Think you know Hello Kitty? Think again! Discover some surprising new details about Sanrio’s globetrotting cartoon cutie.

Just this summer, Japan rolled out a shiny new Hello Kitty-themed bullet train to serve Western Japan, seemingly combining the two most famously Japanese products. Kitty is as familiar to many of us as our own faces. But did you know that Hello Kitty’s real name is actually Kitty White? It’s true. It turns out that Hello Kitty’s a bit of a dark horse: not only is she a global product that rakes in billions every year, she’s also a character with a surprisingly detailed backstory, a host of family and friends, and even some controversial identity issues.

Hello Kitty was first created in 1974, when her adorable figure appeared on a little coin purse in Japan. Two years later, she made her way to the US, and though she didn’t really rocket to global fame until the ’80s, her charms were always infused with some international flavour. That’s because, according to her biography, Kitty is not Japanese—she’s British. But that’s not the real bombshell. You might want to sit down for this next one. Are you ready? Hello Kitty is not, in fact, a cat.

Her inventors are very firm about this. She’s a never-aging third-grade human girl who lives outside London with her parents, George and Mary, and her twin sister, Mimmy. And while it’s true that all the Whites share that same family look—those ears, the whiskers and the cute little button nose—none of them are cats. Hello Kitty even owns a pet cat, Charmmy. The pet cat “looks like her owner but acts more like a cat than a person.” Charmmy has a tail as well and walks on four legs, rather than two, unlike her ageless owner. But don’t let this put you off, because there are so many other fun, less world-rocking things you can learn about Kitty. She’s a Scorpio, for example, and you can join her in celebrating her November 1 birthday. If you’re thinking of buying her clothes, better get your sizing right: she weighs about “3 apples” and is about “5 apples” tall. Her blood type is A, she loves baking cookies and her motto is: “You can never have too many friends.”

News of Kitty’s species misidentification hit the media in 2014, causing a lot of controversy, but no one knows how Kitty feels about all the pushback because, of course, she has no mouth. It turns out there’s a reason for that, too. Designer Yuko Yamaguchi explains that she’s designed that way so “people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face,” so she seems sad when they are sad, happy when they are happy. So if you’re struggling with this bombshell, just get face-to-face with the girl herself to find a little comfort in a brave new world.

Always land on your feet 

The first rule of Hello Kitty Club: Don’t talk about Hello Kitty as a cat! Got it? Here are a few other tips to keep your club membership in tip-top shape.

DO introduce yourself

Meet Hello Kitty and her friends in person at Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo! It’s like Disneyland for Kitty fans.

DO NOT take creative license

Sanrio’s official art usage guide insists, “She is a girl. Please do not make/use animal references.”

DO go treasure hunting

Take an online peek at the likeness Swarovski made for her 35th birthday. The gem-studded doll costs $150,000.

 Illustration by Chieko Watanabe