Final Fantasy Summons Names
Etymology and Mythology of Final Fantasy Names
Welcome to my continuing series on Final Fantasy names. Last time, I covered the meaning and origins of Final Fantasy character names. Now it's time for Final Fantasy summons! Their names almost always derive from world mythology.
In fact, many summons have developed a sort of in-house Final Fantasy mythology: Norse Odin, decked out as a samurai, shows off a Japanese Zantetsuken move; the goddess (!) Shiva dances with ice; and Alexander has apparently been reincarnated as a mech. Others are closer to their real-world equivalents. Either way, the summons are (I think) the true stars of Final Fantasy, the recurring characters that carry over most often from game to game, in one form or another.
Without further ado, here's the etymology of all the summons whose names I could trace. Since most of them appear in multiple games, I've listed them alphabetically.
The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges (1957) appears to have been used as a sourcebook by the creators of D&D and Final Fantasy: there are a few creatures in it like Carbuncle, Kataja and Bahamut which are very difficult to discover anywhere else. Other mythological creatures in this book are more widely known.
Borges' book of fantastic creatures includes: Amphisbaena, Bahamut, Basilisk, Behemoth, Catoblepas, Cerberus, Chimera, Golem, Hippogriff, Kraken, Kujata, Lamia, Mandrake, Manticore, Acheron (as a monster), Naga, Ouroboros, Rukh, Simurgh, Sphinx, Talos.
Summons from A-H
Send Up the Bat Signal; We Need Backup!
Adrammelech (Final Fantasy XII): Adramelech was originally a near eastern sun god; in the Bible he becomes a demon. In FFXII, he's opposed to the "scion of light."
Alexander (FFVI onward): I have no idea why he always seems to be a great big mech (and/or something with lots of wings), but the name almost has to come from Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Greek king.
Anima (Final Fantasy X): This fascinating aeon has the name of a Catholic icon, and I've written a whole page on the aeon Anima and her mythology.
Asura (Final Fantasy IV): In Hindu and later Buddhist traditions, the asuras are like demons or Greek Titans: an older race of gods (probably an older pantheon) often at odds with the more civilized gods that succeeded them.
Atomos (FFIX, FFXII, FFXIII): From Greek atomos, un-cuttable. The Greek philosophers first came up with the concept of the atom, tiny indivisible particles that made up the stuff of matter. I suspect the word has become a symbol of power and danger to the Japanese due to its associations with the word "atomic."
Bahamut (FFIII onward) is actually from D&D mythology, where Bahamut is the Platinum Dragon, king of dragons. Jorge Borges claims that Bahamut is a vast fish from Arabian mythology on whose head the world rests.
Bismarck (FFVI,FFXIII): Name of Germany's most famous WWII battleship, named after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Brynhildr (FFXIII), aka Brunnhilde, is a warrior-maiden from Norse Mythology, a valkyrie.
Carbuncle (FFV onward) is another D&D monster that probably came from Borges' book, although its pedigree is much older. It's a Native American myth, refashioned by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his parable of The Great Carbuncle. His version comes from a Narraganset Indian legend of a snake with a red carbuncle on its head. The stone in the carbuncle myth is always a ruby. Borges' book claimed the carbuncle story comes from Latin America, and his description sounds like the Final Fantasy creature: "a smallish animal, with a shining mirror on its head, like a glowing coal..."
Catoblepas (FFV): Mentioned by a couple naturalists in the Roman empire, Catoblepas seems to be one of those garbled accounts of some beastie from another continent: a sort of monstrous bull. It's in D&D, but the old Monster Manual depicts it as a rather long-necked creature, rather than a hefty one; I think Final Fantasy's version comes from Borges which was in turn based on the ancient texts.
Cú Chulainn (FFXII): I'm not quite sure why FFXII made Cú Chulainn, one of the greatest mythological warrior-heroes of Ireland, into a gooey monster of the sewers.
Cu Sith (FFXII: Revenant Wings): Your suspicion is correct. That's Cú Sidhe "Faerie dog," another critter of Celtic mythology, similar to Cait Sith.
