How Sonic The Hedgehog's Twerpy Sidekick Got His Name

Happy 25th Birthday Miles “Tails” Prower
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The title screen for Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
The title screen for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sega

It’s Miles “Tails” Prower’s 25th birthday — here’s to another quarter century of making Sonic look deeply uncool.

It’s hard to remember now, but Sonic the Hedgehog was once the more “adult” alternative to Mario. In 1990, a year after its release, the Sega Genesis was floundering in North America until an ad blitz centered around Super Monaco GP, Joe Montana Football, Pat Riley Basketball, Knockout Boxing and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker — notably different flavors from Nintendo’s big release that year: Dr. Mario. From that point, the Genesis began to position itself as the more advanced system, perfect for teenagers too old and cool for the cartoon plumber brothers. “Genesis does what Nintendon’t,” the ad ends.

Sonic was sold under the same competitive rubric, challenging Mario head-on with a character aimed at teenagers. At one point in Sonic’s development, he even “had a girlfriend named Madonna with this great cleavage,” Tom Kalinske, Sega of America (SoA) president from 1990 to 1996, told Kotaku UK. Sega rolled out Sonic with mall demos nationwide, play-testing Super Mario World against Sonic the Hedgehog and trumpeting a supposed 80% preference for the speedy hedgehog.

Sonic had sneakers, Sonic had attitude, Sonic tapped his foot and sneered. And Sonic definitely didn’t have an annoying brother. That would change a little over a year later, with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yes, it may be one of the best games ever made, solidifying Sonic as a genuine challenger to Mario and kicking the console wars into overdrive, but goddamn was Tails annoying right from the beginning.

That name, “Miles Prower” (Miles Per Hour), was Sega of Japan’s idea. Wary of ruining Sonic’s cool with a punny name, SoA Marketing Director Al Nilsen and Product Manager Madeline Schroeder (who had earlier convinced Sega to alter Sonic for American audiences, removing his fangs and changing his hairstyle) plotted to convince the parent company to ditch Miles, preferably for their preferred name: “Tails.” But Sega of Japan wouldn’t budge.

So Nilsen appealed directly to Sonic Team, in person, alongside SoA Chief Operating Officer Shinobu Toyoda. Nilsen came prepared with a new backstory for the character, recounted in Blake J. Harris’ 2014 book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation:

This is the story of Miles Monotail. Miles was your average four-year-old fox. He loved to play with his friends, but his friends weren't really his friends. Whenever they saw Miles, they laughed and made fun of him. Why? Well, Miles wasn't like all of the other foxes. Miles Monotail had two tails. And as kids tend to do when someone is different, they made fun of him. It didn't help that Miles sometimes tripped over his second tail and went rolling down the hill. coordination was not one of Miles' virtues. Because of the rough time that his friends gave him, Miles became very depressed.

One day he was walking along with his head hanging down when a blur and a whoosh crossed his path. There's only one person that could be moving that fast, and that is Sonic the Hedgehog. Miles thought Sonic was the greatest person in the world. Miles wish that he could be as cool and coordinated as Sonic was. And, most of all, he wanted to meet Sonic. This was his big chance. Miles took a deep, deep breath and at the top of his lungs yelled out, ‘SONIC!’ The blur that was Sonic turned around and stopped in front of Miles. ‘You called?’ said Sonic.

‘Oh, Sonic, you're my hero,’ exclaimed Miles as he ran around and around Sonic. Well, you can guess what happened next - Miles tripped over his second Tail and fell down. Tears came to his eyes.

‘Hey, cheer up little fellow. What's the matter?’ said Sonic.

‘Sonic, I want to be just like you, but I'm a freak. I've got two tails.’

Sonic leaned over to Miles and said kindly, ‘You're no freak. You're more special than anyone because you have something that everyone else doesn't have. And you can do things that they can't. If anything, your friends should be jealous of you.’

‘But I can't do anything special,’ cried Miles.

‘Oh, yes you can,’ Sonic said. ‘I'll show you. You're about to enter Sonic's special training camp.’

Well, Miles couldn't be happier. His hero took him under his wing and started teaching Miles how to use his two tails to his advantage. He showed Miles how to curl his tails up under his body so that he was like a very aerodynamic ball and could do Sonic's famous Supersonic Spin. Sonic then taught Miles how to use his two tails as a helicopter rotor so that Miles could fly around. Even Sonic couldn't do that. Needless to say, Miles was ecstatic. He was special, and when his friends saw what Miles could do and what they couldn't do, they became very jealous, but also every single one of them wanted to become Miles' best friend. But Miles had a new best friend. Someone who believed in him. Someone who was his hero. And that friend was Sonic. Sonic was happy that he could help his buddy gain new confidence and new abilities.

‘See, Miles, you ARE special because you have two tails. And because of that, I'm going to give you a very special nickname. From now on, I'm going to call you Tails because you should always be reminded that you are special because you have two tails.’

So from that day forward, Miles Monotail became known as Tails.”

This mawkish, baby tale changed the hearts and minds of Sonic’s Japanese developers. One developer cried, legend has it. They settled on a compromise: Tails would be his nickname. And so Miles “Tails” Prower, sold in America as simply “Tails,” was born.

Gentle, sweet, with a voice like a boys’ choir flunkee, Tails has been the perpetual whiny sidekick Sonic never needed ever since. Happy Birthday, Tails. You’ll never be cool like Sonic, no matter how many airplanes you build.

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