One of the aspects of the Pokémon games that gives them so much character is the creative names that many Pokémon are assigned. The name can make or break a Pokémon's reception, yet Game Freak has consistently managed to nail the naming with clever puns and plays on words that indicate attributes of the Pokémon being described. Naturally, this isn't a small task considering the multiple languages that the games are translated into, and this has been touched upon in a recent interview.
Tsunekazu Ishihara – the CEO and President of The Pokémon Company – recently took part in a lengthy interview with Inside Games, covering everything from the series' initial start all the way to its near future. One of the topics covered was the general logistics of localising the names of the various Pokémon. Essentially, there was no easy way to do this, so they went through each Pokémon, one by one, and worked out what would be a fitting name for each. Here's what Ishihara had to say:
We were most troubled with the problem as to whether Pikachu should remain as Pikachu. For Japanese people, Pika comes from electricity and Chu stems from mouse, but outside Japan it would be meaningless and nonsense. Nonsense cannot be valued. People won't be able to answer whether onomatopoeia they don't understand the meaning of is good or bad. So we had no other options but to think about them one by one.
We made Pikachu ['s name] the same all across the world. They may not know the meaning, but we secured the Pikachu trademark worldwide, so we decided to just go with Pikachu. But if everything was the same [as Japanese] it would be a total disarray of meaning, since Fushigidane's name came from it carrying a mysterious (fushigi) seed (tane) on its back. We mixed Bulb – which can also mean Seed – with Saurus from Dinosaurs, and it became Bulbasaur. When we asked Americans just to make sure, they had the image of a reptile or amphibian carrying a bud on their back, so it was OK. For Hitokage, we mixed Charcoal and Salamander to become Charmander. Arbo is also difficult to understand, so we made it Ekans. But the latter is actually an anagram of Snake.
We don't use regularity in determining the English names, but instead everyone had to think their best and use their creativity for each word one by one. By that way, each Pokemon will feel livelier. While we're taking in puns from each country, mysterious creatures are inserted into them. By having a huge percentage of the 151 Pokemon having different names from Japanese, the anime dubbing also became multiple times harder though… But thanks to [people] putting their best in giving names, it contributed largely to getting accepted by the world.
Hat tip to Nintendo Everything for the translation work.
What do you think? Has Game Freak done a good job so far of naming Pokémon? Which name do you think is the cleverest? Share your thoughts in the comments below.