There are so many games that we all know where I’ve only recently thought to wonder about their origins. We all know Simon Says, a game that’s presumably supposed to teach kids to listen carefully. I checked the Internet to see if it said anything about the game’s origins, and this page says that it was originally called Cicero dicit fac hoc, or “Cicero says do this.” It was named in honor of the famous Roman orator, but that doesn’t tell us when people started to play it.
The page also mentions that some people have attributed the English name change from Cicero to Simon to the thirteenth-century Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who kept King Henry III prisoner and hence had a lot of power over England.
This is quite speculative, though. The game is sometimes called Simple Simon Says, bringing to mind the nursery rhyme, but it seems more likely that this was a later conflation. Since Simon’s goal in the game is to trick everybody else, he’s hardly the simple one.
The best-known part of the rhyme is the first verse, in which Simon is unable to afford a pie. This doesn’t strike me as making him simple so much as poor and/or unprepared. Later verses, however, have him do things that are stupid, and rather nonsensically so: fishing in a pail, roasting a snowball, collecting water in a sieve, trying to pick plums from a thistle. The rhyme is first known to have appeared in 1764, and Wikipedia proposes that it could have been named after the famous eighteenth-century London beggar Simon Edy. That certainly fits with his trying to get a free sample from the pieman, but who really knows? As far as simple Simons go, it might not be fair to use the adjective to describe the disciple Jesus called Peter, but he is said to have been quite rash, and Jesus was always admonishing him for his lack of faith.
The name Simon comes from Hebrew, and is thought to mean “he has heard.” One of the twelve tribes of Israel was called Simeon, another version of the same name. The story given in Genesis is that God granted Jacob’s wife Leah a son because he had HEARD that she was loved less than Rachel, and this was the legendary founder of the tribe. It doesn’t appear to have been a very significant tribe, and its territory was right in the middle of Judah’s. The Biblical explanation for this is that Simeon and his brother Levi were both punished for the massacre in Shechem.
Anyway, the name was quite popular among the Jews, with several Simons being mentioned in the Bible. According to Behind the Name, the name Simon has actually recently been increasing in popularity in the United States, after a significant drop in the twentieth century. It seems that most of the famous Simons in recent years have been British, but maybe this will change in another few decades.
The game of Simon Says was the namesake for Simon, the electronic memory game with the flashing lights and tones. The inspiration for the toy was an Atari arcade game called Touch Me, which worked much the same way, but the sound was deemed to be annoying.
And really, “Touch Me”? It probably got bad publicity because people were expecting a sex machine. Simon was also the name of what was considered the world’s first personal computer, designed in 1950, although that was definitely named after Simple Simon because it was supposed to be easy to use.