For a game franchise with dozens of entries that span a timeline nearly a millennium long, it’s no surprise that family ties and bloodlines are a major theme in the Castlevania series. Many of the games’ protagonists are descended from the Belmonts, a clan of vampire hunters fated to a series of recurring battles against Count Dracula and the forces of darkness across the generations. Their bloodline is a prerequisite for wielding their family heirloom, the holy whip known as the Vampire Killer.
But the Belmonts are not the only noteworthy family in this story. Witches from the Belnades clan have played a role in several games. But what kind of name is Belnades, anyway? Belmont is a real name, but I’ve never heard the name Belnades outside of Castlevania. Is there some country where that’s a common last name? Is it a reference to something? Is this name different in the Japanese version, and if so, is the localized name wrong? If you’ve ever wondered about these things, join me on my journey for answers.
The first appearance of the name Belnades is in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. As a prequel, it takes place two hundred years before the first game, and it replaces established series protagonist Simon Belmont with his ancestor, Trevor. But Trevor is not the only playable character—players can also recruit Dracula’s son Alucard, the acrobatic Grant DaNasty, and the mage Sypha Belnades.
Game localizations were often messy back then, and Castlevania III is no exception. The name in the manual, Sypha Belnades, is wildly different from the name seen in the game itself during the ending sequence, Syfa Velnumdes. But which of these names is right, if either? To my knowledge, there’s no interview that explains the origin of the name, or any other conclusive evidence, so the issue is surprisingly complex.
To start, let’s look at the Japanese version of the game, 悪魔城伝説 (Akumajō Densetsu, Devil Castle Legend.) The manual writes her name in katakana as サイファ・ヴェルナンデス (Saifa Verunandesu.) On the other hand, the ending sequence of the game writes her name in Roman letters as “Sypha Velnumdes,” which doesn’t quite match either American name. Syfa and Sypha have the same pronunciation, and so they are both equally valid interpretations of Saifa, but later games in the series have consistently gone with Sypha, so it’s safe at this point to call that name official. I personally find it more aesthetically pleasing.
However, her last name is trickier. A purist might argue that “Velnumdes” is correct because it’s what’s in the Japanese game, but later official Japanese media contradicts it. Moreover, Japanese games frequently use English text for little reason other than to look cool—the same reason someone shirts with Japanese text are currently trendy in the West. In both cases, it’s not uncommon for the person doing the translation to not be particularly knowledgeable about the other language.
It’s clear Konami didn’t mean for Sypha to be from Japan, so however she would write her name, it wouldn’t be in Japanese katakana—Verunandesu must be a transliteration of some foreign name into Japanese. But did they have a real name in mind, or did they just invent something that sounded plausibly like a Romanization of a foreign name?
If it’s the former, it’s not at all clear what real name they had in mind, which suggests that it’s the latter. In that case, the Western releases would be free to invent their own names with no fear of losing any meaningful reference, and it’d be hard to call either Belnades or Velnumdes wrong. Since magic isn’t real, it’s very plausible that they would invent a fantastical name for a spellcaster.
An inconsistent legacy
That’s not a very satisfyingly answer, but fortunately, our journey does not end here. In 1999, the series made the leap to 3D. Castlevania on the Nintendo 64 featured two playable characters: Reinhardt Schneider, a descendant of the Belmont family; and Carrie Fernandez, a descendant of Sypha Belnades.
Reinhardt carries both the blood and weapon of the Belmont clan, which suggests that a woman from the Belmont family married a man with the surname Schneider at some point. Many fans assume the same happened with Carrie, but that’s not the case in the Japanese version, where her name is キャリー・ヴェルナンデス (Kyarī Verunandesu.) So Fernandez is not an offshoot of the Belnades family—it is a third localization of the same surname. The 2002 Game Boy Advance title Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance reused this translation choice just three years later.
