The Origin of NaNoRenO

mikey
5 min readJan 30, 2021
What does NaNoRenO mean?

NaNoRenO is a month-long visual novel jam, taking place in March every year. It’s easily the most popular and definitely the oldest visual novel jam out there.

But every year the same question comes up, and it is never answered in a satisfactory way. The question is:

What does NaNoRenO stand for?

If you ask this question, you’ll get many answers. Sometimes they’ll be funny, such as what the itch.io page does, explaining it like N(ot) aNo(the)R (gam)e (jam!) nO(OOOO!). Sometimes you get backronyms that make more sense, such as National (Visual) Novel Ren’py(-Writing) Occasion. But it’s all too clear that these are not the real answers. In fact, the real answer isn’t something that can be easily summarized and at the same time satisfy.

See for yourself. The truth about the meaning of NaNoRenO goes like this:

It doesn’t really mean anything relevant anymore, it’s just to say it’s like NaNoWriMo but for visual novels.

See what I mean? Fundamentally the above explanation is true. But it’s not really a satisfactory one. It’s effectively telling you to forget the whole thing. But you can’t. You inevitably start to think about the capitalized letters, and about how it’s so similar to NaNoWriMo’s abbreviation that it had to have meant something… at least at some point, before it was lost to time.

Well… it hasn’t really been lost to time, but to properly understand the meaning of NaNoRenO, we can’t start with NaNoRenO, because that is already a second derivative abbreviation. Something like a “meme on a meme” might be. You need to know the source material, the first meme, and only then will you be able to properly contextualize the second one. In our case, we must start with NaNoWriMo.

1. NaNoWriMo

This one is easy to grasp. NaNoWriMo is a month-long event in which participants try to write a 50.000 word novel in a month (specifically in November). The meaning of its abbreviated format is clear and makes sense:

  • Na = National
  • No = Novel
  • Wri = Writing
  • Mo = Month

So far so good, moving on.

2: NaNoWriMo -> NaNoMangO

At one point someone else thought that the idea of blocking one month to try to do a complete creative project could also be extended to drawing sequential art like comic style stories. Thus, NaNoMangO was born. To keep things recognizable and pay homage to its inspiration, the first two parts (NaNo) that made the original event synonymous with a month-long creative effort were kept intact.

NaNoMangO thus described itself as follows: “30 comic pages in 30 days — the art alternative to NaNoWriMo.

NaNoMangO, the missing link.

Additionally, to explain using the word “Manga” as the base for the third abbreviation (instead of “Art”, or “Comic”, etc…), the organizer said: “The “mang(a)” part of the name is deceiving, I realize. It just sounded catchy. #^_^# Your art style can be anything you want — western comic super hero influenced, Japanese manga influenced, whatever you’re best at.

That leaves the “O”, the fourth element of the name. To keep the structure of the 4 capitalized (quasi-syllable) elements, as well as ending on the vowel “O” to further underline the connection to and name recognition of NaNoWriMo, a single letter “O” is used. Not only does this give the name a similar ring, it also kind of says “mango” (mostly written MangO), which has become a popular way of referring to the event among participants. It is a purely cosmetic but still indispensable element of the name in that way.

Note: The backronym “National November Manga mOnth”, and similar cannot be considered in this case, as they are not original meanings.

To summarize then, the meaning of NaNoMangO is as follows:

  • Na = no meaning, signifies connection to NaNoWriMo
  • No = no meaning, signifies connection to NaNoWriMo
  • Mang = Manga, but also representing any other art styles
  • O = cosmetic addition, used to better signify a connection to NaNoWriMo

In many ways NaNoMangO is the “missing link”. Everything else that comes now should be much easier to follow.

3: NaNoMangO -> NaNoRenO

Inspired by both NaNoWriMo and NaNoMangO, in 2004 the idea for an event like this in the English-speaking visual novel development community was born. The naming pattern for this type of event has already been established by NaNoMangO, and indeed the name for NaNoRenO was fairly simple to derive. Just replace the “Mang” (for Manga) in the name with “Ren” (for Ren’Ai).

Original NaNoRenO post on the Lemmasoft Forums.

Why “Ren’Ai” and not “visual novel”? Well, at the time visual novels were not called “visual novels”, and were referred to as “Ren’Ai” games (love games). In fact that name itself was a fairly new way for the English speaking community to refer to such works. Specifically it was used as a form of differentiating themselves from the largely 18+ visual novels (referred to as “bishoujo games”) that were being translated to English by companies such as JAST USA.

So even though “Ren” means “Ren’Ai”, the current day meaning is actually “visual novel”. It’s the same as the name for the most popular open source visual novel engine “Ren’Py”, an amalgamation of the words Ren’Ai and Python, that started life the same year as NaNoRenO was conceived.

To visualize all this in an overview, the NaNoRenO name contains:

  • Na = no meaning, signifies connection to NaNoWriMo / NaNoMangO
  • No = no meaning, signifies connection to NaNoWriMo / NaNoMangO
  • Ren = Ren’Ai (in its past meaning of “visual novel”)
  • O = no meaning, signifies connection to the NaNoMangO pattern

And that is why NaNoRenO is called NaNoRenO, and what all of its four elements mean. As was mentioned and quoted before, the simple truth is:

It doesn’t really mean anything relevant anymore, it’s just to say it’s like NaNoWriMo but for visual novels.

But now, with a bit of history, hopefully you understand why it came to that, and maybe also be more accepting of it. Because for all its absence of logic or literal meaning, the name NaNoRenO does not lack substance.

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