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The Suspiring Real Inspiration Behind Tenzin's Name In The Legend Of Korra

Just as "Avatar: The Last Airbender" left an indelible mark in the animation landscape in the 2000s, its sequel series "The Legend of Korra" was one of the defining shows of the 2010s, matching its predecessor's rich world-building and notorious emotional pull while even one-upping it at times with more mature characters, darker themes, and complex narrative paths.

One of the highlights of the colorful cast of "Korra" was Tenzin, the middle-aged son of the previous Avatar and "Last Airbender" protagonist Aang. A deeply honorable yet often hapless and high-strung man, Tenzin was tasked with training and mentoring Korra while also carrying on his father's legacy as guardian of the ancient, nearly extinct art of airbending — two jobs he excelled at for the most part, but not without facing some personal ghosts and challenges on the way. Along with tough-as-nails police chief Lin Beifong, Tenzin was one of the best-written, most compelling members of the "Korra" adult ensemble; the series' creators thought every element of his characterization through, including his name.

Tenzin is named after the current Dalai Lama

You could say that the world of "Avatar" is as much about the swamp forest as it is about the banyan-grove trees. Even though the franchise's first-rate epic storytelling is second to none, it is just as well-known for the level of care and attention to detail that goes into even the smallest components of its vast fantasy universe. One example of that is Tenzin's name; he was named after the 14th and current Dalai Lama.

The highest spiritual leader of Tibet and the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, the current Dalai Lama is known as Tenzin Gyatso, which is short for his spiritual name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, according to the Chicago Tribune. Hardcore "Avatar"-heads will recognize the name "Gyatso" as being that of a previous airbending mentor in the franchise: Monk Gyatso, who acted as Aang's counselor during his time as a child in the Southern Air Temple.

It's no surprise that both Tenzin and Gyatso were named after the Dalai Lama, seeing as the Air Nomads were largely inspired by Buddhism and Tibetan culture (via The Stanford Daily).

The meaning of Tenzin's name is perfect for his character

According to Mental Floss, "Gyatso," meaning "ocean," is the second word in the name of every Dalai Lama. But "Tenzin" is a particular name with a special significance; in Tibetan, it means "upholder of teachings."

This makes it a perfect name for Tenzin from "Korra", whose greatest motivation, and burden, is being responsible for the continuation of the airbending tradition. As the only one of Aang's children to have inherited his father's airbending abilities, he grew up knowing he'd have to fill Aang's shoes one day — not as the Avatar, but as the de-facto leader of the world's few remaining Air Nomads.

In Season 3, this mission makes for some especially potent character exploration as Tenzin is met with the challenge of training a whole host of newly manifested Air Nomads and confronted with the anarchist beliefs of antagonist Zaheer, who's the diametrical opposite of an "upholder of teachings." Thankfully, Tenzin doesn't have to bear the burden alone, as his daughter Jinora proves to be an even more skillful and spiritually connected airbender than him.