In the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong, Mario made his first appearance as the unnamed “Jumpman”, a carpenter with a pet ape gone berserk. Only in the subsequent game, Donkey Kong Junior, was Mario actually given his trademark name.
One of the more fascinating things about Mario is that he was almost never created. The designer behind Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto, actually wanted to use the American cartoon characters Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto as the three characters in the game. Due to licensing issues, Nintendo was never able to secure the rights to the iconic cartoon characters in time, and they had to create their own in-house cast.
Mario was originally envisioned as a generic go-to character that could be plugged into any Nintendo game, a kind of everyman that would simply be a character players could move around when such interaction was needed. No one at Nintendo, including Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto, predicted that Mario would go on to become the face of Nintendo and one of the most loved video game characters of all time.