Tips for Buying EarthBound

March 16th, 2011 | MOTHER 1, Uncommon Knowledge

I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not, but the character in MOTHER 1/EarthBound Zero we commonly call “Ninten” wasn’t actually called that officially… originally, anyway.

Technically, whenever his name needed to be used in official guides or whatnot, he was usually simply called “Boku”, which is Japanese for “Me” – the idea being that YOU’RE supposed to name him, he didn’t have a predetermined name at all. When the official MOTHER 1 novel came out, obviously the author had to give him a name, so she called him “Ken”, which is what many Japanese fans know him by.

So where did Ninten come from? Well, basically, during the 90s, it was common for Nintendo to use “NINTEN” for default names in its Japanese strategy guides and manuals. This included MOTHER 1 guides of course, but also included other games, one example is the instruction manual for Zelda: Kamigami no Triforce (Japanese version of Link to the Past):


(image courtesy of zeldalegends.net)

All the “ニンテン”s you see there are “NINTEN”. Basically, it was just Nintendo manual/guide people having fun. Kinda like how I always seem to use “TOM ATO” in my own project screenshots:

From what I can gather, Japanese fans didn’t pay much attention to this “Ninten” name used in some guides, but at some in the late 90s that changed. I’m not really sure why, maybe it was connected to the EB0 ROM getting leaked, or maybe it had something to do with Smash Bros. 64 guides mentioning that his name was “Ninten”, which is what I’ve read on some sites, but I don’t know why that would be the case.

In any case, many years later, Smash Bros. Brawl came out, and he was referred to as “Ninten” there. Well, in the English version anyway, I’m not sure what they call him in the Japanese version.

Then, mostly recently, he was called “Ninten” when he was released in figure form in Japan:

Though it’s probably important to point out that the names used on other figure boxes haven’t exactly been perfect.

As for how he came to be known as Ninten outside of Japan, it seems like it happened very shortly after the EB0 ROM was released. Someone must’ve seen one of the guides that used the Ninten placeholder text and went with that, though if anyone knows more, let me know. I do remember that for a short while everyone called Teddy something like “Jack” instead. So there was a short period of uncertainty at least.

To sum it all up, the main character in MOTHER 1 has FOUR names:

  • The name you, the player, give him
  • Boku
  • Ken
  • Ninten

Whew. Anyway, that’s a look at the weirdness behind his name!


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74 Comments to Ninten isn’t Exactly Ninten


platinatina said on Mar. 16, 2011

I kind of like the name “Ken” for him, actually, now that I think about it… maybe I’ll name him that next time I pick up M1 for fun.

Ninten has always stuck with me, though, and it probably will. That’s so weird that it was suddenly used by official sources, though. (Also, needs more “Pola” and “Roid”.)

R7038XX said on Mar. 16, 2011

The only thing I don’t like about Ninten is that unlike Ness It isn’t really a name or a word.

Matt said on Mar. 16, 2011

When you consider that Ness is an anagram of SNES, the name Ninten feels quite appropriate. I’m surprised that wasn’t his official name at first.

Dlakii said on Mar. 16, 2011

Stuff it, I’m just calling him “Kenten” from now on. 😛

Sir Ilpalazzo said on Mar. 16, 2011

@Matt:

Ness is an anagram of SNES, but that wasn’t the intention behind his name. There was an interview linked on here once in which Itoi said his name was taken from the NES’s name.

Anonymous said on Mar. 16, 2011

This reminded me. I can’t remember where but I once saw the male protagonist for pokemon black&white with the name Ninten. Can anyone verify this or is my mind lying again 😉

DJMankiwitz said on Mar. 16, 2011

Ninten’s what I had always heard his name as. I got used to it, but I gotta admit when I first read about it it did seem pretty awkward. I too would like to know if Japanese SSMB calls him Ninten as well. It does seem that, at least for now, that’s his official name. Since you went with Porky in Mother 3 for that reason, I suppose that’s the choice to make here too.

All that said, personally I prefer Ken. It’s both a Japanese and American name, so it works very well. (source: http://www.behindthename.com/php/search.php?terms=Ken&nmd=n&gender=both&operator=or ) If they ever made a movie out of Mother (I personally think it would make a great movie, if condensed and done in the style of an 80’s kid’s adventure), Ken would have to be the name to use.

It doesn’t really matter though since people can just rename him, and from the screens you’ve shown, it looks like the names aren’t even input automatically anyway. The history is very interesting (especially how the fans on either side of the big pond have influenced each other and Nintendo directly), but in the end people are free to name him whatever they want. I think I’ll go with Ken when I play. It just feels better.