Considering Fernandez is a real name, and Verunandesu is pretty close to how a Japanese person would pronounce it, I’d say it’s pretty good localization. What’s more, at this point Konami used it twice in a row, so it looked like it was going to stick. However, Harmony of Dissonance also mistranslated サイファーのクリスタル (Saifa no Kurisutaru, Sypha’s Crystal) as “Cipher’s Charm,” so maybe the decision wasn’t a carefully considered one after all. Indeed, the very next year, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow backtracked on this by introducing Yoko Belnades.
And from that point onward, the localizations stuck with Belnades. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Castlevania Judgment, and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair would all use this name.
Beyond the games
The release of the Netflix animated series in 2017 cemented this choice even further, where voice actress Alejandra Reynoso performed the role of Sypha Belnades with a pronounced Spanish accent, perhaps inspired by the prior localization of the name as Fernandez.
Being from the region that later became Spain, this Sypha pronounces her surname as though it were Spanish, saying “bell-NAH-dess.” Although this pronunciation may differ from what American players expected, it is actually fairly close to the Japanese pronunciation—much closer than how I said it as a kid, “BELL-nades.”
There is one detail I have glossed over until this point, though. ヴェルナンデス begins with the character ヴ, which is exclusively used to write foreign words that use a V sound, like ヴィデオ (video.) This means that if Konami did indeed base Verunandesu on a real name, that name cannot have been either Belnades or Fernandez. But what is it? To answer that question, let’s take a quick look outside of the Castlevania series entirely.
What Sypha Belnades has in common with Todd Bonzalez
An image from the largely forgotten 1995 Super Famicom game Fighting Baseball went viral several years ago. Apparently, it is the result of a team of Japanese people being tasked with inventing plausible-sounding names for American baseball players. In many cases, they seem to be real names with a single letter changed at random. This includes Todd Bonzalez, whose last name is Gonzalez with the first letter changed to B, and Mike Sernandez, which is clearly derived from Fernandez or Hernandez.
I previously remarked that Verunandesu is close to, but not exactly, how a Japanese person would pronounce Fernandez. The way they would pronounce Fernandez is フェルナンデス (Ferunandesu.) In light of Fighting Baseball, it’s very easy to look at Verunandesu and see it as the exact same thing as Sernandez: they simply took the name Fernandez and changed the first letter. I can’t claim to know for sure, but to me, it really looks like that’s what happened. If so, the most direct translation of Sypha’s last name would unquestionably be Vernandez—which, incidentally, seems to be a real but extremely rare name.
However, there is one key difference. The team behind Fighting Baseball had to generate a list of dozens of names for an entire league of barely-distinguishable baseball players. On the other hand, Konami was dealing with a single named character with her own backstory, sprite, and gameplay capabilities—they probably put more thought into it.
By that logic, I don’t think the use of the letter V is random. The sound does not natively exist in Japanese. Although video can be written ヴィデオ (video), it is more commonly written ビデオ (bideo), and many speakers struggle with the pronunciation of the former. Being a letter that does not exist natively makes it mysterious and exotic, which are good connotations to evoke for a magic user.
At Journey’s End
Regardless, for better or worse, Belnades seems to be the name that stuck outside of Japan. The Wild West days of video game localization where localizations would put in so little care that the manual and game would flagrantly contradict each other are long past. Konami must have made the decision to go with Belnades in more recent Castlevania media after careful consideration, as they went against two consecutive uses of Fernandez.
People get used to the names they know and dislike change, and the Western fandom settled on the name from the CV3 manual, Belnades, long before Aria of Sorrow made it the standard. The name Belnades sounds mystical and exotic—it does for the West what the V in Verunandesu does for Japanese audiences, so it is a good localization. The letter V isn’t quite as exotic and mystical to Western audiences, so they wouldn’t respond to Vernandez the way Japanese audiences respond to Verunandesu.
Which name do you like the best? Do you have any other questions Castlevania series were localized? Let me know in the comments below, or on our Twitter!