English vs Japanese Pokemon names?
July 31, 2019 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I've tried to Google this, but I'm not having much luck in finding a good answer. In English, many Pokemon names are jokes or puns of some kind (examples: Trubbish, who looks like a garbage bag, and its evolution Garbodo; the trio of Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam; Tentacool; Cloyster). This culminated in one of my favorite Pokemon jokes of all time. So... do the original Japanese names follow similar joking patterns? Are there puns in the Japanese names that might elicit groans the same way "Trubbish" does?
posted by hanov3r to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. For example, Bulbasaur's Japanese name is Fushigidane, which can be read as "fushigi da ne" ("mysterious isn't it?") or "fushigi-dane" ("mystery seed"). Bulbapedia has exhaustive documentation of the etymologies of all Pokemon names in most languages where a translation exists; just go to the page for the Pokemon in question and scroll to the "In other languages" section at the bottom.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 3:10 PM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

You might have already run into it, but Bulbapedia is your friend here. Each pokemon has the name origin broken out (usually with origins for English & Japanese), and all other languages where it's been localized.
Example, Oshawott
English: Oshawott, but German: Ottaro, and Japanese: Mijumaru (water + immature + round + a famous otter)

Bulbasaur is also fun that way:
Fushigidane literally means "isn't it strange?" and is also a pun on 不思議種 fushigidane (mysterious bulb).
This doesn't index by punniness, so it might not be *ideal* that way, but if you have specific pokemon in mind this should help clarify them.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:11 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

My favorite is Farfetch'd, Kamonegi in Japanese, an abbreviation of the expression "a duck comes bearing its own spring onion", meaning "something surprising but convenient." The English name doesn't really make much sense to me, but I love that little slice of Japanese culture that comes through with the name and character design.
posted by potrzebie at 10:00 PM on July 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think this is just what I needed to turn my day around. Buckle up, folks.

The Japanese names of the first few generations fall into three broad categories:

English puns. This may be strange to imagine, but a lot of the Japanese names are actually based on words in English. Examples include:
- Furizaa (freezer), who we know as Articuno
- Sandaa (thunder), who we know as Zapdos
- Faiya (fire), who we know as Moltres
- Barriered (what it looks like), who we know as Mr. Mime
- Metamon (what it looks like), who we know as Ditto
and many more (finding the hiragana for all these is left as an exercise to the reader). Apparently English has a certain cachet in Japan (confirmation needed?).

Japanese puns. See potrzebie's answer above. Other examples include Wynaut and Wobbuffet (their Japanese names are loosely 'sohnano' and 'sohnansu' respectively, meaning roughly 'is that so?' and 'indeed it is so') which are themselves based in design on Japanese doll-toy things that actually exist in our world. And speaking of real things...

References to real-world people. They don't do this one as much anymore and we'll soon see why but back in the first generation, there were tons of these. Lapras? It's the English transliteration (of the Japanese transliteration) of Pierre-Simon Laplace ( >Lapurasu > Lapras), a mathematician who rigorously defined the motion of waves, among other things. The Abra family you mentioned? Their Japanese names reference three real-life stage magicians (one of whom was not pleased, and eventually served GameFreak a cease-and-desist over it). Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee? Exactly what you think (though the Japanese references are different) and no C&D's from any of them, bless their hearts. There are others.

If you're still reading, you may be interested to know that it's not just the pokemon themselves: there are moves whose names mean different things in Japanese. What comes to mind is Assist, which is known in the motherland as Cat's Paw (a reference to some proverb that I can't recall at the moment). Others include Waterfall (the Japanese name hearkens to a particular legend about a particular fish) and Will-o-wisp (the Japanese means 'demon-fire', though in fairness, those two are just different terms for the same thing). This could be a fourth category, I guess, of names that are translated verbatim but lose a lot along the way. (Ho-oh, for example, looks as awkward as it does because it's really a word in a different language, in which it's freighted with lots of stuff that's lost on other audiences). Even items are not exempt (it's called a Spell Tag because the more specific cultural thing it's based on doesn't have a name in English). And I won't say anything about the names of human characters except to note that basically everything is an awful pun on everything else.

If I think of anything else, I'll add it below or publish a dissertation or something.
posted by queen anne's remorse at 6:04 PM on August 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

This video has etymology for English, Japanese, and Korean names for Gen 1 Pokemon.
posted by mustardayonnaise at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2019

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