The Lion King | What's in a Name

What’s in a Name? Here are the Real Meanings Behind the Names of the Lion King Characters!

The Lion Kings

Anyone who has seen the 90s version of The Lion King will remember the iconic line “Mufasa, I Hear That Name and I just shudder…” “Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa!” It’s a name that commands respect and evokes a sense of power but also paternal love. It makes perfect sense then that it means “king” in the Manazoto language.

Simba too, is a very literal translation, it’s simply the Swahili word for lion. In fact, many of the lovable (and some not so lovable) Disney film’s character’s names are from the beautiful Swahili language, the predominant language spoken in East Africa – specifically Kenya and Tanzania. It’s the wide-open plains of the Masai Mara (Kenya) and the Parc National du Serengeti (Tanzania) that set the stage for our friends Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumba and Rafiki. Oh, and did you know Rafiki means “friend” in Swahili?

Mandrill | Rafiki, The Lion King

The Lionesses

Nala, Simba’s dear friend and betrothed, is bestowed with the name “gift” or “beloved” which is what Nala means in Swahili, and her mother’s name Sarafina means “bright star”. Simba’s mother’s name, Sarabi, means “mirage” an interesting choice, but a gorgeous word nonetheless. Some might say the lionesses are blessed with the most beautiful names.

Simba’s Friends

Let’s take a look at Simba’s cheeky friends in the jungle. Meerkats are very social creatures living in “mobs” or “gangs” of relatives, but Timon has chosen instead to hang out with his warthog friend Pumba. In the film, that’s not the only unusual thing about him. Timon is one of the few characters in the film who does not have an African name. The tall and skinny suricate’s name actually means “respect” or “to honour” in Greek, we’re not sure if this one is quite so accurate… However, as a biblical name, it means “worthy” and he certainly is a worthy friend!

Poor Pumba gets the short end of the stick, his name in Swahili translates to “slow-witted” or “stupid” and while he isn’t exactly the brightest bulb he is a loyal friend who packs a powerful punch.

Timon and Pumba | Meerkat and Warthog, The Lion King

Scar and the Hyenas

Now it’s time for the baddies. Before Scar had his eponymous wound across his eye his name was Taka, which in Swahili means “garbage” or “waste”… no wonder he was so bitter! We might have harboured feelings of resentment towards our family as well. His hyena henchman have been painted with a similar brush, Shenzi means “savage” and Banzai means “skulk” and Ed, is, well, Ed.

Why not come meet these delightful characters and discover for yourself whether you agree with their magnificent monikers on our Journey to the Pride Lands tour.

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