Do you know American President Ronald Reagan is to thank for the success of the Transformers franchise?
In the early 1980s Hasbro executives noticed a line of Japanese toys called the Diaclones, which were robots that transformed into vehicles. They thought the concept had merit, so the company licensed them to be sold in the States with a new name and new backstory. The cool but faceless robots became two warring factions from Planet Cybertron, the good-aligned Autobots and the Evil Decepticons, both marooned on Earth after a battle and awakened from stasis by an erupting volcano. They were given names like Megatron, Optimus Prime, Ratchet and Buzzsaw by a team from Marvel comics, who also developed their backstory.
Where does Ronald Reagan come in, do you ask? Before 1980, there were restrictions on children’s TV advertising for the protection of young minds (and parent’s wallets) that studies said were unable to tell the difference between a character in a cartoon and that same character in a commercial. This made sense when animated favorites like the Flintstones regularly shilled cigarettes and other vices, but Reagan no longer saw the need for such restrictions. He lifted the ban, opening the toy market up to half-hour commercials disguised as TV series. The rest, as children of the 1980s know, is history.
(Not only the Transformers benefited from such a cross promotion. GI Joe, My Little Pony, the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and He-Man all developed series or specials of their own. )
Transformer proper names were unrelentingly macho, cobbled together from the names of tools, car and computer parts, and rocket and jet terminology. This February I will be running wild with them. For today, here’s a list of Transformer names that don’t sound too far out of the ordinary. If you’re writing fanfic, one of these would do for an original character. Or perhaps you need a name for a Transformers-like clone for your own work.