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This post was first published on April 17 2011, and heavily edited on April 23 2015.

Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad is the protagonist of the first game in the Assassin’s Creed series. Born in the Holy Land in 1165 to an Arabic Muslim father and Italian Christian mother, he joins the medieval secret society of the Assassins. Due to his superior abilities, he quickly gains the title of Master Assassin, but Altaïr becomes overconfident and arrogant, and must be taken down a peg or two. He goes on to have further adventures in later games. Mysteriously cloaked and hooded, he is dark, rather handsome, and has an intense expression. Altair is Arabic for “the flying eagle”, and it is the name of the brightest star in the Aquila constellation. It is pronounced al-TAH-yir, but English-speakers will probably prefer al-TARE instead, and this pronunciation is accepted by astronomers as equally correct. Not only an extremely popular name for people and places in video games, Altair is commonly used to name aeroplanes and rockets too, adding to its flighty, space-age image.

Ash Ketchum is the main protagonist of the Pokémon (“Pocket Monsters”) series; a ten-year old boy with shaggy dark hair covered by a baseball cap, brown eyes, and a snub nose. A true Pokémon obsessive, he always has a fanatical look in his eyes. He has no other interests apart from Pokémon, and only makes friends with children and adults who share his hobby. His original Japanese name was Satoshi (“clear-thinking, wise”), after creator Satoshi Tajiri. The character is based on Tajiri’s memories of himself as a child, when he was a keen insect collector. The English name Ash was taken from one of the possible default names that can be chosen in the original Pokémon game. Ash can be short for names such as Ashley, Asher, or Ashton, a vocabulary name for the residue of something burned, or a nature name after the ash tree. As the Professors in the Pokémon universe all have tree names (Oak, Juniper, Rowan etc), I think the game-makers probably had the last option in mind. This is a simple, attractive nature name, and although it is technically unisex, I have only seen it on boys so far.

Kain is an arrogant nobleman who becomes a vampire lord in the Legacy of Kain series, an anti-hero who is morally ambivalent at best, yet provides his world’s only hope. There has been a trend in popular culture to present male vampires as romantically desirable, but Kain is not a pretty-boy vamp, but the stuff of nightmares, and not suitable for taking to senior prom. Kain is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Cain, which is used in the Greek version of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, Cain was a son of Adam and Eve, and committed the first murder by killing his brother Abel in a fit of furious jealousy. This theme also plays a role in the Legacy of Kain story. In the Bible the name Cain is interpreted as “begotten, acquired”, but modern etymologists think it is most likely from an ancient South Arabian word for “metalsmith”. In the Bible, Cain is said to have been the ancestor of a nation who became the first metalworkers, so that does mesh with the Biblical narrative. Although Cain is a controversial character, this name fits in so well with current name trends that it has had reasonable use over the years: a big help is that it’s a homophone of Kane, the Anglicised form of Irish Cathan, meaning “battle”. Famous Australian namesakes include fantasy writer Kain Massin, and actor Kain O’Keefe.

Link is the hero of The Legend of Zelda game series [pictured]. Usually he is young with fair hair and blue eyes, and he is always dressed in green tights and tunic, and has pointed ears. Link is humble, polite and brave, as befits a true hero, and is possessed with a burning sense of justice. He travels through the land, defeating creatures, evil forces, and baddies in order to save Princess Zelda and her kingdom. Despite having minimal facial expression and speaking mostly in grunts, Link is one of the most popular video game characters of all time. Creator Shigeru Miyamato wanted to call him Chris or Christo after his godfather, but this was changed by Nintendo (I wonder if it seemed too Messianic for them?). Instead Link was chosen, because the character is the player’s link to the world of the video game. You might also think of a baby Link as being the link that brings your family together. The name Link doesn’t seem that unusual, because it is already used as a short form of Lincoln.

In the Maximo duology, Maximo is a gallant knight who goes out into the world leaving his castle and kingdom in the care of a trusted friend. Unfortunately, little does he know that his pal is, in fact, an evil super-villain. While Maximo tools around in blissful ignorance, this dastardly creep takes over Maximo’s kingdom, and forces Maximo’s girlfriend, Princess Sophia, into marriage with him. Maximo returns home to find his kingdom and his life in ruins. It’s a completely awful day for him, but rather than sit at home crying and eating chocolate, he bravely goes in search of his lost love.
Maximo is the Spanish form of the Roman family name Maximus, from the Latin for “greatest”. Although the Spanish pronunciation is MAHK-see-mo, I’m guessing most English-speakers would say it MAKS-uh-mo, and use the popular Max as a nickname. A Spanish heritage choice that puts a cool spin on fashionable Maximus.

