interfere with Elika’s plan. As they journey together, it is revealed that Elika died before the events of the game began, but her father had her resurrected by the dark god Ahriman (which is why she has magic powers). After defeating all the other baddies, the Prince has to do battle with Ahriman himself, and Elika expends the last of her life force, so that Ahriman can be imprisoned in The Tree of Life. You would think that after dying twice, Elika would be allowed a nice rest, but no. The Prince resurrects Elika, even while knowing that this will let the dark god Ahriman out again – after all the trouble they went to in order to imprison him! Interfering git. Not surprisingly, the epilogue to the game shows Elika rejecting the Prince’s companionship and returning to her own people. In appearance, Elika is beautiful with tousled dark chestnut hair, enigmatic hazel eyes, and a slender, fragile figure. Elika’s personality is guarded and serious, but gradually she becomes friendly enough to exchange some ironic banter with the Prince. She is never a romantic prospect for the protagonist; he is just a commoner, and she is a princess, priestess and semi-goddess. Elika is a name which is found in many different cultures, but the Persian name Elika means “a blooming fruitful tree”, which was obviously chosen by the game-makers in reference to the way the character heals the land to make it green and fertile again. In the game her name is pronounced ELL-eh-kuh, but eh-LEE-kuh is probably more accurate.

Wynne – Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

This is the first game in the Dragon Age franchise, and is a fantasy role-playing game set in the kingdom of Ferelden which has been rent by civil war. The player takes the role of warrior, mage or rogue and chooses to be either a human, elf or dwarf. The goal is to unify the kingdom in order to fight against an invasion of demonic forces. The game has been a critical success and has won several awards. The player can choose a number of characters as potential companions on their journey, and the relationships and dialogue between the player and these characters can alter how the game progresses. Wynne is one of these major characters. She is one of the most prominent Mages and a powerful spirit healer. She believes that through discipline and education, a Mage can control their gifts and serve humanity. Wise, dutiful and virtuous, she could have had a successful political career, but she refuses power in order to fight demons and aid the innocent. Wynne gets tired easily, and during the course of the story it transpires that she died at some previous point, and is now being sustained by a benevolent spirit. Flipping heck, is anyone actually alive in these games any more??! Wynne is middle-aged, with a few wrinkles and greying blonde hair. Her face is handsome and intelligent, and her figure tall and upright, with a prominent bosom. She takes a motherly role amongst the companions, and is blessed with common sense and a dry sense of humour. She enjoys reading and is a connoisseur of fine ales and wines. The name Wynne is a variant of the Welsh name male Wyn, meaning “blessed, white, fair”. Although Wynne is a unisex name, it is often taken to be a specifically feminine form of Wyn.