Incidentally, I looked up Ness on that etymology site and was surprised to find out that it is actually a name. http://www.behindthename.com/php/search.php?terms=Ness&nmd=n&gender=both&operator=or It’s both English and Irish, but as you can see in both cases it’s considered a feminine name. In the celtic case it’s from an irish goddess named Neasa, who was named “Assa” (Gentle) until going on some quest of vengence where she was renamed “Ni asa” (Not gentle). The English version of Ness is just short for Vanessa, which was originally coined by Jonathan Swift, by rearranging letters from one of his friend’s names.

So yeah, it’s clear that Ness MAY be an actual name, but that it’s best ignored and most likely was more of a “reinvention”.

shibaru said on Mar. 17, 2011

I call him Ninten… On mother at least… Lately I’ve been calling him “glitchy mess’ 😛

Titanic Ant said on Mar. 17, 2011

^I can’t stop giggling at how Ness is a feminine name

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 17, 2011

I remember that conversation in the comments section a couple weeks back. Thanks for making this information a bit more visible, Mato.

I WAS used to Ninten. When I got the Japanese Zelda manual as a birthday gift several years ago, and noticed the same name in that, that’s when I figured it was probably just a placeholder, but I didn’t have anything else to call him. Now, several years later, I’m aware of the Mother 1 novel, so his name is Ken in my mind.

James said on Mar. 17, 2011

The Mother franchise has always been largely owned by the fans, so it seems fitting to me that the original protagonist’s name was adopted by fans before becoming official. Origins notwithstanding, his official English name now is Ninten.

Good article, by the way. Interesting read.

Onion said on Mar. 17, 2011

Whatever his official name, he’ll always be O.G. McHalfTuck to me.

Mother Bound said on Mar. 17, 2011

I figured Ninten would be the majority, though the manga is admittedly popular. I find Ninten making more sense, because it is Nintendo’s game.

But sometime I name him Itoi for kicks.

Kafei2006 said on Mar. 17, 2011

Ninten also happens to be the default name given to the main character in Pokémon Red/Blue, before you get to the naming screen. It can never be seen unless you hack into the game, but if you hack it to skip the naming screen for you and your rival, then the main character is named Ninten and your rival is named Sony :P.

Satsy said on Mar. 17, 2011

I’ve taken to calling him ‘Nicky’ recently. Only because Micky is taken by the dog, but you can tell they ran with a theme at some point (Minnie, Mimmie, Micky).

EtherealMoon said on Mar. 17, 2011

Tom Ato, eh? What about Caesar Salad?

unnoticedninja said on Mar. 17, 2011

I name most characters that have no default as my first name, but Ninten makes a great name considering that Ness is unintentionally an anagram of SNES.

SpecLad said on Mar. 17, 2011

What are the names used on other figure boxes?

LakituAl said on Mar. 17, 2011

I suppose not many people are fond of Boku. Would it have something to do with a certain animated feature I won’t mention by name?

TalonKhan said on Mar. 17, 2011

I am a idiot it took me about a minute to understand what Tom Ato meant >_(\

DJMankiwitz said on Mar. 17, 2011

Gotta be honest I hadn’t heard that word before this thread. Boku as “me” just tells me that I should name Ninten whatever I want. That said, if the person playing the game doesn’t have a masculine name (let’s say) then using your own name doesn’t work too well. Then again, Ness :D.

Mato said on Mar. 17, 2011

I don’t think the intention was for the player’s actual name to be used for him, after all, you get to enter your actual name elsewhere.

Ice Sage said on Mar. 17, 2011

@SpecLad: Here are the names on the large/12cm figures that are questionable, at least to most people in the US (I’m not sure about all the mini figurines):

“Anna” – the only problem here is the “Anna/Ana” argument, although I’ve always preferred “Anna” anyway.

“Roid” – this can be attributed to the way the name “Lloyd” is transliterated in Japanese, since it does not distinguish between the “L” and “R” sounds.

“Nes” – this is Ness’ Japanese name, which is a clear reference to the NES, but the translators at least had the sense/wit to make his name a real name (it’s also a masculine surname, which makes me think they had Eliot Ness in mind) and a reference to the SNES at the same time.

“Pola” – another Japanese transliteration of “Paula,” although I’m not quite as sure as I was on Lloyd’s name.

“Poo” – the only reason I bring this up is because I was always under the impression his Japanese name was “Pu.”

“Pokey” – this is actually the most interesting to me, since both Japan and the US have officially translated his English name as “Porky” since SSBB.

