Were larger-scale LEGO figures the standard at some point in the past? It just seems odd to me that they're called "mini" when they're basically the only kind of LEGO figures available (not counting vastly larger figures that are themselves models.)
The minifigure is so-called because the original LEGO "Family" figures that were released in 1974 where somewhat larger, with bodies made from 2x2 Bricks, and arms made from hinged tubes.
Apart from the family figures, there was also the 1988 Technic action figures set (8712), which stood about 2.5 minifigs high from memory. There have been a few iterations over the years up into the 90's.