Famfrit the Darkening Cloud (FFXII): I haven't tracked down the name Famfrit, but this is probably the Cloud of Darkness of FFIII (Mateus of FFII and Zeromus of FFIV also cameo in FFXII as espers).
Fenrir (FFVI, FFVII): Monstrous son of the trickster-god Loki in Norse mythology, the great wolf Fenrir (or Fenris) will kill Odin during Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and monstrous forces. In older myths Fenrir devours the sun (or moon); when the myths came to be written down as epics it is Fenrir's twin offspring who are responsible for this job. (I recall watching a lunar eclipse in college with my friends saying, "Bad Fenrir, bad. Drop it, Fenrir. No biscuit.")
Golem (FFV): An animated figure of earth from medieval Jewish Folklore. Yet another being that probably came from Borges' book.
Grothia (FFX): Summoner Isaaru has the same aeons as Yuna, but they're named in Greek. His version of Ifrit is named Grothia, "fist."
Hades (FFVII): Greek god of the underworld. Yes, you knew that.
Hashmal (FFXII): electricity, fire, whirlwind... we're not quite sure what hashmal was, but the Jewish prophet Ezekial saw it in the middle of his bizarre vision recounted in the Old Testament, and it's been a concept in Jewish and Christian mysticism ever since.
Hecatoncheir (FFXIII): This made my day. The hekaton-cheires "hundred-handers" are giants from the dawn of Greek mythology, one generation older than the Titans, who sided with Zeus against the Titans. One of the three Hekatoncheires was named Gygas, by the way. (Hekatoncheir is the correct Greek singular; bravo, Square!)
What Does "Eidolon" Mean, Anyway?
A Summoned Beast by Any Other Name...
I've read that Final Fantasy summons are called, simply, "Summoned Beasts" (or maybe "summons beasts") in the original Japanese games. It's only the foreign ports of Final Fantasy that change what they are called from game to game. (Would a Japanese speaker please confirm that for us?)
In several games, summons are called eidolons. This word is from Greek mythology: eidolons are spirits (daimones) or ghosts of the dead that possess the living. Translated "phantoms" since their name comes from eidos, "appearance, form, manifestation." Interestingly, I've heard that Espers, eidolons, aeons, etc are all called simply, "summoned beasts" in the original Japanese games (I need someone to confirm this).
Final Fantasy Summons I-Q
Espers, Eidolons, GFs, Aeons... Make Up Your Mind, Square!
Ifrit (FFIII onward): A kind of djinni from Arabian folklore, more often transliterated Efreet. They appear frequently in the Thousand and One Nights as demon-like figures. They fly -- I haven't found references to horns, but wouldn't be surprised -- and are sometimes associated with fire and/or sandstorms.
Ixion (Final Fantasy X) is a rather Cain-like figure in Greek mythology: the first kinslayer, he first wins the pity of Zeus, but then his wrath, after Ixion falls in love with Hera. Zeus fashions a false Hera from a cloud for him to bed; from this union comes the half-man, half-horse centaurs -- there are horses all through Ixion's story, but no unicorns! He is slain by a thunderbolt and bound to a wheel in Hades where he revolves for eternity. The connection with equines and thunder is rather tenuous; I renamed this aeon Ki-rin. :)
Kirin (FFVI): Kirin/Qilin is usually called a Japanese/Chinese unicorn, although the creature has two horns and is more like a tiger, ox or dragon crossed with a deer. Even more powerful than Dragon or Phoenix in Japanese mythology, kirin was a ferocious punisher of the wicked.
Kjata (FFVII): According to Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, from Arabic folklore; I've found no other sources. In this myth, the Earth rests on the back of Kujata, a mighty bull, which stands on the back of the primodial fish Leviathan.
Knights of the Round (FFVII): You know who they are: King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. The important thing here is that this is the only appearance of Excalibur in FFVII: it is one of Final Fantasy's most common swords that appears in nearly every game.
