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.
Super happy electric mouse scourging enemies with the fury of many storms?
I love the.western names, but at the same time I think I would like the original names just as much. Gotta love their creativity~
It wasn't until around when Platinum came out until (actually can't remember exactly when I found out, lol) figuring out what Ekans and Arbok really were. Same goes for the 3 legendary birds.
By the way guys, here's the original page for the art for this article
I've always liked how Deino, Zweilous and Hydreigon have the German words for one, two and three (ein, zwei and drei) in them to represent how many heads each one has.
Pikachu still works quite well in English though, because there's a small rodent called a pika.
The best one is the the magma snail Pokémon called Magcargo. A clever mix of 'magma', 'cargo' (as in the shell it carries on its back) and 'escargot' (as in the French word for snail).
@Jamiehb Wow lol I never even noticed that!
But of course I did know about articUNO, zapDOS and molTRES
@Jamiehb Well the correct word for 1 in german is actually ''eins'' and not just ein wich makes it wrong, but i see what they were going for here
Technically, Pikachu translates as sparkle-squeak (as "chu" is the onomatopoeia for the sound a mouse makes in Japanese), but what he said is close enough to give you the right idea.
Perhaps the worst English name though is Chinchou, as I finally found out that it's a Japanese pun, but it's not the same as its original Japanese name. Why would they just replace one Japanese pun for another to create its English name?
They mostly do a good job with the names. Some names work well keeping the Japanese name such as Pikachu, and others have great localised names.
Mareep amazed me the most when I read about its name. It's name may be from combining "Mary" and "Sheep", since there was a nursery rhyme where Mary had a little lamb. Plus, Mareep is an anagram of "Ampere", the unit of electrical current.
Psyduck and Golduck look like a mistake. It would make a lot more since if their names were switched.
Mr Mime is also a funny one, since it can be female. That was due to it being released before genders existed in game, and the Japanese name was gender neutral.
Some of the Japanese names are not that great though such as Freezer, Thunder and Fire for Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres or Windie for Arcanine.
@BlueBandanaJake Really? Thanks for putting that out there. This site is actually quite disgusting when it comes to not giving others credit for their work. Stealing images off art websites and wrapping other people's YouTube videos in a container that has a link to subscribe to the NintendoLife channel. The latter is fine when it's their own video, but when they're trying to gain subscribers off the backs of other people's videos? That's disgusting too.
I think it's time I found a Nintendo news site that had some morals. Some of the things going on here are so bad that I'm surprised Gawker doesn't run the show.
Some Japanese names sounds good and some are quite... uninspiring (or they sound like that for us, for them "Fire" may have the distant "orient" feeling). Same goes for localised names. English localisation is a hard task, and it was even required as many japanese names would be too long in characters for our games [back then]. But they should remember that even the most clever name they come up with may not be understood by a kid. Especially by a kid that lives in a country where the series isn't translated to their language. And that still won't prevent the kid to enjoy traveling with the pokemon, even if the name sounds gibberish, being it Pikachu, Charmander or Hinoarashi.
Meaning they could as well keep some more cool sounding Japanese names for western people, not just saving them for legendaries and other few mascots.
@mjc0961 I saw them giving credit to the article images. I guess this one was found on Google and they thought it is official. Which probably explains why they didn't link back.
I quite liked Arcanine as that's the only one I got. Though I'm amazed by the articuno, zapdos, moltres one. I never knew that was a thing till now!
My favorite Pokémon name is Typhlosion. It just sounds so cool!
Well, there are Pokemon that get their name inspirations from languages other than English. So I don't think it's such a bad thing to have a couple of Japanese inspired names make it over here.
I mean for the most part your casual player wouldn't really care as long as the majority of names are understandable to them.
Great interview, just read the whole thing. Sad to hear about Jessica and her credit difficulties in the comments however 😬
As an elementary school teacher in Japan, I regularly get students asking me which Pokemon I like best. The first challenge is that I don't know much about Pokemon. But sometimes a kid will ask me about a specific Pokemon, and maaaybe I'll be able to translate the Japanese into English in my head and get a vague image of a Pokemon I'm familiar with, but most of the time a Pokemon is too new to me or the name translated into English doesn't make sense. So I usually tell them "my favorite is that guy shaped like a Star... you know, Starguychu or whatever" and that usually works.
And to think that some regions (looking at you Germany...) have all Pokemon names translated to their own (senseless) language... Just pointless ;_)
Pikachu means money in any and every language. Yessir, money more milky than your grandpa's cataracts...