Raiden is a thunder god in the Mortal Kombat series, an immortal with many supernatural abilities, and a distinctly hands-on approach. He looks like an enormous, muscular man with eyes filled with lightning and long iron-grey hair. Raiden is a variant of Raijin, the name for the god of thunder and storms in the Shinto religion and Japanese mythology. His name means “thunder god”. He is a popular folk figure who appears in many stories, and his name has been used in several other Japanese video games. The name is pronounced RAH-ee-den, but in English, is meant to be said RY-den. However, the temptation to pronounce it RAY-den, to fit in with the trend for Aiden, Braden, Caden and Hayden type names, is often too strong to resist. I have seen this name used quite a bit on boys in Australia, and mostly their parents have gone with the RAY-den pronunciation.

Ryu is the lead character of the Street Fighter series, and an enormously strong Japanese martial artist. Powerful and uber-masculine with huge muscles, his karate outfit is casually tattered. During the game series, it turns out that Ryu has a touch of evil in his psychological make-up which can be exploited by the bad guys. However, Ryu is mentally strong enough to fight off their brainwashing attempts. What a trouper. Naturally he is far too butch to hang out with girls or anything wet like that, but he does have a rather super chum called Ken. Ryu is Japanese for “dragon”, and it is also a suffix to denote a particular school of thought, usually used for martial arts. It’s a popular name in Japanese video games. Ryu is difficult for English-speakers to pronounce correctly. It’s said as one-syllable – RYOO. I have seen this name used on several Australian boys in honour of the game character, but they have either been called RY-oo or ROO (like a kangaroo). This does fit in with familiar names such as Ryan and Reuben.

Snow Villiers is the leader of an anti-government rebel group in Final Fantasy XIII who gets engaged to a cute pink-haired girl. Their wedding plans are put on ice once his fiancée is turned into a block of crystal. He has to save the world and his sweetheart, while trying to convince his future sister-in-law he’s a decent bloke. Snow is a Nordic giant – 6 foot 7 with a powerful physique, fair skin, pale blond hair, blue eyes, and a light stubble beard. Despite his wintry appearance, he is warm-hearted, fiery-tempered, and optimistic. In the game, the name Snow denotes the character’s affinity for water and ice spells. Snow is a nature name and surname in use as a personal name since the 16th century, and is one of those rare names that has been almost equally given to boys and girls over time. Names connected with the winter and cold are currently on trend, and this one works for both sexes, and as either a first or middle name. It’s a hip alternative to fashionable Winter, but a possible drawback is that it is also a slang term for cocaine.

In Fable II, Sparrow is a poor orphan child who finds out they are descended from a heroic line. Sparrow can be played as either a male or female character, so the name is deliberately unisex. The name Sparrow is after the small brown bird, one of the most familiar birds in the world. Sparrows are often used to denote something common, or of low value, and they are the emblem of the London Cockneys. The New Testament tells us that God cares even for the worthless sparrow, so we know the most insignificant person is valued and worthy of divine love, and Saint Francis preached sermons to these birds. According to the ancient Greeks, sparrows were sacred to the goddess Aphrodite and a symbol of enduring love, while in Christian legend, the sparrow was the only bird who witnessed the Crucifixion. Sparrow has been used as a name since the 17th century, and is historically more common for boys; Pirates of the Caribbean has given it a swashbuckling air. It became a celebrity baby name when Nicole Richie and Joel Madden had a son called Sparrow in 2009. A humble name that’s on trend, and has more behind it than at first glance.

In Mass Effect 2, Thane Krios is a member of an alien species who are humanoid with reptilian features. An expert assassin dying of an incurable lung disease, he joins an apparent suicide mission to give purpose to what’s left of his life and atone for all the murder he’s committed. Despite his chosen profession, he is a deeply spiritual man following a polytheistic religion. The name Thane is an Anglo-Saxon title of nobility, and is from the Old English thegn meaning “servant, retainer”. A thane was an attendant to a king or noble lord who had military duties as part of their service (similar to a knight). In medieval Scotland it was the name for a hereditary tenant of the Crown; Macbeth held this title in Shakespeare’s play. The name has been used since the 16th century, and a famous namesake is English actor and dancer Thane Bettany, father-in-law to Jennifer Connolly, and step-uncle to Sophie Rhys-Jones, the wife of Prince Edward. This is one of those rare names that have a strong history, and don’t sound strange, being similar to familiar names like Dane and Zane.

People’s favourite names were Ash, Sparrow, and Link, and their least favourite were Kain, Raiden, and Ryu.