Lakshmi (FFVI): Hindu goddess of light, beauty, wealth, fertility, wife of Vishnu, Lakshmi's origin myth suggests she and Aphrodite may be the same goddess (Aphrodite is an eastern import to Greek myth)
Leviathan (FFIII onward) is a giant fish or sea serpent the Book of Job in the Biblical Old Testament; ultimately he is probably a sea monster from older Near Eastern cultures. He is a sea dragon, the aquatic cousin (at least metaphorically) of Behemoth.
Maduin (FFVI): Mael Duin is an Irish seafaring hero whose Odysseus-like voyages are preserved in early Irish Christian writings. Writer Patricia Aakhus has retold this epic adventure.
Midgardsormr (FFVI): Old Norse for the Midgard Serpent, another of Loki's monstrous children, who will battle and defeat Thor during Ragnarok. In the meantime, the Midgard Serpent is a sea serpent girdling the earth.
Minotaur (FVIII): I forgot the GFs were called "Brothers" in Final Fantasy VIII, because I always rename them "Minotauri." But of course, one of them is named Minotaur. They hide in a labyrinth as a proper Greek Minotaur should. Your schoolteacher probably never told you the Minotaur's scandalous origin, although I suspect that was a Greek smear-myth plastered onto a more dignified Minoan myth after the Minoan civilization gave way to the Greeks.
Odin (FFIII onward) is the Norse father of the gods, a sky-god analogous to Zeus. In Norse mythology he's depicted as an old man rather like Gandalf, hooded and cloaked, missing an eye which he sacrificed for wisdom. His spear is Gungnir, which often appears in Final Fantasy, and his horse Sleipnir has eight legs (probably too hard to animate). As a sky-god, it makes some sense to have him associated with a stormy entrance, but his iron-cutting sword move (Zantetetsuken) is purely Japanese, and his appearance in Final Fantasy is that of a medieval Japanese warrior.
Pandemona (FFVIII): Pandaemonium was the name of the capitol of Hell invented by John Milton in Paradise Lost. It means "every demon." The word caught on to mean a general hubbub, chaos.
Phoenix (FFV onward): You know what a phoenix is, of course: a fiery bird that consumes itself in flames and is reborn from the ashes. Its origins are Egyptian, the Benu bird associated with the sun which was supposed to be born of fire. Later Greek, Roman, and medieval myth came to emphasize the death-and-rebirth from ashes. Here's a great page on ancient sources for "phoenix." The phoenix is not only known in the West, however; it was also a magical bird of China and Japan.
Pterya (FFX): Isaaru's version of Valefor, the graceful winged aeon of Besaid, takes her name from Greek pteryx, "winged creature."
Qetzacoatl (FFVI, FFVIII): Creator-god of the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl is usually associated with the morning star, dawn, or the wind; I've found no particular myth tying him to thunder.
What's an "Aeon," Anyway?
Shut Up, Tidus
In Roman mythology, Aeon (from Greek aion, "life-span, age, eternity" is a personification of time or eternity. I imagine him as something like our Father Time, except younger: a Roman mosaic depicts Aion as an Apollo-like god. For the Greeks and Romans, eternity does not age.
However, this may not be quite the right Aeon. In Gnostic Christian mysticism, aeons are emanations (manifestations of particular aspects) of God. That sounds more like the summons of Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy Summons R-Z
Something Tells Me You're Gonna Need These Guys
Ragnarok: Judgment Day in Norse mythology, Ragnarok is not actually a god or being, simply the battle between the gods and giants at the end of the world.
Raiden: (FFVI, FFVIII) Shinto Japanese god of thunder/storms, Raiden is also called Raijin, ya?
Ramuh: Most Final Fantasy guides associate him with the Hindu hero Rama of the Ramayana, but I wonder if they're all repeating the same mistaken guess? Rama is a young, virile hero, not an old bearded sage. Oddly, Final Fantasy IV (US version) calls him Indra, another Hindu deity who is indeed a storm god associated with thunder.
Remora (FFV): I'm not surprised this summons wasn't a repeat; it's just a fish that tends to stick to sharks, whales, and small boats. Although according to Wikipedia, Romans thought large remoras could stop ships. This is another story found in Borges' book, again pointing to it as a source for many of FF's monsters and creatures.
