The Little Mermaid: The Origins of Ariel's Sisters Explained

Ariel sitting on a rock at the bottom of the ocean while singing
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"Life's full of choices, isn't it?" And the choice to adapt The Little Mermaid into a live-action film starring Halle Bailey was undoubtedly a good one. It may be an unpopular opinion, but Bailey's vocals blow the OG's out of the water. Of course, the original animated version of the film is iconic in its own right, and it will always have a special place in the hearts of '90s kids and adults alike. We're always ready to dive back under the sea with an animated Ariel. 

However, it's nearly impossible for films from the late '80s to hold up to the societal norms of modern times. There's much more emphasis on diversity and honoring lived experiences than we saw during The Little Mermaid's 1989 releases — and it's a nice change of pace. Sure, the casting choices have faced controversy, but they're a refreshing deviation that honors the diverse locations implied in the film. One of the most significant changes in the live-action film comes from the diverse casting choices and altered names of Ariel's sisters. But when you sit down and think about it, these deviations make complete sense.

So, why the change? One theory is that each of Ariel's sisters represents different oceans that are home to various cultures and ethnicities. It's pretty problematic to have mermaids who all look the same representing such an expansive underwater world. In the animated film, all of Ariel's sisters have names that begin and end with A (Ariel being the exception). And outside of varied hair colors, they all look the same. Of course, the animated mermaids are the daughters of King Triton and Queen Athena, but that may change in the live-action version with the implication that Ariel's sisters have different mothers.

Let's dive into what we know about Ariel's sisters from the original film and its spinoff materials and wade through theoretical waters on what the name and casting changes might mean for the live-action.



It's easy to think of Ariel as the most important princess in The Little Mermaid, but if we're going by actual hierarchy, that would be Attina. According to the 2008 prequel Ariel's Beginning, Attina is Triton and Athena's first daughter, making her first in line to take over Atlantica. Triton prepped her well, too. She hangs on every word he says, and she's less impulsive than some of her sisters. That being said, she's so worried about letting Triton down that she doesn't necessarily cultivate her own path to leadership. It's also easy to miss that Attina's tiara looks quite close to Triton's — a clear symbol that she's first in line. 



Alana is the second daughter of Triton, but she's far more interested in looking beautiful than taking on the politics of the Seven Seas. While she doesn't appear narcissistic or callous, it's difficult to see her in a leadership position, given that she's often depicted as soft-spoken and beauty-focused. Yet her tiara is a smaller version with a similar design to Triton and Attina's, so she very well might be next in line. Monarchies place more of a focus on the chronological order of their heirs rather than who's best-suited, so it makes sense.



Alana may be into beauty, but Adella is arguably full-on vain and cares more about boys than her family, depending on the medium. Ariel shares the second half of that trait to an extent, but it's more about her desire to experience the unknown than it is about Prince Eric. 

Additionally, Adella's chronological place in the family could be clearer. Some canon expansions of The Little Mermaid cite her as the fifth daughter, but she's largely considered the third daughter. Additionally, she notes that she's two years older than Ariel (Triton's youngest daughter), causing more confusion over her actual place in the family.

However, it's no secret that the franchise's canon delves into murky waters with multiple writers and canonized material. It's a bit like the Star Wars expanded universe, where many comics and books tend to retcon and contradict each other.



Some fans argue that even though Attina is the oldest, Aquatta is actually in line for the throne, given that she's introduced first in the original film's song, "Daughters of Triton." Monarchies tend to have a respect factor that places importance on order, so that assumption is understandable. There's that pesky canon contradiction again. 

If we're going by Ariel's Beginning, Aquata is actually the middle child (with some pretty middle-child tendencies). She hates when her sister borrows her things, and she's willing to do what she needs to do to get them back. It's definitely arguable that she's not even-tempered enough to rule.



Okay, so Triton's fifth daughter is a bit of a klepto. Given that she's one of Triton's younger daughters, it's not exactly a surprise that she often "borrows" things from her older sister Aquata. Like Ariel, Arista has a zest for adventure, but The Little Mermaid TV show fluctuates her personality between adventurous and following along with Ariel's whims and being more rule-driven. She isn't the most featured sister, so some of those contradictions can be attributed to whatever the larger story needs.



Triton's sixth daughter Andrina is one of the least developed sisters. She's the second-youngest of the daughters and the equivalent of the class clown. It's not easy being one of the youngest sisters in a big family, and Andrina copes with that through wit, sass, and sarcasm. She does have a zest for life. Like Ariel, she seeks excitement.


From animated to live-action

Now that we've brushed up on the franchise's OG sisters, love it or hate it, here are the changes in Ariel's sisters from the original movie to the live-action film. Some fans are particularly annoyed that the A pattern in the sisters' names is altered. Yet putting that aside, the alterations make perfect sense. However, each sister's name still ends with an 'a.' 

There's long since been a fan theory that Ariel and her sisters represent bodies of water from each of the Seven Seas. While the sisters mostly stay in their palace, it makes more sense to have them frequently travel to, if not live in, the oceans they represent. We know the movie will expand the universe, and having the sisters culturally represent their respective oceans would be a nice touch. 

Perhaps that's something the source material didn't touch on given the age of Triton's daughters. It would make sense for the daughters to venture off into their own waters to rule once they get older and settle down. Naturally, there are dozens of ways to delegate each live-action sister to a body of water. One way is nailing down the likelihood of cultural representation and on-the-nose details like hair color and names. 

Of course, there's plenty of debate on which bodies of water and oceans represent the Seven Seas. The concept has been floating around since 2300 B.C. Any concept with that kind of expansive existence naturally has numerous interpretations throughout history, literature, and cultures. The Little Mermaid can take this idea in any direction with the seas themselves and the mermaids that represent them. Here's one possible interpretation.


Karina (Kajsa Mohammer)

Fitting in with the original sister theory that white hair signals the White Sea, it makes perfect sense that Karina represents the White Sea — just like fans thought Arista did. The White Sea is mainly associated with Russia, and Karina certainly gives off that vibe.


Indira (Simone Ashley)

One of Ariel's new sisters bears the name Indira, which just might be an on-the-nose association with the Indian Ocean. Beyond the name relevance, actress Simone Ashley has South Asian roots, which make up a portion of the Indian Ocean. 


Mala (Karolina Conchet) 

Many people don't realize that Alaskan Natives migrated from East Asia a good 35,000 years ago. With that in mind, Mala could represent the Bering Sea, which connects to Alaska.


Perla (Lorena Andrea)

Given that the Caribbean Sea surrounds countries like Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, Perla is the likeliest candidate. Not only does Lorena Andrea have Colombian parents, but she also speaks Spanish. How cool would it be if the live-action iteration of The Little Mermaid included Spanish dialect? 


Tamika (Sienna King)

The Mediterranean Sea represents a plethora of countries and regions, including North Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Europe. While several of Ariel's sisters could represent this expansive area, it would also make sense for Tamika.


Caspia (Nathalie Sorrell)

In another instance of an on-the-nose choice, it would be no surprise to anyone if Caspia represented the Caspian Sea, which is associated with the Black Sea. As the Black Sea is home to countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia, Caspia is the most likely candidate for these waters. 


Ariel (Halle Bailey)

Does anyone need any explanation for Ariel representing the Red Sea? Like Arista/Karina, the fan theory for Ariel has been associated with her hair for decades. 

The Little Mermaid premieres in theatres on May 26th! See it at Regal. 

See The Little Mermaid at Regal

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