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I'm a big fan of flying, and I noticed a possible similarity between some flight control terminology and the name "Obi-Wan Kenobi", and I'm interested in finding out if this is coincidental, or if there is a deliberate link.

Every airplane has two devices used as a short-range radio navigation system, enabling the aircraft to determine it's position and stay on course by receiving radio signals. These devices are named "Omni-Bearing Indicator", also known as "VOR" (VHF Omnidirectional Range), and you select the frequencies by turning a knob in each unit. Select the "origin" frequency in the first unit, and the "destination" frequency in the second unit. When in flight, these devices make sure your aircraft is on the right course from "origin" to "destination".

So, you have "Omni-Bearing Indicator 1 knob" and "Omni-Bearing Indicator 2 knob". Then, just imagine the pronunciation of the first one... "OBI 1 Knob"...

Are there any sources as to the origin of Obi-Wan Kenobi's name that might support or debunk this theory?

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  • Your description of the OBI is a little inaccurate. An OBI has a knob, but it is used to set bearing, not frequency (you need to set frequency as well, but it is normally done by digital settings, not by a knob). Mar 5, 2013 at 19:05
  • If Star Wars is considered from an autobiographical perspective, with Luke as Lucas, and the light sabre prop actually made from a film camera lens, is it possible that Luke's mentor, who hands him the movie camera/lens, might be named Obi after the nickname of the special effects pioneer who created King Kong, Willis 'Obie' O'brien?
    – user53082
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:32
  • Who? Do you mean old Ben Kenobi? Sep 14, 2023 at 10:44

5 Answers 5

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George Lucas has an incredible mind for dreaming things up, but names are not his strong suit.

The worst, of course, being Darth Vader, which literally translates to Dark Father. Take a look at this list of name translations/meanings (note that some of them, like wookiee, are wrong).

For Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi, the writer details:

(Ben) Obi-Wan Kenobi = Ben is Hebrew for "Son"; Obi is an African name which means "heart"; obi is the karate or kimono belt; Okwu Nkasi Obi, means words of comfort; Obi means "soul" in Swahili; obi is a religious belief of African origin involving witchcraft; Wan is an Old English word which means "dark." also "unnaturally pale from grief"; Wan means thin (Anglo-Saxon: wan = wane); Japanese: Wan means ten thousand, myriad or a great number or a scorpion; a form of the word win; Ken means knowledge of, to understand, to recognize; Ken is a house which is a resort for thieves; ken is to look around; ken is also a flaming user. This was originated by a software support group because the two greatest flamers in the user community were both named Ken; A theory: Kenobi was a clone line's template, so Obi-Wan derives from "OB-1";

Yes, this page has some incorrect information and some theories, but it also has a lot of correct information regarding names and translations. Does this mean that your theory of "Omni-Bearing Indicator 1 knob" is debunked or verified? No, but the fact that many of the names can be traced back to literal translations casts serious doubts upon it.

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    OB-1 would be in line with Artou Deetew and Zeeth Reepiou. :)
    – TLP
    Mar 5, 2013 at 18:37
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    Considering Lucas' enjoyment of sound-alikes, and his obvious and well-documented Kurosawa influences, it is far more likely that Obi Wan Kenobi is some play on sounds such as "otosan kendogi" (father; training robes)
    – horatio
    Mar 5, 2013 at 20:28
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    There are some pretty compelling reasons to believe that the "Darth Vader = Dark Father" story is not true: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/28186/1973
    – Plutor
    Feb 25, 2014 at 17:18
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    ...especially that it fits another pattern: Vader = Invader, Sidious = Insidious, Maul = ...maul, Grevious = ... well, it just gets less interesting from here.
    – Matt
    Feb 25, 2014 at 18:59
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    These seem like coincidences for the most part.
    – Rogue Jedi
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:53
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In Japanese, wan means "woof", as in dog goes woof. So it literally means Belt Woof Swordbelt. Probably not only meant to be Japanese, although I read recently that Lucas originally wanted Toshiro Mifune to play obi wan, so the Japanese would fit his casting.

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Here's my guess.