Seraph (FFVI): Originally serpents in old Jewish mythology, Seraphim became fiery angelic beings in later Judeo-Christian tradition. (The name means "burning ones.")
Shemhazai (Final Fantasy XII): alternate name for Samyaza, a fallen angel in apocryphal Jewish and Christian folklore.
Shiva (FFIII onward) has been female and an ice goddess since she first appeared in Final Fantasy III. She is derived from the major Hindu god Shiva, who occasionally can appear as a union of the sexes but almost never as female: in fact, he's a symbol of virility. Nor has the real Shiva anything to do with ice, although he is sometimes depicted as blue (more commonly, however, Vishnu is the blue god). I don't know what Square was thinking, but their not-quite-Shiva Shiva is one of the most compelling summons, even if her origin is a puzzle.
Siren (FFVI, FFVIII): A monster from Greek mythology; eagle's body, woman's head, these monsters would lure sailors onto shoals with their sweet music. Oddly, they also appear as haunting funerary decorations in Greek art.
Spathi (FFX) Isaaru's version of Bahamut is named Spathi, Greek for "Sword."
Sylph (FFIV, FFV) Contrary to common belief, sylphs are not from Greek mythology; they were spirits of the air invented by the 16th century Renaissance man, intellectual and crackpot, Paracelsus, as this delightful blog post on Paracelsus explains. Some modern mythmakers are now convinced that sylphs are scrubbing chemtrails from our skies. Riiight.
Titan (FFIII onward) is a sort of giant (although the giants were another race) in Greek mythology. The Titans preceded and were overthrown by Zeus and the Olympian gods. As the children of Gaia (Earth) who sided with her against her tyrannical husband Uranos (sky), it makes some sense to associate Titan(s) with the element of earth.
Unicorn (Final Fantasy VI): Although unicorn-like creatures (probably oryxes or rhinos) are mentioned by a few Greek and Roman sources, the tale really took off in the Middle Ages with its entry in the widely-copied manuscript, The Book of Beasts, source for many of the stock fantasy animals of D&D, Final Fantasy and Harry Potter. Marco Polo was rather disenchanted by his encounter with a "unicorn" (obviously a rhinoceros).
Valefor (Final Fantasy X): Oddly, sweet and gentle Valefor, whose fayth appears as a girl about Yuna's age, is named after a demon. Er?!
Yojimbo (Final Fantasy X): Means "bodyguard" in Japanese. Doubtless named for director Kurosawa's famous film, Yojimbo, about a rather Auron-like mercenary samurai.
Zalera (Final Fantasy XII): Called the 'Death Seraph," I've seen a plausible suggestion that this many in fact be an anagram for Azrael the Angel of Death, who appears as a minor boss in Final Fantasy III.
Zodiark (Final Fantasy XII), the final Esper of FFXII, gives away the theme of twelve (plus one) in FFXII: the Espers are arranged according to the zodiac, each associated with a sign. Note that Zodiark is associated with Ophiuchus, a sign of the zodiac that's been floating around in Greek and Arabic myth since ancient times, but it was popularized and widely adapted in Japanese pop culture in the late 90s thanks to Walter Berg's The 13 Signs of the Zodiac.
A Few Great Final Fantasy Summons - Wait, Where's Shiva?!
Final Fantasy Names Continued - More mythology and meanings
- Final Fantasy Character Names: Meanings and Origins
Yeah, you know about Squall and Cloud. But did you know Tidus' name is more than just another water name? And that Tifa's and Sephiroth's names are actually related?
- Final Fantasy Monster Names: Mythology and Meanings
Real-world mythology, cryptozoology, urban legends and even fantasy and horror novels furnish recurring names for the bestiaries of the Final Fantasy universes.
- Final Fantasy Place Names: Etymology and Origins
Most place names in Final Fantasy worlds are invented, but there are also many real-world references to archaeological sites, mythical places and more.
If you know any Final Fantasy fans, please share this page with them!
Questions & Answers
© 2011 auronlu