Pac-Man – Nomenclature Conflicts

Pac-Man Characters, 1980

There have been various debates over the naming of some of the items in the game.

Creator Toru Awatani about the name Pac-Man

“In Japanese the character for mouth (kuchi) is a square shape. It’s not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out. There was the temptation to make the Pac Man shape less simple. While I was designing this game, someone suggested we add eyes. But we eventually discarded that idea because once we added eyes, we would want to add glasses and maybe a moustache. There would just be no end to it. Food is the other part of the basic concept.

In my initial design I had put the player in the midst of food all over the screen. As I thought about it I realised the player wouldn’t know exactly what to do: the purpose of the game would be obscure. So I created a maze and put the food in it. Then whoever played the game would have some structure by moving through the maze.

The Japanese have a slang word – paku paku – they use to describe the motion of the mouth opening and closing while one eats. The name Pac Man came from that word.”


In Brazil, the game was unofficially named by the children as ‘Come-Come’ (lit. he eats-he eats, in Portuguese). Also an onomatopoeic, from the sound the character does when walking/eating. In Italy, the same sound is referred as a meaningless ‘Gabo Gabo’. In Spain it was called ‘Comecocos’ (coconut-eater). Pac-Man’s ghosts have names and nicknames which were: Shadow (Blinky), Speedy (Pinky), Bashful (Inky), and Pokey (Clyde). In the original “Puckman”, the ghosts were named Oikake (Akabei), Machibuse (Pinky), Kimagure (Aosuke), and Otoboke (Guzuta). Puckman also had a DIP switch for alternate ghost names : Urchin (Macky), Romp (Micky), Stylist (Mucky), and Crybaby (Mocky). Initially, Pac-Man’s enemies were referred to as monsters on the arcade cabinet, but soon became colloquially known as ghosts.

Pac-Man – Ghosts vs. Monsters

The longest-running of these debates are of the villains. The four villains of the game have been called both “monsters” and “ghosts.” Among the general population, “ghosts” seems to have become more popular. On the original gameplay instructions located next to the screen, however, the successive “200, 400, 800, 1600” scoring is referred to as “Monster point value.”. In Pac-Mania, the artwork next to the screen also calls them “monsters,” and “The Sand Box” level introduction screen warns, “Beware of bouncing monsters.” On the cabinet artwork for the earlier American games, the villains were also drawn as furry monsters.

The term “ghosts” originates from the failed Atari 2600 port. Technical limitations caused the villans to flicker, and the game’s manual dubbed them “ghosts” so as to cover up the flaw. Although the game was ultimately unsuccessful due to these flaws, the term stuck, and soon spread to all of the bubble gum cards, stickers, and other merchandise released afterwards. In the Japanese cabinet art and flyers, the villains appeared somewhat like sheeted ghosts. These became the basis for most drawings on the various merchandise. Consequently, cabinet artwork for later arcade games depicted the villans as more ghost-like.

The TV cartoon version compromised between the two conflicting names by calling them “ghost-monsters.” Despite the name, however, the villains’ characteristic were more ghost-like than monster-like. Their outfits, for instance, were now linen “ghost suits” kept stored in a closet. The villains also appeared to be spirits with eyes under the suits. However, the game intermissions show that they have fleshy bodies.

Ghosts – Who’s the Boss?

Another series of inconsistencies in the history of the game is the different personalities and roles of the ghost-monsters. In the original game, and most others afterward, the order of the listed villains in the intro screen shows Blinky as the leader. In the actual gameplay, he is the one who pursues you the most aggressively, especially in the state of Cruise Elroy. He is often followed by Pinky. Then Inky often cuts Pac-Man’s escape route off, as was stated. Clyde always seems to be wandering off and doesn’t get in the way as much. This pattern was followed consistently, until the cartoon, in which the personalities were changed, with Clyde as the boss, Inky as the dumb one, Sue (a new, purple ghost who later appeared in Pac-Land) as bossy and Blinky as very timid. (Only Pinky’s personality matched his character as a tough bully.)

The games released after the TV series continued the original roles, until Pac-Land, which was based squarely on the cartoon. While the four male ghosts basically do not differ in their moves (they mostly bob up and down in their vehicles), the eyes now reflected the cartoon, with Clyde as the angry-looking leader, Blinky as timid looking and Inky as stupid-looking, with crossed eyes. Sue was also particularly aggressive, lurking behind you if you moved too slowly through the game. These were the basic drawings of the ghosts used on most merchandise and newer game artwork to the present.

Pac-Mania changed things again. The facial expressions were not used in the game or cabinet artwork. (With the exception of Sue’s angry eyes in the game). The screen displaying the list of high-scores, however, shows the cartoon ghosts chasing Pac-Man, with Blinky having the angry “boss” eyes, while Inky still having the goofy crossed eyes. On the other hand, the screen-side art somewhat followed the cartoon, listing “Clyde” as “The Boss. He’s super fast when mad.” (Which would presumably refer to the “Cruise Elroy” associated with the true boss, Blinky.) Blinky is listed as “The slow, absent minded one.” However, on the actual gameplay, players see pretty much the same pattern from the original game, with Blinky coming fast, Pinky being tough, Inky moderately tough, and Clyde hardly bothering the player at all. The difference is Sue, who is once again very aggressive (and now often gives you more trouble than Blinky), along with the game’s new ghosts, Funky and Spunky.

In Pac-Man Arrangement, the personality-swap introduced by the cartoon completely affected the personalities in the game. The different-colored ghosts still act the normal way, but now, on the introductory screen where the ghosts are listed, players see that Blinky and Clyde have swapped names! (“Clyde” is now the red leader, and “Blinky” is the orange one on the bottom). Confused ?

Pac-Man – Power pellets

On the instruction cards, the power items were called “energizers”, but on the Atari 2600 port they were called “power pills”, and on the cartoon they were called “power pellets” (“pellet” is more appropriate, since “pill” might suggest a drug reference). The 240 basic ten-point items on the game are simply called “dots” on the card. Again, the Atari 2600 version changed the dots to “video wafers” (because of their rectangular shape, no doubt). “Pac away” was used as the verb for the act of “eating” them. But there were no such pellets in the cartoon, but rather all were power pellets. (The act of one character eating another was called “chomping” in the cartoon).

Pac-Man – Fruits

 The fruits were not officially classified in the original instruction cards and were not represented in the cartoon. Players have generally adopted the name of “fruits” to the bonus items that appear in the middle of the board. Pac-Mania officially calls them fruits; when a fruit appears, a notification says, “Fruit target.” Jr. Pac-Man calls them “bonus symbols,” but that game had toys, instead of fruits. The static square-within-a-square prize in the center of the Atari 2600 board is called a Vitamin by the game’s instruction manual.

Mike Matei

Hey there, I'm Mike Matei, the brains behind, a blog entirely dedicated to the iconic Pac-Man game. As a lifelong fan and geek of classic arcade gaming, I've poured my passion into creating a virtual museum celebrating everything Pac-Man. E-mail / Linkedin