Does anyone know why R2-D2 is spelled Artoo-Detoo and C-3PO is spelled See-Threepio in the script and in other media outside the movies?

I've always found this very annoying and it took away from the artificial-ness of the characters trying to make them more 'real'.

I always connected with these characters knowing they were man-made, but still showed emotions and, well, character.

Spelling their names phonetically ruins this illusion and makes me think they are TRYING to be more human or more like organic life, which I thought was never true to who they were.


Example 1 Example 2

  • 3
    Comments on the close votes are welcome and encouraged... – OghmaOsiris Sep 20 '11 at 17:48
  • 8
    Agreed, why would anyone want to close this? FWIW, I've wondered this myself... Great question. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Sep 20 '11 at 17:58
  • 6
    Also, what about OB1? – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Sep 20 '11 at 17:58
  • 2
    Maybe because people might say 'See-three-poh' by accident... – David Roberts Sep 22 '11 at 7:31
  • 1
    in many spanish speaking countries people call R2-D2 arturito (little arthur) because the sounds are very similar when pronunced with spanish accent – santiagozky Jun 25 '12 at 11:41

In a screenplay or script it's generally better to write things out as they are going to be pronounced, even if you wouldn't do that in regular writing. It's clearer for the actors, and since script length is often used to guess the running time, writing things out phonetically makes the script more "honest".

So that's why you would ever write something like "See Threepio" down instead of "C-3PO". Now the movie's been made and you want to start making toys. What do you put on the box? Well, you can't use the movie itself for reference, because the character's name isn't spelled out anywhere on screen. So you refer to the script, which has "See Threepio", which is kind of silly because everybody else writes "C-3PO", but the writing in the script is more "official", so you compromise and write both on the packaging.

You'd have to learn more about languages in the Star Wars universe to figure out what the names really are. Since they aren't speaking English, it's not clear if they are really acronyms (like R2D2), or if they just happen to sound like acronyms to us so we write them that way.

  • 8
    @Kibbee By that logic, why is it that characters never realize that something bad is about to happen when the background music changes tone? – benzado Sep 21 '11 at 16:16
  • 1
    No there are other languages such as the one the Ewoks use, or the Tuskan Raiders, or whatever language it is that R2D2 speaks, if you can even call that a language. – Kibbee Sep 21 '11 at 18:12
  • 10
    It's been documented (in books probably) that the main language in-Universe is "Galactic Basic"; it's just accepted that the movies use English on screen (or Spanish, etc. if you are watching a dubbed version) because otherwise every sci-fi movie would be tedious to watch and be horrible commercial failures. Likewise, nobody believes that Jabba the Hutt is actually meant to be speaking Swahili. – benzado Sep 21 '11 at 19:31
  • 2
    @OghmaOsiris Thanks for the edit. I can't believe I wrote "Trek" instead of "Wars", though maybe I shouldn't be surprised... – benzado Sep 21 '11 at 19:32
  • 3
    Wouldn't the part of C-3PO be credited at the end of the movie? – Zibbobz Aug 13 '14 at 14:42

I couldn't find any evidence that this is indeed the reason, but it looks to me like a twist on Asimov's robot names.

When it comes to robots, there are three main traditions: Shelley (robots are artificial humans), Čapek (robots are out to enslave humanity) and Asimov (robots are for humans to command). Star Wars robots are Asimovian with a hint of Shelley.

Asimov gave his robots names that were formally model names, either initials or meaningless collections of letters, but that were informally pronounced as human names or nicknames. SPD-13 (Speedy), QT-1 (Cutie), DV-5 (Dave), RB-34 (Herbie), NS-2 (Nestor), …

It looks like Star Wars builds on this and throws numbers into the mix. The resulting names aren't common human names or nicknames, but this is a long time ago in a galaxy far away, they might use different names there (or something's been lost in the translation).


In most Star Wars books I've read (including the book-versions of the movies), the following convention was used:

  • Literal Quotes used the phonetic version of the names and references in the text outside of quotes used the acronym version:

"Keep quiet, Artoo", C-3PO said. (This is a made up example for clarification).

After some getting used to, this actually makes perfect sense to me, since the phonetic version is how the names are actually spoken, you can't really pronounce "R2" without turning it into "Artoo".


Because even Lucas did this in his original novelization?

The other characters commonly call the two robots by nicknames "Artoo" and "Threepio". These names are spelled phonetically even in the original Lucas novel. It's a natural extension to phoneticize their full "names".

  • 2
    This is a tautology. It doesn't answer the question. – OghmaOsiris Sep 21 '11 at 14:09
  • 2
    Lucas didn't write the original novelization, Alan Dean Foster did. – Django Reinhardt Apr 15 '18 at 11:32

I think it just comes down to convenience for writers. When you're typing it takes a lot of effort to continuously right R2-D2 (shift + r, release shift hit 2, hit -, shift + d, release shift hit 2) compared to Artoo-Detoo (shift a, release shift hit rtoo, hit -, shift d, release shift hit etoo). This is even easier when you just use nicknames (Artoo).

Remember, the EU was developed before computers really took hold. Many authors still wrote on Typewriters, which require that much more effort to hit number and dash keys. Having to type it all out makes using phonetic spelling so much more desirable.

Its not like today when you can come up with place holder names and then simply tell the computer to replace the placeholders with the desired names.

As for why we still do it, it is now tradition and traditions are hard to break.

Plus, to be honest, I like reading Threepio rather than 3PO. It's just easier on the eyes.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.