It’s easy to grow attached to the names of fictional characters. When you’re immersed in a book or a TV series, the names of the characters are forever imprinted on you. It can be shocking, then, to find out that the characters have entirely different names in other languages. There are many examples of this in translated literature, but one of the most interesting is Pokemon names in other languages.
There are two main reasons why a name might differ in another language. One is that the name might be really hard to pronounce in another language, because not every language uses the same sounds, and a foreign-looking or -sounding name can be jarring in a fictional world. Another reason is that the name references something about the character, and that meaning can be lost in translation. That’s a very popular reason for the variations found among Pokemon, because their names often coincide with their abilities. We looked at the names of some of the most famous pocket monsters to find out which names were changed and why.
Pikachu is pretty much the mascot of Pokemon, and so it makes sense that the creators would want the name to be consistent regardless of language. So Pikachu is indeed pretty much the same no matter what language you’re playing or watching Pokemon in.
Where does the name come from, though? Turns out, it’s a combination of two Japanese onomatopoeia words (technically the first is a gitaigo, which is onomatopoeia for something that doesn’t make a sound). Pika is for something being new or shiny, and chuu is the sound that a mouse makes. This basically translates to “shiny mouse.” The evolved version of Pikachu, Raichu, carries on the theme, with rai meaning “thunder.”
Squirtle is a simple combination of the words “squirt” and “turtle,” alluding to the fact that this Pokemon is a water type and also looks like a turtle.The original Japanese name, Zenigame, means “baby pond turtle,” which is pretty straightforward. The other names for Squirtle are portmanteaus, like the French Carapuce (carapace means “shell” and puce means “cute”) and the Korean Kkobugi (kkoma means “kid” and geobugi means “turtle”). German is simpler, with the name Schiggy being a cute shortening of Schildkröte, the German word for turtle.
Compared to most of the Pokemon names on this list, Eevee doesn’t have as clear a name meaning. It’s a reference to the word “evolution,” because Eevee is a Pokemon that can be evolved into any other elemental type of Pokemon. In English, the evolutions are Vaporeon (water), Jolteon (lightning), Flareon (fire), Espeon (psychic), Umbreon (shadow), Leafeon (grass), Glaceon (ice) and Sylveon (fairy). These naming conventions present their own challenge for the translators.
Some languages, like Spanish and Italian, just adopted the English names, but others built their own name schemes. French has Eevee become Évoli, and the evolutions are Aquali (water), Voltali (lightning), Pyroli (fire), Mentali (psychic), Noctali (shadow), Phyllali (grass), Givrali (ice) and Nymphali (fairy). Similarly, German starts with Evoli, which can evolve into Aquana (water), Blitza (lightning), Flamara (fire), Psiana (psychic), Nachtara (shadow), Folipurba (leaf), Glaziola (ice) and Feelinara (fairy). You can probably guess the meaning of most of the root words based on English cognates!
Ekans has arguably one of the best Pokemon names; it’s just “snake” backwards. All of the other names for this Pokemon have the same kind of wordplay. The original Japanese name is アーボ Arbo, an anagram of the Japanese word for snake, ボア boa. The French name is Abo, also an anagram of boa. German follows the same path as English, taking the word for snake, Natter, and just flipping it to be Rettan.
Snorlax is one of the most famous Pokemon, likely because of his massive presence in the TV show. And also because of his literally massive presence. And this sleepy Pokemon’s name perfectly encapsulates its personality, combining “snore” and “lax.”
The origin of the Japanese name for Snorlax is a bit stranger, however. Its name is Kabigon, which plays on the word Kabi, meaning “mold.” Why? Well, apparently Snorlax is based on a real person, Koji Nishino, who worked as a designer on the game and has a slight resemblance to the character. It was an inside joke at the company that Nishino would eat older food — that might be considered moldy by others — and thus the Pokemon got stuck with the name.
The inside joke stayed mainly in the Japanese version. The Spanish name is Ronquilaxo, combining ronquido (“snore”) and laxo (“lax”). Similarly in French, it’s Ronflex, based on the French word ronfler (“snore”). Most versions have this kind of permutation of the name.
This cute fire dragon has a name that is a portmanteau of “char” (because fire) and “salamander” (because it looks salamanderish). And Charizard continues the pattern by upgrading from “salamander” to “lizard.” The original Japanese name is Hitokage, which is another portmanteau, with hi (fire) and tokage (lizard), so basically the same thing. French combines Salamandre (“salamander”) and mèche (“wick”) for Salamèche, and German uses glut (glow) and salamander (yes, “salamander”) for Glumanda.
Jigglypuff is another character mainly famous because of the TV show, as well as its power to put people to sleep with its singing. The name, however, refers to the Pokemon’s appearance (both jiggly, and a literal puff).
Many of the other languages also refer to the appearance. French is Rondoudou, combining rond (“round”) and doudou (“security blanket”). German is Pummeluff, which is pummelig (“chubby”) and fluff. Spanish is just Jigglypuff. Japanese might have one of the funniest names, though, with purin, which literally means “pudding.”