Obi is the Japanese word for "belt" in the context of martial arts. Ken is the Japanese word for sword/a variation on Katana depending on the context (there are so many words for sword in Japanese). As for Wan, I can't find any relation with that other than in English, it's an adjective meaning pale, grey or faded.

So I might be reaching, but Obi-wan Kenobi might mean Grey-belt Sword-belt.

It's no secret that much of the early lightsaber choreography was a mixture of Japanese Kendo and western fencing. That and the Jedi have quite a few parallels with the Samurai.

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Disclaimer: all of this is just my own speculation, based in linguistic analysis and without any kind of support or reference from Star Wars Canon, and it is pretty likely only an interesting coincidence.


The word Kenobi sounds really much like cenobite, making me think that even if this was not a conscious reference, it is at the very least very fitting.

Cenobite of course is a synonymous of Monk, and to be precise, the kind of monk that lives a communal life together with other monks in a convent, opposed to one that instead chooses a life of isolation, which instead is called Hermit.

The etymology of the English cenobite comes from Latin coenobita1, meaning monk, cloister-brother, in turn derived from Greek koinobios, a word composed by koinos (common) and bios (life). The Greek koinobios in particular has a sound that resembles very much the word Kenobi.

This is perfectly fitting with him belonging to the Jedi Order, being itself a monastic order, even if a militaristic one (besides the obvious Samurai inspirations, even western Knight Orders like the Templars, the Hospitaliers and other born during the Crusades were monastic in their nature); it is worth noting that many values and tenets (the most obvious being maybe the celibacy) are common to the fictional Jedi and to many of the real-world monastic orders.

It is rather ironical than in his later years Obi-Wan lived as an hermit, basically switching to the other style of monastic life.

Of course all this analysis is from an out-of-universe point of view, and should be considered only a speculation on the possible sources (both conscious or unconscious), since, strictly speaking, in-universe neither Latin nor Greek could be considered valid etymological sources.

Anyway, this interpretation gives way to two curious considerations (always from an out-of universe point of view):

  • considering his later hermit way of life, if he would say something like "I've been once cenobite", the sentence will sound very much similar to his own name;
  • being him a Jedi Knight from the Light Side, he is essentially a Good Monk, which translates in Latin to Bonus Coenobita, which in turn sounds very similar to his nickname Ben Kenobi.

1. Please note that while in English "C" is often spelled like "S", in Latin (and neo-latin languages like Italian as well) it is spelled "K" (or in some cases with a sound similar to "CH"), so in example, "Caesar" must be pronounced "Kaesar" and not "Sisar", and in this case, while "cenobite" is spelled "senobait", the latin "coenobita" sounds like "coe-no-bee-ta" (while the Italian "cenobita" is more like "che-no-bee-ta"). You can listen it by using Google Translate.

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    This all feels like a real stretch.
    – Valorum
    May 3, 2020 at 13:59
  • That's why I inserted the disclaimer at the beginning of the post.
    – Sekhemty
    May 3, 2020 at 14:02
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    I read the disclaimer. Putting "all of this is just my own speculation" ahead of your answer isn't a panacea against downvotes.
    – Valorum
    May 3, 2020 at 14:11
  • Everyone is free to vote as they seem fit, I'm perfectly fine with that. But it is not everything related to votes in the end, I've given a possible interpretation along with its motivation, that maybe someone could find interesting reading. Besides that, it is clear that I'm not George Lucas, and I'm not stating that this is what he meant.
    – Sekhemty
    May 3, 2020 at 14:20
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OB1 (Outside Broadcast unit 1)
Kino B (TK - Telekino BBC name used to transfer film to television)

Both parked on the lot George Lucas was working on when he scripted Star Wars.

ARRI Media Film Service | 081 573 2255 | OBI LIGHT OB 1 KIN 0B

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  • 3
    Slight problem: The BBC used Telecine, not Telekino.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:21
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    Do you have a source?
    – Rogue Jedi
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:54
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    What's the source of that picture? If it predates 1978 it would be a really good find.
    – Valorum
    May 3, 2020 at 13:10

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