Which of the original 151 had their names translated best from Japanese to English?
The English translators of the original Pokémon games had a daunting task. They had to transform the 151 Japanese Pokémon names into new English ones that would get kids in the West just as excited to catch ’em all as they were in Japan.
Sure, a lot of Pokémon retain the same name in English as Japanese (like Pikachu), but there are many others that would be lost on an English audience (like Bulbasaur – Fushigidane in Japanese, a pun meaning “strange seed” and “mysterious isn’t it?”), or ones that would sound too alien (like Onix, which sounds weird in Japanese as Iwaaku).
For some English names, the translators created something completely new (like Ditto, originally Metamon), but for others they did what every translator aspires to: they found an English equivalent.
Some of the Pokémon name translations manage to convey the same feelings and nuances of the original Japanese, which is always an accomplishment. And today we’re going to finally recognize those hardworking translators and spotlight some of their best work with the top 5 most perfectly translated original 151 Pokémon names.
So let’s get to it! Starting off with…
Honorable Mention: Ekans (アーボ Aabo)
Ekans being “snake” backwards (and Arbok being “cobra” backwards) has been old news since elementary school. But here’s a fun tidbit that you might not have known: Ekans in the original Japanese is Aabo, which when you spell it backwards in the Japanese alphabet katakana, turns into Booa, as in “boa constrictor.”
Hats off to the translators for carrying over the same “backward spelling” in English. And extra credit too for not being lazy and naming Ekans as “Aob” – that would’ve been terrible. “Ekans” has a more menacing, hissing snake-like ring to it that fits the Pokémon itself, and its original Japanese name, perfectly.
#5. Blastoise (カメックス Kamekkusu ) and Charizard (リザードン Rizaadon)
Compro la caja de Charizard EX y me toca también Blastoise EX 😂😂😂 https://t.co/Z8k9NQuoXX—
~Lex el viciado~ (@PokeLexgnzlz) July 20, 2016
Number five on the list is both Blastoise (Kamekkusu in Japanese) and Charizard (Rizaadon in Japanese). “Blastoise” delivers the same one-two punch in English that it does in Japanese: turtle word (kame in Japanese and “toise” from “tortoise” in English) plus “technology word” (mekkusu in Japanese being “mech” or “max,” and “blast” in English). The evocation in English is the same as in Japanese: a technology-enhanced turtle that sounds badass.
And the same goes for Charizard. The translators brought over the “lizard” part from Rizaadon, but made the ingenious choice to only use the “zard” half of “lizard” – the cooler sounding half. Combined with the “char” from the rest of the Charmander family, it makes for one of the most memorable names of all Generation One Pokémon.
Again, props to the translators for their efforts here. It would’ve been easy to just call Blastoise “Turtlemech” or “Tortimpact,” or call Charizard “Lizardon” or “Charlizar,” but they went the extra mile and found cool-sounding names that were still faithful to the original.
Also, did you know Blastoise is what keeps happy couples together? Huh. The more you know.
#4. Meowth (ニャース Nyaasu), Rhyhorn (サイホーン Saihoon), and Voltorb (ビリリダマ Biriridama）
Next up is a three-for-one, since all of them follow the same pattern: combining two halves describing the Pokémon together into one fabulous name.
For Meowth, (Nyaasu in Japanese) it’s as perfect a translation as you can get. Nyaa translates to “meow” and su is usually used to replace the “th” sound in English, making “Meowth” an English mirror image of Nyaasu. The other two are similar: Rhyhorn comes from Saihoon (sai meaning “rhino” and hoon meaning “horn”), and Voltorb comes from Biriridama (biriri meaning “electric sound” and dama meaning “round”).
These may not sound like the most impressive translations ever, but when translating, it’s really hard to find that perfect balance. Staying too close to the original gets you “Meows” or “Saihorn” or “Voltama,” whereas straying too far from the original gets you “Whiskerth” or “Horno” or “Circlectric.” These three managed to get it down perfectly with memorable names that just feel right.