It’s almost as if they had trouble deciding if and when to use the romanized versions of their own Japanese names or to use NoA’s names. Other than those spelling issues though, I don’t see any reason to doubt whether Ninten’s name is official. It was the name used in SSBB, and it’s used on the figurines, so the name appears to have been officially accepted as the character’s default.

DBlue said on Mar. 17, 2011

I always enjoyed giving characters “personalized” names myself, but having a default name is nice too, when you’re fresh outta ideas.

rotschleim said on Mar. 17, 2011

I never knew that–I’ll still call him ‘Ninten’ regardless. 😛

Ross said on Mar. 17, 2011

@IceSage the real names romanized (haha spellcheck suggests womanized when I right click the red line ;)) are similar. アナ ANa is because ANNa would be 3 “syllables” and they were trying to keep the 2 syllable pronunciation (the first n is stretched)so in order to keep it Americanized they left it Ana in Japanese which transfers in English to Anna. Roid comes from his name ロイド RoIDo “Roido (haha no joke)”, which, as you noted, SHOULD have an “L”. Nes derived from ネス NeSu or “Nesu” and because Japanese generally leave u’s out in words (remember the “OK Desuka?” debacle?) Pola is basically her Japanese name ポーラ “Po-Ra”, but romanized for better pronunciation. As you said, his Japanese name is “Pu-” (プー) with a long dash to hold it out longer. ポーキー as Pokey is a tricky romanization because, in EB’s context, there’s not enough info to say if “Po-Ki-” should be Pokey or Porky. However, MOTHER3 makes it clear that it should be Porky.

Random guardian said on Mar. 17, 2011

@the first anonymous
I think I noticed what your talking about! I have a nintendo power febuary 2011. In the pokemon black and white article one of the pictures had the main guy. He was called Ninty not Ninten though. Page 45 to be exact. It still amused me so I rememberd that I had it gathering dust in my pile of old magazines.

DragonKazooie89 said on Mar. 17, 2011

“Well, basically, during the 90s, it was common for Nintendo to use “NINTEN” for default names in its Japanese strategy guides and manuals. This included MOTHER 1 guides of course,…”

Could this help explain why one of the default names for the Pokemon Trainer in Red and Blue was supposed to be “NINTEN”?

Qiezei said on Mar. 17, 2011

Seems like “Ken” was the only “real” official name out of the bunch. Though honestly he doesn’t seem like someone who would be named Ken.

The Great Morgil said on Mar. 17, 2011

I always preferred Ninten because A) It’s been used for so long that i’m used to it, and B) It compliments Ness’s name quite well in that it uses a similar pun.

PlooKon09 said on Mar. 18, 2011

I prefer Ninten because Boku sounds like a name of a pokemon and their are already too many Kens in Japanese media.
Examples:
Ken (Street Fighter)
Ken the Eagle (Gatchaman)
Ken (Barbie doll)

ef said on Mar. 18, 2011

Yeah, Boku pretty much means ‘I’ (…right?) so I’m not really fond of that name XD

Ken sounds too generic, so I’ll stick with Ninten.

shadedmagus said on Mar. 18, 2011

Eh, the sprites for “Ninten” and Ness are a little too similar for me to want to carry out the pun. But I was thinking of combining Ninten and Ken.

How about Kent?

EBrent said on Mar. 18, 2011

Tomato, if this wiki (http://w1.kouryakuwiki.com/smashx/84.html) is to be believed, then the sticker (or I guess “seal” in the Japanese version) is called Ninten (にんてん).

But I’m wondering, why is it in hiragana? It doesn’t seem like the other names are. What are the connotations of something being written like that?

Mato said on Mar. 18, 2011

Dunno if there are any specific connotations, it might’ve just been a whim on someone’s part. It’d be really easy to read too deeply into it, but they probably did run it by Itoi at some point.

LakituAl said on Mar. 18, 2011

@shadedmagus

Now that would be a good set of names for a playthrough! Ninten as Clark, Ana as Lois, Loid as Jimmy and Ted as… I don’t know, actually…

The Great Morgil said on Mar. 18, 2011

@LakituAl

How about Perry for Teddy?

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 18, 2011

Huh. That’s odd. I was totally expecting it to be a generic “boy” or “protagonist” or whatever the old M1 official page called him. Is it possible that it’s in hirigana because it’s derived from Japanese words, as opposed to being a loanword from another language? But then why would they use katakana in other places? Eh, spitballing here.

Been sort of reconsidering. Even if the name did start as a placeholder, I don’t think Nintendo uses it that way anymore. As for it becoming official even though it wasn’t at first, well, that’s why the “Sure Why Not?” trope exists.