Staryu, Starmie, Cleffa and Jirachi are the ones that come to mind when you say "star shaped pokémon". Additionally, some Pokémon have star designs on their body, such as Crawdaunt, Sharpedo and Garchomp.
very satisfying to say... Mine is probably Raichu
Some of the English mon names seem natural and downright clever (Beedrill, Girafarig, Seviper, Toxicroak, Stunfisk, and Clawitzer), while others seem less descriptive or interesting (Gyarados, Sudowoodo, Huntail, Bibarel, Emolga, and Throh).
Still more hits than misses, but I still would have liked Gyarados to have retained its beta name, which is why the first Magikarp I catch in every game is nicknamed Skulkraken.
Lizardon is a better name than Charzard.
Chu is also the onomatopoeia for "squeak" in Japanese as well. Also, Bulbasaur in Japanese uses a clever pun, "Fushisidane" フシギダネ, can either mean "Mysterious seed," or "That's odd, isn't it?"
@Seacliff I dunno... I've always found "Lizardon" a bit... obvious. Charizard has a BIT more subtlety to my ears, and so feels like a unique and distinctive name. "Lizardon" reminds me too much of fan-made Fakemon names, and a few or more recent pieces of nomenclature, such as "Talonflame".
Yes, "Charizard" is just "char" + "lizard", but the way its pronounced obscures it slightly. I'm sure in Japanese it works just fine though.
@KTT I can believe that, the art is rather nice and looks pretty official but i noticed the line art was a little bumpy so I looked into it. It would be nice if they left a credit somewhere in the article now that this has been brought up?
@Kingfisher Dude, "Sudowoodo" is "pseudo" + "wood", because it's a rock type pretending to be a tree. So it's a pseudo-tree, or... a "Sudowoodo"! I think it's one of the neatest names out there (even if it's slightly funky to pronounce).
Some pokemon names are creative, but then there's Seel. It's a seal.
@Seacliff I dunno, I think Charizard sounds a lot cooler than Lizardon. With the latter, I just picture a little wimpy lizard. Oh no, a LIZARD is ON me! D:
gardevoir is an odd one.
the Japanese name is english, and the english name is french.
although I can understand why they chose to use a different name.
gardevoir looks too feminine to be a "sir" all the time.
@Dizzard Yes, but in the case of Japanese names, they should've just kept the original name (like with Pikachu and some others) rather than creating a new one for absolutely no reason.
@Rensch It may be one of the least loved(and least viable) Pokemon but the name is pretty good at least.
Maybe a Mega can save the poor thing from being forgotten and unloved...
@BlueBandanaJake Thanks for pointing that out. I found this in Google images and thought it was official artwork!
Depends. The single word for 1 is "Eins".
But if you use it in this way as they did for Deino, it's "ein".
If you say how many things you have counted for example (ein Kopf - one head) ^^
They're a mixed bag, really.
Ditto's a great name but Cubchoo feels forced to me. Spheal works nicely, it's just unfortunate that it's so close to Seel.
@MitchVogel No harm done huh? I think that's quite the compliment to the artist in retrospect!
@BlueBandanaJake Really tho, that's pretty impressive. Usually, you can spot fan art right away!
So the Japanese devs actually came up with the English names for the original 151 Pokémon? That's something I hadn't expected!
@CB85 Game Freak and later TPCi have done a large amount of their localisation work in-house for years now. I quite like things that way - there will always be changes, sure, and you can have whatever opinions you like about said changes, but at least the original writing staff have their say and hand in the localisation process, which I feel a lot of games sorely miss in the day and age of outsourcing the localisation to a third-party like 8-4 or subsidiary like NoA's treehouse.
I think the only misfire under TPCi was the time the Pokémon Diamond & Pearl translations were absolutely laden with memes from the Something Awful forums; but even that instance was fairly inane, with clowns who already had an irregular speech pattern proclaiming "A WINNER IS YOU"; and similarly inconsequential things.
@BlueBandanaJake They did, lower left corner of the picture shows the artist's nickname.
@Pikachupwnage A total amen to that, man. Mega Magcargo is the only thing that can potentially save that poor guy. One with a great boost in its Speed stat and with something different than that horrendous Fire/Rock typing could do wonders for the poor thing. What I really like about Mega Evolution is that it allows the otherwise useless or outclassed Pokémon to have a second chance to shine. I mean who thought something like Beedrill would ever become this solid?
omg, never noticed uno, dos, tres in the legendary birds. learn new things every day!
@KTT They actually added that after I brought it up, so it's all good now.
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