The Lion King characters have some intriguing names, but each one tells us so much.
Timon and Pumbaa did a sensational job of explaining Hakuna Matata to us; that’s not up for debate here. The Lion King introduced audiences to some charming concepts back in 1994, and the aforementioned problem-free philosophy is one of the elements which has fed the film’s iconic status over the years.
However, there are lots of fans out there who aren’t so knowledgeable when it comes to the characters who make up the beloved story. Disney’s classic animation was heavily influenced by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and of course, this is clear when watching the narrative unravel.
Yet, the names didn’t translate to this new vision. The Lion King features a range of wonderful and lovely names, but actually, they harbour additional meaning. They conjure up certain connotations, and every single one has been assigned to say something about that specific character.
The beauty of The Lion King
Since 1994, families have grown to treasure this tale of “the circle of life”, and there really is so much to admire. Visually, it’s gorgeous, the voice-cast is great and the story will never feel tired. However, the deeper themes of loss, renewal, love and family at its core are what make it so truly special.
The Lion King continues to teach children about strength and death, reinforcing important life lessons; it still holds a dear place in the hearts of most adults. Its message is universal, which is why Jon Favreau’s 2019 remake has stayed so close to the source. Swapping traditional animation for photorealistic CGI, this new and revised remake plays out in the same fashion, offering nothing new besides updated, gorgeous imagery. The characters are the same, and importantly – bar the hyenas – the names have remained.
Interestingly, the names are one of the most important parts of The Lion King, and once you discover their meanings, you’ll shed beautiful new light on the film.
Simba in Swahili
Of course, the story’s protagonist and point-of-entry is Simba. We see him as a newborn in the film’s opening, only to chronicle him through the darkest and most triumphant moments of his life. The film talks about the circle of life, and indeed, we see Simba grow to become king.
The characters largely have Swahili names; a cherished Bantu language. According to Animation Source, Simba means “Lion”, so this can be taken as the most literal of the names in The Lion King. It’s a great name, and let’s be honest, it’s better than just calling him Lion.
On the other hand, the rest of the names offer much more insight into the characters.
Disney explores deeper meanings
There is a range of mysterious names spoken throughout the film, but each constitutes a distinct, advised choice. For example, the same source notes that Nala means “Gift”; someone truly special in Simba’s life, who offers him so much.
Then, there’s Mufasa, whose name translates to “King”; we couldn’t think of a more fitting name either.
It’s interesting that one of the best of the names isn’t Swahili and actually has Greek Origins. According to MyLionKing, Timon’s name translates to “Respect”, and considering he essentially educates Simba about the world, the name – like the others – fits perfectly. Pumbaa contrastingly means “Slow-witted”, which seems a little unfair on reflection but does characterise a lot of his behaviour for the bulk of the narrative.
Rafiki means “Friend”, which wonderfully encapsulates his love and connection to the family of animals which surround him. Like a great friend, he appears to offer clarity and guidance to Simba, ultimately offering the wisdom he needs to make the decision which saves his loved ones. Now that’s a friend.
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