Despite its name, the Legend of Zelda series has historically focused on Link. Even though they share the same name, most Links in the franchise are actually different people who lived centuries (if not more) apart. Regardless, almost every Link is typically tasked with rescuing Princess Zelda. Of course, that just raises questions about why there are so many Zeldas spread throughout Hyrule’s history.
While a few Zelda games oddly don’t feature the series’ namesake (including Tri Force Heroes and Link’s Awakening), she’s usually a big part of the main story and is typically in some kind of trouble by the time we find her. Her situation changes from game to game (sometimes she’s been turned to stone, other times her body has been possessed) but there’s usually a “Zelda,” and she’s usually a Princess.
While Zelda’s status as a princess was established in the very first Legend of Zelda, the importance of her royal family didn’t really come into play until later entries. Even then, fans took the existence of the Royal Family of Hyrule as a simple matter of fact. How, exactly, that family came to power wasn’t that important at first, but understanding the origins of Hyrule’s Royal Family is actually the key to understanding why Hyrule is practically overflowing with Zeldas.
Who Was the First Princess Zelda?
So far, the only Legend of Zelda game to feature a Zelda who isn’t some kind of princess is Skyward Sword. That game is chronologically the first in the franchise, and Zelda isn’t a princess in that game because it takes place before the Royal Family of Hyrule was even founded. Heck, the game’s events predate Hyrule itself, though it does crucially explain the origins of the Master Sword.
It turns out that weapon was created by a goddess, Hylia, who was later resurrected as the first Zelda. During that game’s post-credits scene, Link and Zelda don’t return to their floating island of Skyloft but instead stay behind on the ground below. It doesn’t take much to infer that they christened the land Hyrule, and, more importantly, that the Royal Family of Hyrule are actually this Zelda’s descendants (the official Hyrule Historia confirms as much). By extension, that means that the Royal Family is directly related to the Goddess Hylia.
The royal family’s lineage is key to understanding the similarities between the various Princess Zeldas, such as their proficiency in magic. This godly blood might even explain why all of the Zeldas look roughly the same. Actually, Zelda isn’t the only member of the Royal Family who apparently possesses some strong genetics.
Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the King of Hyrule has shown up every now and then. The first male Hylian ruler audiences saw in a Zelda game was King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, followed by The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap’s King Daltus and his ancestor, King Gustaf. Most recently, we were introduced to Breath of the Wild’s King Rhoam. All four rulers resemble one another, and while those similarities could usually be chalked up to references and art designers recycling sketches, we could just as easily argue that their similar looks are the result of the royal family’s divine DNA (much like Zelda herself). Of course, it’s one thing for a Zelda to inherit their predecessor’s looks and magic. Why is it that all Zeldas are still named Zelda?
How Are Future Princess Zeldas Related to the Original?
Depending on the Legend of Zelda timeline, the game’s greater canon offers slightly different explanations for why every princess is named Zelda.
90% of the time, the reason is chalked up to tradition. According to the Hyrule Historia, most women born into the Royal Family of Hyrule are named Zelda out of respect for their ancestor, as she founded both the royal line and Hyrule itself. But sometimes, as in the “Fallen Hero Timeline” where Ganondorf won, that tradition is turned into a law.
For instance, even though Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is a sequel to the original Legend of Zelda and stars the same Link, this game’s Princess Zelda is a different one. As the backstory goes, she was put into a deep, magical sleep by a wizard because Zelda’s brother, an unnamed Prince of Hyrule, wanted her piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. Since the prince blamed himself for Zelda’s fate (as he should), he commanded that all subsequent princesses would be named Zelda. Given these naming traditions and hereditary talents, the unwritten history of Hyrule that takes place between existing Legend of Zelda games is likely filled with more Princess Zeldas, as well as probably a few Queen Zeldas to boot.
However, one “Zelda” stands as an exception to that rule: the only “Princess Zelda” to not be named Zelda.
A Zelda By Any Other Name
In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, players are introduced to the pirate Tetra. Actually, Tetra kind of kickstarts the entire journey by virtue of commanding the only ship off the starting island. Mostly, though, many players remember Tetra as the star of one of the best plot twists in Zelda history.
See, Tetra is actually Princess Zelda. You could argue that she technically isn’t since you can’t be a princess without a kingdom and her name isn’t Zelda, but when Tetra receives the final piece of the Triforce of Wisdom, she physically transforms to resemble the Zeldas of past games. On top of that, she magically gains proficiency with magic and a bow, although that might be the result of the completed Triforce of Wisdom instead of any divine DNA.
Then again, Tetra inherited the Triforce of Wisdom fragment from her mother. Plus King Daphnes explicitly states that Tetra is part of the royal family’s bloodline. So maybe the physical appearance of Zelda is somehow tied to her Triforce. Even still, that doesn’t explain why Tetra’s great-great-granddaughter, the Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, looks like prior Zeldas despite lacking the Triforce. She is even named Princess Zelda.
Like many aspects of the Legend of Zelda mythology, there are numerous gaps in the logic of Zelda’s lineage. We may never fully understand the machinations of the royal family’s heredity, but at least we know it has resulted in a long line of princesses who are ready to defend Hyrule from whatever the forces of evil throw at them.