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In the Men in Black films Zed is called "Zed" (obviously...). However, the letter Z is pronounced as:

  • Zed: This appears to be the common English form from the UK, Canada, Australia etc.
  • Zee: This appears to be the American-English version used widely in America.

Men in Black is set in New York, USA and as such you think they's use the American pronunciation.

Looking into this further the wikia on the agents lists them as K, J and O etc. All apart from Zed who is listed as Zed so he could be a special case. However, imdb lists them as Kay, Jay and Zed so it could just be that the wikia is incorrect.

From an out of universe perspective it also makes sense for them to have used Zee as the actor who played Zed Rip Torn, the director Barry Sonnenfeld and the writer Ed Solomon are all American.

Lastly, the comics, that the film was adapted from, was American and written by an American Lowell Cunningham. Note that he also appears to be called Zed in the comics.

The comics first mention of Zed

With all this information why is Zed "Zed" and not "Zee"?

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    Well, Zed is the common version used in America, but we Americans still know what "zed" means and that it's an alternative name for "zee". It's not like it's foreign, just unusual. – Mark Beadles Dec 1 '17 at 16:03
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    Zee is probably too easily confused with other similar sounding letters (Cee, for example). Zed is more unique. Similar to why militaries often use a phonetic alphabet to avoid potential misunderstandings. – Dan Smolinske Dec 1 '17 at 16:49
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    "Zed's dead baby....Zed's dead" – NKCampbell Dec 1 '17 at 16:52
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    Because in America, while the letter is pronounced zee, Zed is a common enough nickname for people with names that start Ze- that it doesn't really stick out. Source: I'm American – Broklynite Dec 1 '17 at 17:54
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    @MarkBeadles I'm not sure how many Americans actually know "zed" means the letter Z. Once I had to read a serial number over the phone to an American and he I had no I idea what I was saying until I pronounced the letter Z as "zee". – Ross Ridge Dec 1 '17 at 18:38
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It's a joke, going back to the original comic series The Men in Black, that the MiB have names that are letters, but which, when pronounced, are also valid first names in English. However, there aren't very many names in that category:

Female: Bea, Dee, Kay, Elle, Em

Male: Jay, Kay, Zed

Since there are so few names available that are consistent with the joke, creator Lowell Cunningham, even though he's American and the series takes place in the U.S.A., used the British/Commonwealth pronunciation of the letter Z.

In the film/animation continuity, this joke was largely abandoned after the first film. Presumably, the reason was that the American children at whom the animated MiB show was primarily aimed were assumed not to get how the name Zed fit with the pattern of Jay and Kay.

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    It make sense. Do you have a source for this? Or it is just speculation? – amflare Dec 1 '17 at 17:45
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    As an American I child I did wonder why Zed got a real name while all the other agents were just letters. I figured it was just because he was "The boss". Years later when I realized many other languages pronounce Z as Zed and not Zee I felt so silly..... #ignorantamerican – Skooba Dec 1 '17 at 19:28
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    @user14111 French, for one – tpg2114 Dec 2 '17 at 3:01
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    @user14111 German as well (even though it is closer to Zet) – Graipher Dec 2 '17 at 7:52
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    @user14111 And Dutch – Mark Rotteveel Dec 2 '17 at 12:10
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In-universe it's because Agent Z is also Chief "Zed", a distinction that no other agent seems to share.

As to why he gets an actual name (one that merely sounds like a letter) when other agents just get a single code letter (that seems to correspond to their first name) isn't explained. It's possible that his actual name was Zed or something similar and that rank hath its privileges.

enter image description here

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    This doesn't answer why the pattern is broken in this instance. Namely, americanized pronunciation of letters. – amflare Dec 1 '17 at 16:35
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    Kay is called Kay in the comics (see top right panel in question) so I don't see how this really answers the question. – TheLethalCarrot Dec 1 '17 at 16:38
  • @TheLethalCarrot - Kay is referred to as "Kay" verbally, but when we see his bust and the door of his office, it's quite clearly "K". – Valorum Dec 1 '17 at 16:43
  • @Skooba - Could that be a former "Z"? – Valorum Dec 1 '17 at 16:49
  • Note that Agent D (the old guy who retires and is replace by J) is sometimes referred to as "Dee". It happens for Dee, Jay and Kay (cfr the linked page on Agent D, it contains all three of them) and Elle; it seems a common thing to do with agent names; which means it's not unique to Z(ed). – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 16:57
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Sound.

Zee could be misheard as Cee. And therefore could lead to misinterpretations.

By using the more international Zed it becomes immediately clear that like the other agents his name is also just the one letter.

As to why in both the comics and the movies show the name as Zed, I would suppose that it’s done this way to emphasise the sound of Zed over Zee. If only the letter was used it would up to the reader or actor to determine the pronunciation. By displaying it as Zed, there is no need for interpretation as the pronunciation is provided.

This is all speculation of course. But it is how I interpret the available information.

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    We're looking for something that's got a little more canon backing, speculation is only really productive if one can use canon to support their speculation. – Edlothiad Dec 1 '17 at 21:30
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Olde guy here,

"Zed" vs Zee is a legacy of the early phonetic voice radio alphabet. "Zed" was used universally until WWII when it was changed to Zebra then in 1957 to Zulu. This is to avoid confusion over low S/N voice radio. "ee" - sound letters such as "B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z, can become easily confused - hence Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, etc. "I've learned so much over the years. Now I wish I could remember it." We all get old.

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    Thanks for the input, but this has already been taken into consideration. No other agent/letter seems to have this distinction. So you only 1/9th of the problem is solved by this usage. While the phonetic alphabet is highly effective in this regard, it isn't shown in the implementation for the agent naming conventions in the MiB works. – Skooba Dec 2 '17 at 16:17

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