Fact Check

Was Mickey Mouse Originally Named 'Mortimer'?

Legend holds that Walt Disney changed the character's name at his wife’s request.

Published Jan. 15, 2024

 (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Walt Disney originally named Mickey Mouse “Mortimer.”

With his big ears and jovial smile, Mickey Mouse is a classic Disney character known around the world for his playful antics for nearly a century. Along with his fame comes a wide swath of online rumors, including one that claims the happy-go-lucky character was originally named “Mortimer” by Walt Disney.

A version of the claim was shared to X on Jan. 1, 2024, (archived here) and had received more than 673,000 views at the time of this writing:

Online legend holds that Walt Disney changed the name at his wife’s request, which Snopes determined to be true.

Caroline Quinn of the Walt Disney Family Museum confirmed in an email to Snopes that the story was published on page 88 of Disney's biography by Bob Thomas, "Disney: An American Original." Both the museum and the Disney family, she said, "consider this publication to be the most accurate telling of Walt’s life."

Quinn also sent Snopes the following two quotes to further confirm the tale:

I'd fooled around a lot with little mice and they were always cute characters and they hadn't been overdone in the picture field. They'd been used but never featured. So, well, I decided it would be with a mouse because at the time I didn't have Mickey as more a less a normal-scale human being. I had him as a scaled mouse with over-scaled props. Well, that's how it came about. And then the name came. What would you call him? And the euphony there of 'Mickey Mouse.' I had him 'Mortimer' first and then my wife shook her head and then I tried 'Mickey' and she nodded the other way and that was it.” —Walt Disney, Interview with Tony Thomas for the radio show Voices from the Hollywood Past, January 1959.

“I was going to call him Mortimer, but my wife suggested Mickey and that sounded better,” —Walt Disney, "That Million Dollar Mouse" by Frank Nugent in The New York Times Magazine, September 21, 1947.

Mortimer Mouse’s conception was described in a 2010 blog post by the Walt Disney Family Museum:

In 1928, after losing the rights to a character he had helped develop, Walt Disney had to come up with a new creation. His wife, Lillian, recalled, "He was talking about different things, kittens and cats, this and that and the other. He kept talking about a mouse." Walt later said, "And then the name came. I had Mortimer first and my wife shook her head, and then I tried Mickey and she shook her head the other way, and that was it!"

On display at the museum is a piece of animation paper that shows “a few pencil sketches of a rodent-looking character, complete in suspenders and shoes,” a mouse that was “first named Mortimer” but is “now known the world over as Mickey Mouse.”

Earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse. (Walt Disney Family Museum)

But Mortimer’s story didn’t end with the birth of Mickey. In the 1936 short cartoon, “Mickey’s Rival,” the “tall, glib, and arrogant” Mortimer reemerged as Mickey’s nemesis. According to the museum:

In his debut, Mortimer crashes a lovely picnic Mickey and Minnie were enjoying. It’s quickly apparent that Mortimer used to date Minnie, since upon seeing her he remarks, “Well, if it ain’t my old sweetie, Minnie Mouse!” Minnie initially enjoys the attention, much to Mickey’s chagrin. That soon changes when Mortimer’s antics aggravate a free-ranging bull, and puts Minnie’s life in danger. Mortimer immediately flees, leaving our hero Mickey (and his car) to save the day.

According to the Disney Fandom Wiki page, Mortimer also made appearances in several later films and series, including "Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas," "Mickey Mouse Works," and "House of Mouse," to name a few.

Snopes has debunked many other rumors related to Mickey Mouse, including those involving “creepy” Mickey Mouse costumes, whether a Mickey Mouse gas mask was produced during World War II, and if Mickey and Minnie were indeed getting a divorce.

Sources

10 Incredible Displays at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco | The Walt Disney Family Museum. https://www.waltdisney.org/blog//disney-museum-san-francisco. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

“Https://Twitter.Com/Pablothinghouse/Status/1742003067459870835.” X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/pablothinghouse/status/1742003067459870835. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

“Mickey Mouse’s Original Name Was Mortimer Mouse. Mortimer’s Name Was Originally Meant for Mickey Mouse but Walt Disney… | Mickey Mouse Cartoon, Mickey Mouse, Mickey.” Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/356628864226449615/#:~:text=was%20Mortimer%20Mouse.-,Mortimer’s%20name%20was%20originally%20meant%20for%20Mickey%20Mouse%20but%20Walt,be%20a%20rival%20for%20Mickey. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

Mickey’s Rival. Directed by Wilfred Jackson, Walt Disney Productions, 1936.

“Mortimer Mouse.” Disney Wiki, https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Mortimer_Mouse. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

Unusual Suspects: Mortimer Mouse | The Walt Disney Family Museum. https://www.waltdisney.org/blog/unusual-suspects-mortimer-mouse. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Mickey! | The Walt Disney Family Museum. https://www.waltdisney.org/blog/youve-come-long-way-mickey. Accessed 12 Jan. 2024.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.