#3. Oddish (ナゾノクサ Nazonokusa) and Vulpix (ロコン Rokon)
Number three is two Pokémon names that really blow me away with just how subtly faithful they are to the original ones.
Oddish has a great name in Japanese (Nazonokusa, meaning “puzzling grass”), but it is utterly useless in English. Something like “Mysterigrass” or “Grazzle” (“grass” + “puzzle”) doesn’t really have any sort of ring to it. Instead the translators found a nice synonym for “strange/puzzling” in “odd” and the perfect vegetable to go along with it: “radish.” What we get is Oddish, an “odd radish” that sounds great and evokes the same feeling as the original.
Vulpix is Rokon in Japanese, combining roku (“six”) and kon (“the sound a fox makes”). Rather than trying to figure out what sound the fox makes in English, the translators chose to combine the cool word “vulpine” (“relating to foxes”) and put the “six” at the end, creating the nice little name “Vulpix.” I can only imagine the disaster that would have happened if they tried to remain too faithful here, ending up with something like “Sixgrowl” or “Foxsix.”
Blech. That’s almost as on-those-nose as “Ninetales.” Aaand I’m gonna need some Burn Heal.
#2. Hitmonchan (エビワラー Ebiwaraa) and Hitmonlee (サワムラー Sawamuraa)
รู้หรือไม่? ว่า Pokemon 2 ตัวนี้ Hitmonlee และ Hitmonchan ใช้นามสกุลของ Jackie Chan และ Bruce Lee มาอยู่ในชื่อด้วย https://t.co/2Mn6VrvNQz—
ฟิ๊ฟฟี่ #HobBITCH® (@Fiffykung) July 30, 2016
Number two on the list is a great example of how translators not only transform one language into another, but one culture into another as well.
In Japanese, Hitmonchan is Ebiwaraa, named after the famous Japanese boxer Hiroyuki Ebihara. Sure, that’s great and all, but to the average Western kid the name is meaningless. The translators could’ve just ignored that cultural tidbit and named it “Hitmonpunch” or something, but instead they decided to remain faithful to the original and use the name of a martial artist that English-speakers might know: Jackie Chan.
The same thing goes for Hitmonlee: Sawamuraa in Japanese after Tadashi Sawamura the famous Japanese kickboxer. Rather than go with the bland “Hitmonkick,” they used a different, more familiar fighter’s name: Bruce Lee.
Keeping these moments of realization that are present in the original alive in the translation is something that goes a long way to making the final product more memorable and less generic. But for me, the best ah-ha moment lies with the #1 best translation.
And the #1 most perfectly translated Pokémon name is…
1. Magikarp (コイキング Koikingu)
Wait! Don’t go to flame me in the comments just yet. Please hear me out first.
Magikarp has a great name in Japanese: Koikingu (meaning “carp king”). What makes it so good is that it gets across what the Pokémon is (a carp-like creature) and that there is something special about it (it’s a “king” after all). Back when the Pokémon games were first released, the internet wasn’t as widespread and most people’s parents didn’t want to splurge $20 on the player’s guide, so you had no idea what kind of Pokémon this worthless fish would evolve into. But since it had “king” in its name, implying there was something great about it, Japanese kids plugged away at leveling it up until they were finally rewarded with a Gyarados.
For the same thing to happen in the English version, the translators had to come up with a name that would give kids the same hint that there was something special about this guy. A name like “Carpking” or “Carprise” (“carp” + “surprise”) wouldn’t have accomplished that… but “Magikarp,” implying that there is something “magic” about this Pokémon, definitely does.
I’ll never forget when I first evolved my Magikarp into a Gyarados, not having any idea what it would turn into, motivated by its “magic” name alone. If the translators had chosen any other name, then I wouldn’t have that memory, or a sweet Gyarados on my team for that matter.
So there you have it, the top five most perfectly translated original 151 Pokémon names. If you’ve played the Pokémon games in other languages, what are some of your favorite translated names? Let us know in the comments so that we can all speak the universal language of Pokémon even more fluently.
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