Hikaru Sulu, Star Trek‘s helmsman for the USS Enterprise, is one of the series’ favorite characters. The actor who played him, George Takei, also became a media darling in his later life due to his coming out and his sense of humor.
In an interview with the website Big Think, he revealed that his character is based on the Philippine Sulu Sea. According to him, show creator Gene Roddenberry wanted a generic Asian name for the helmsman. He thought that most Asian last names were country-specific, like Tanaka, Wong, and Kim. In 1966, Asia was dealing with issues like warfare, colonization, and rebellion, and Roddenberry didn’t want to reference any of that.
The answer, it turned out, was in a map pinned on the wall. Takei said:
And he found, off the coast of the Philippines, the Sulu Sea. And he thought, ‘Ah, the waters of the sea touch all shores, embracing all of Asia. And that’s how my character came to have the name Sulu.
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