Hello Kitty turns 50 — but did you know she's not a cat? Plus more fun facts

Hello Kitty isn't even her real name (and she's British).

Hello Kitty, the beloved cartoon character that's brought smiles to kids and adults around the world for generations, is celebrating her 50th anniversary this year.

The Japanese company Sanrio first created Hello Kitty in 1974. A year later, her image, including her signature red bow, was introduced to the public on a small children's coin purse that sold for less than a dollar.

Since then, her adorable expressionless face has popped up on toys, clothing and other merchandise around the globe, with its universal appeal being the subject of doctoral dissertations.

Naturally, she's also a TikTok star.

She may also wind up a Hollywood movie star, too, if plans for a combo animated/live action Hello Kitty feature film announced in 2019, continue to move forward.

Though her name has been ubiquitous for five decades, the Hello Kitty character remains something of a enigma. For example, did you know her full name is actually Kitty White? And that she was born in London, England? Yep, the British Kitty also has a twin sister, Mimmy.

Oh, and also she's apparently not a cat. More on that later.

A pop culture phenomenon since the 1970s

Before we toast Kitty White's 50th, let's take a minute to reacquaint ourselves with the animated icon's history in pop culture.

After Sanrio introduced her adorable face on a coin purse in Japan in 1975, Hello Kitty became a global merchandising superstar, appearing on kids notebooks, lunchboxes and clothing — and later on adult merchandise, too.

She was still going strong in 1987 when she made her debut as an American cartoon star in the CBS animated series “Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater.”

Though her original fans have grown up to welcome kids of their own, the Hello Kitty character has remained eternally childlike — a source of delight for little ones and of throwback joy for their parents.

She's also remained cool, as pop star Lady Gaga reminded us in 2009 when she wore a gown made of plush Hello Kitty dolls in honor of the character's 35th birthday.

'Hello Kitty is not a cat'

In 2015, Hello Kitty became the subject of a North American museum exhibition for the first time when a retrospective called “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty,” premiered at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

The exhibit made headlines — and caused a few online meltdowns — after its curator, Christine R. Yano, revealed that the Hello Kitty character was, in fact, a little girl and not a cat.

Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii told the Los Angeles Times that the Sanrio company “very firmly” corrected her on the matter just before the exhibit opened.

“That’s one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show. Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat,” said Yano. “She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”

Online fans were shocked by the news, with many pointing out that Hello Kitty has literal whiskers and cat ears.

“Wait what my entire childhood was a lie?” one person tweeted in response to the news.

Pop star Katy Perry, tried to calm critics on the site then-named Twitter by assuring them her own (brilliantly named) cat Kitty Purry “is a cat.

So, who is Kitty White?

In honor of the beloved character's 50th birthday, here are some verified facts about the Hello Kitty character that the folks at Sanrio have shared over the years:

  • Her full name is Kitty White.
  • She is little girl (and not a cat).
  • She was born in the suburbs of London, England, where she still lives with her parents.
  • She has a twin sister named Mimmy, who wears a yellow bow on her right ear.
  • Kitty's hobbies are traveling, reading and baking.
  • Her favorite food is her mother's apple pie.
  • She dreams of one day becoming a pianist or a poet.
  • Her birthday is November 1, 1974.
  • She has a pet cat named Charmmy Kitty.
  • Kitty's boyfriend is her former childhood friend Dear Daniel, or Daniel Starr, who was introduced to the public in 1999.
  • Daniel’s hobbies are animal photography, dancing, and playing the piano.
  • Daniel wants to be professional cameraman some day.
  • Kitty’s best friend is Tiny Chum, a little teddy bear who wears a red bow that Kitty gave to him as a gift.

This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY:

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