We have previously demonstrated that Cationic Arginine-Rich Peptides (CARPs) and in particular poly-arginine-18 (R18; 18-mer of arginine) exhibit potent neuroprotective properties in both in vitro and in vivo neuronal injury models. Based on the current literature, there is a consensus that arginine residues by virtue of their positive charge and guanidinium head group is the critical element for imparting CARP neuroprotective properties and their ability to traverse cell membranes. This study examined the importance of guanidinium head groups in R18 for peptide cellular uptake, localization, and neuroprotection. This was achieved by using poly-ornithine-18 (O18; 18-mer of ornithine) as a control, which is structurally identical to R18, but possesses amino head groups rather than guanidino head groups. Epifluorescence and confocal fluorescence microscopy was used to examine the cellular uptake and localization of the FITC-conjugated R18 and O18 in primary rat cortical neurons and SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cell cultures. An in vitro cortical neuronal glutamic acid excitotoxicity model was used to compare the effectiveness of R18 and O18 to inhibit cell death and intracellular calcium influx, as well as caspase and calpain activation. Fluorescence imaging studies revealed cellular uptake of both FITC-R18 and FITC-O18 in neuronal and SH-SY5Y cells; however, intracellular localization of the peptides differed in neurons. Following glutamic acid excitotoxicity, only R18 was neuroprotective, prevented caspases and calpain activation, and was more effective at reducing neuronal intracellular calcium influx. Overall, this study demonstrated that for long chain cationic poly-arginine peptides, the guanidinium head groups provided by arginine residues are an essential requirement for neuroprotection but are not required for entry into neurons.