Simba and Mufasa in The Lion King

The Hidden Meaning Behind Mufasa’s Name in ‘The Lion King,’ Explained

“Mufasa, I hear that name and I just shudder ..."

As Walt Disney Studios looks to promote its next live-action spinoff film, Mufasa: The Lion King, it’s worth looking into the hidden meaning behind the King of Pride Rock’s name. And yes, it’s deeper than you’d think—or not, depending on how you look at it.

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Names carry a lot of power, and in Disney movies, they often represent something crucial about the character they’re associated with. It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the conniving Cruella de Vil has both “cruel” and “devil” in her name, or why Belle from Beauty and the Beast is, as her name suggests, beautiful. It’s literally laid out for us in the first song: “It’s no wonder that her name means Beauty.”

However, not all of these heroes and villains have such overt names, and writers are actually pretty clever when it comes to making up names that allude to folklore or ancient history, have some sort of double entendre, or simply poke fun at well-known expressions. On the contrary, some Disney characters’ names don’t have much meaning at all. I mean, Elsa and Anna aren’t exactly unusual, by any means—they’re simply common Scandinavian names you’ll find a hundred times over in the white pages.

The meaning behind Mufasa’s name, and how it hints at his true destiny

Following the release of the first full-length trailer for Disney’s upcoming live-action musical, Mufasa: The Lion King, the King of Pride Rock has popped up in headlines again, and it’s important to understand why his name is so significant to his character arc. The movie, helmed by If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins, will take viewers back in time to Mufasa’s (Aaron Pierre) youth through the lens of a grown-up Simba (Donald Glover), who “is determined for his cub to follow in his paw prints.”

Of course, we all know how Mufasa meets his untimely (and seriously gruesome) end at the hands of his brother, Taka (a.k.a. Scar). The antagonist will be voiced by Kelvin Harrison Jr. this time around, with the film set to flesh out the strained relationship between the two brothers. A-listers like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Blue Ivy Carter, Mads Mikkelsen, and Seth Rogen round out the cast, among others.

With the upcoming live-action prequel set to explore Mufasa’s “dark origins,” it’s worth it to do a little digging into these characters and their motivations—and unsurprisingly, the etymology of a name can tell us a lot. A quick Google search (via babynames.com) claims that the name “Mufasa” is Swahili in origin, which adds up with The Lion King‘s setting in the African plains. According to the outlet, Mufasa means “to rule, to govern.” Not exactly subtle there, huh, Disney?

Being the wise and stoic leader of Pride Rock, it makes sense that Mufasa was always fated to be a leader. Hilariously enough, Taka, on the other hand, loosely translates to “garbage” or “waste” in Swahili, meaning their parents either knew Scar’s destiny from the start, or they were just seriously trolling. Talk about picking favorites!

So, there you have it. “Mufasa, I hear that name and I just shudder” now feels all the more profound. It’ll be interesting to see his gritty backstory play out in Mufasa: The Lion King, and if Beyoncé singing Lin-Manuel Miranda songs might actually break the internet once and for all. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Mufasa: The Lion King arrives in theaters on December 20, 2024.

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)


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Author
Amanda Landwehr
Amanda is a Los Angeles-based entertainment writer who lives and breathes Star Wars, Marvel, and all things pop culture. She has worked in digital media since 2021, covering the latest movie/TV releases, casting updates, fan theories, and so, so much more. When she's not rotting away behind her laptop screen, you can typically catch Amanda maxing out her AMC Stubs membership.