I still kinda like Ken, because that, unlike Ninten, would fit in EB, on the off chance that any of those “EB0 remake in EB” projects ever comes though.

LucasTizma said on Mar. 18, 2011

@Ross

Couldn’t they have eliminated the ambiguity for Porky’s name by writing it as ポルキー?

Ross said on Mar. 18, 2011

I actually thought about that a long time ago. Yes, it would’ve eliminated the ambiguity, but Katakana has a strange set of rules that are HORRIBLE to learn… For example, why would カービィ (Ka-Bii) use an extra small i at the end instead of a dash? And where’s the ‘r’ sound in it that makes it Kirby? Katakana is weird. There’s no way around it. It’s the same reason why KFC is ケンタッキー (Kenchikkii). Why is it not KeFuShi? I hate all the exceptions, being a novice at Japanese. Luckily, I have Genki to help me through it. 😉

Ross said on Mar. 18, 2011

just found this searching for a better answer: http://earthboundcentral.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=248
Mato himself answers the question.

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 18, 2011

Elongated vowels are common for implying syllable-ending Rs. KFC is abbreviated that way because Japanese doesn’t really do initialisms, as it uses a syllabary instead of an alphabet. They smush the words themselves together: Kenchikki for Kentucky (Fried) Chicken, Sumabura for Smash Bros., Megaten for Megami Tensei, Zeruden for Zelda (Zeruda) no Densetsu, ect. Check the Twoson section of Mato’s M2 vs. EB subsite for an interesting bit regarding EB’s Hand-Aid in the same vein.

I imagine they went with that name for Porky because “pooku” is the established and accepted loanword for the actual pig meat. It only got screwy because “Pokey” is an equally acceptable transliteration of “pookii,” and the nuance was lost because the pig motif wasn’t as pronounced it Mother 2 as it became in Mother 3.

Anyone feel free to correct any of this if it’s wrong.

Ross said on Mar. 18, 2011

I understood that; my minirant was all-rhetorical. Thanks for more examples, though! I actually like syllablery better than an alphabet because it makes it easier to pronounce! (Well, easier to pronounce than English, since Spanish is a cinch to pronounce!)

LucasTizma said on Mar. 19, 2011

I still love katakana, regardless of its strange rules and plethora of exceptions, especially how they tend to use the first two syllables in a series of words to form a shorter katakana word (e.g., スマブラ as a shorthand for Smash Bros., as joeymartin64 mentioned).

It’s a rich language, and I’m excited to keep learning more about it.

LucasTizma said on Mar. 19, 2011

(Although I absolutely don’t know the difference between カービィ and カービー. Can anyone shed any light on this? What does the small イ do that the ー doesn’t?)

Naja said on Mar. 19, 2011

I was aware that “ninten” was just a generic name gave by Nintendo for the manuals. Nintendo isn’t the only company making this, in the japanese Dragon Quest manuals, the main character is called “eniku” or “enikusu” (can’t remember exactly), as in Enix.
But anyway, since there isn’t really any official name for him, I thought Ninten was alright. I was surprised to see he was officially refered to as Ninten in SSBB.

@platinatina: “Pola”-“Roid”… my mind was just blown away.

Ross said on Mar. 19, 2011

@Naja even weirder, their names in Japanese are Pora and Roido…
@LucasTizma it’s probably just another weird exception. It has the same value/length, so I don’t really see a difference.

LakituAl said on Mar. 19, 2011

@Ross

Actually, Spanish vowels and Japanese bowels are pronounced the same, so yeah…

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 19, 2011

It’s not just a Japanese thing, either. The American manual for Final Fantasy has the characters named NEST (Nester), HOWA (Howard Lincoln, presumably), TOMY (someone I’m not aware of named “Tommy,” I imagine), and PHIL (possibly our old buddy Phil Sandhop?)

Ginrei said on Mar. 19, 2011

joey, Howard I think was Howard Phillips, creator of the Fun Club/Nintendo Power? Or at least I assume so, because the Nester comics used to be “Howard and Nester”.

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 19, 2011

Oh, right. Yeah, that makes more sense.

Ross said on Mar. 19, 2011

@LakituAl Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I chose to mention Spanish. French is weird with its half e/half u sound… German just sounds like you’re coughing up a lugie. English has WAY too many exceptions with pronunciation that even native speakers like me have trouble. Swedish is too fast. Chinese’s pinyin is too hard to read. There are issues with every language’s pronunciation except for Japanese and Spanish, IMO. Spanish is my favorite language, except for the STUPID imperfect tenses. Why are there 2 past tenses in the indicative? I like the preterit/preterite better. The whole imperfect ra and se subjunctive are stupid, too. Yeah, I am starting to think there’s a bigger reason why they are not perfect (more like “far from”). 😉

chaobreeder20 said on Mar. 19, 2011

Everytime i heard his name or said it,i always thought of Nintendo having a big ego.Probly not the nicest interpretation but it does seem like his name is just an ad campaign.

