A few years ago, Shigeru Miyamoto managed to troll the internet by “revealing” that Link’s full name is “Link Link.” It may have just been a cute nod to the fact that Mario’s name is apparently Mario Mario (a joke established by the infamous 1993 Super Mario movie), but considering that there is so much about Link and the Zelda universe that remains mysterious, fans tend to be invested in anything that Miyamoto says about the franchise.
If you ask me, though, Link’s first name has always been more interesting than his last name. After all, why did Nintendo decided to name Link…well…Link in the first place?
What’s makes that question even more fascinating is that the origins of most other major Nintendo characters’ names are pretty well-known. For instance, Mario was named after an old Nintendo of America landlord, and Donkey Kong’s name is really just a way to tell American audiences that he’s a “stubborn ape.” Even Zelda is named after Zelda Fitzgerald. When it comes to Link, though, you rarely hear Nintendo discuss the origins of the character’s name and even hardcore franchise fans would probably struggle to explain it.
As it turns out, though, Nintendo has previously explained why Link is named Link, and the reason for his name reveals some surprising information about the evolution of the franchise itself.
In a largely forgotten 2012 interview between Shigeru Miyamoto and Game Kult, Miyamoto talked about Link’s design and shared this fascinating historical tidbit in the process:
“Link’s name comes from the fact that originally, the fragments of the Triforce were supposed to be electronic chips. The game was to be set in both the past and the future, and as the main character would travel between both and be the link between them, they called him Link.”
First off, I should mention that it’s entirely possible that Miyamoto was misquoted or that the interview itself was mistranslated in some way. I’ve even seen some alternate translations of that interview, though the one above appears to be the most popular. That said, the thing that really makes that quote so weird is the simple fact I’ve never heard anyone else closely associated with the Zelda franchise talk about this mysterious period in the original game’s development when the series’ plot involved science fiction or a version of the Triforce made of electronic chips.
Still, the part about Link traveling between the past and future does make sense given that later Zelda games featured a similar mechanic. Miyamoto’s quote suggests that time travelling was supposed to be introduced in the first Zelda game, albeit in a much different way.
However, it should also be noted that Miyamoto himself has “contradicted” that quote somewhat in other interviews. For instance, in the 2011 book The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, Miyamoto said that Link was named Link because “he connects people together” and that “he was supposed to spread the scattered energy of the world through the ages.”
While that idea kind of works with the time travel concept, Miyamoto almost makes it sound like the name Link was always meant to convey the idea that Link is a hero who exists throughout the ages in one form or another and wasn’t just a character who initially jumped between the past and present.
If pressed to guess, I’d say that Nintendo dropped the time travel element of the first game early on but decided to keep the name Link simply because they liked it. I’d also guess that Miyamoto came up with that “spread the scattered energy” explanation sometime after the fact, though it certainly makes sense if he just felt like he wanted to revisit that time travel concept sometime down the line and decided to keep the name Link just in case he ever actually got the chance to do so.
There are a couple of other explanations for Link’s name that are fairly popular but don’t seem to be entirely true. For example, some fans have pointed out that the German word for “left” is “link” or “links.” Considering that Link is one of the most infamous left-handed heroes in gaming (at least some of the time), I understand if you feel that there’s no way that’s just a coincidence. Try as I might, though, I can’t find a statement from any member of the Zelda design team throughout the years that has confirmed that Link’s name was in any way chosen to inform the player that he was a left-handed character.
The other explanation you sometimes hear for Link’s name is the idea that he is supposed to represent the link between the character and the player. That seems to be based on an old quote from Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma in which he says that the fact Link doesn’t speak is a “precious part of the individuality of his character” and helps make him more of a blank slate that can’t easily lose the player by saying something they will not agree with. However, the name Link doesn’t seem to have been chosen specifically to convey a similar idea.