Big A2 said on Mar. 20, 2011

I like how the Japanese version of A Link to the Past calls erasing saves files “KILL”.

DJMankiwitz said on Mar. 20, 2011

Yeah, “KILL MODE”, in English, and it’s not just LTTP. It was the case for pretty much all the NES (Famicom) battery save games, from Zelda 1 and 2, to Metroid and Kid Icarus, and I think even the first two Castlevania games (all of those had save support in their Japanese versions, since all of them were originally released on the Disk System addon).

Big A2 said on Mar. 21, 2011

Ah, so that’s what that katakana after “KILL” was, “mo”. I thought it was “se” for some reason.

Miles of SmashWiki said on Mar. 21, 2011

I just did some research to answer your question, Tomato, and the name for the “Ninten” sticker in the Japanese version of Brawl is にんてん, same as the sticker on that figure box according to EBrent. http://www.smashbros.com/jp/gamemode/various/various37_list.html

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 21, 2011

And this is the part where we all hate ourselves for not remembering about Smash Dojo’s sticker list.

Starstormer said on Mar. 21, 2011

ボク
Funny thing is that boku was one few japanese words I know. I knew that Ninten’s name was intended to be whatever the player wanted but I never knew boku was used at one point.

Off topic but why was Ninten’s name written in hiragana in brawl I thought that in japanese names were usually written in katakana?

EBrent said on Mar. 21, 2011

@Miles: Actually, I was referring to the in-game stickers of the Japanese version of SSBB. I used a Japanese wiki as reference, but yours is likely the most “official” source outside of the game itself.

Miles of SmashWiki said on Mar. 21, 2011

Wow duh, okay. Thanks EBrent. Glad to find the “official” indication of it at least.

joeymartin64 said on Mar. 22, 2011

Really, I don’t think “boku” was ever intended to be considered a name. It’s just a self-referential pronoun. It’d be like a character in English being listed as “me.”

Big A2 said on Mar. 24, 2011

@Starstormer: Only English names are written in Katakana. If Boku is showing up as katakana in the guides Mato is talking about, then I guess whoever wrote it was making a pun.

anonymous said on Apr. 10, 2011

I always thought it was weird that Ninten was one syllable away from Nintendo. This actually explains a lot.

SomeUser said on Apr. 13, 2011

I generally use any name I want.

Like Char.

or…
or…
or…

lolidunno

Anonymous said on Jul. 17, 2011

Since I wandered along this, I thought I’d point this out.

EarthBound’s based of Dragon Quest, but EarthBound Zero’s lack of an overworld is just about the only gameplay element that isn’t ripped straight from Dragon Quest II.

In Dragon Quest, there is no default names for the heroes. In fact, until Dragon Quest III, no one in Dragon Quest had a defaut name: the only characters that had their own names had random names. It’s only recently that any sort of official name’s been given to them (and in the Japanese version of IX, one of them was kind of an in-joke).

In that series, the main character was always supposed to be the player. They might be named in manga, but they’re usually just known official as the hero. Ninten probably didn’t originally have the name for the exact same reason. He isn’t his own character like any Final Fantasy hero, he’s just the person you play as in the game.

And by the way, Link got his name from being the “link” between the player and the game. So naming him after yourself is fine too.

Emilie Bennett said on Oct. 5, 2011

I just call him Ninten. But I call Teddy “Biff” after the character in Back to the Future.

Earth Saturn said on Mar. 5, 2012

I have always called him Ninten. It’s my favorite name out of the bunch and it’s the most fitting to me.

joe the worlds largest nerd STRIKES AGAIN said on Oct. 2, 2012

i played earthbound zero on NESbox.com [which is an online emulator you just play on the site, and you only need flash player] and called the characters their earthbound forms names.
example: “ness” [ninten] “paula” [ana] “jeff” [loid] “frank” [teddy].

NintenAnaLoid said on Nov. 16, 2012

Ninten ain’t Ninten…He is Me.

Anonymous said on Nov. 20, 2012

Wow I never noticed. B)

NintenPsi said on Nov. 24, 2012

wow

TheSentientCloud said on Jun. 6, 2013

To me, he’s always going to be NINTEN (case-sensitive!)

@platinatina: I see what you did there

A guy said on Dec. 10, 2013

To me, he will always be BAMF


 
 

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