Exploring The Localization of Pokémon Names!

Is it safe to say that Pokémon is probably in the top 3 for the most iconic video games ever?

 

Probably!

 

Since its release in 1996, Pokèmon has managed to capture millions, with a little help from its cute creatures. Despite being released in 1996, Pokémon was not only able to reach iconic status, but also to stay on top and connect with the newer generations. One aspect that played a huge role in the success of the franchise, even though not mentioned enough, is localization. As a matter of fact, the localization of Pokémon is probably one of the best ever, especially when it comes to Pokémon names.

 

Each Pokémon has a name that specifically hints at their appearance, ability or other key characteristics, making the translation process incredibly difficult.

 

Strap in, you’ll like this one!

 

Understanding Localization

 

Video game localization is the process of adapting, not just linguistically but also culturally, game content from a source, to a target. It is a crucial aspect of game development, especially today, where games have become a global phenomenon and entertainment has become virtually borderless. Thanks to localization, video games can achieve not only global success, resonating with different audiences, but also a high level of player engagement and immersion. Localization has also become an indispensable tool for game developers and publishers, to make sure that their content is culturally relevant, appropriate and compliant with laws and regulations of the target markets.



The Localization of Pokémon Names

 

For the localization of Pokèmon, specifically for Pokèmon names, the process is particularly complex. The reason for that is the nature of the creatures’ names, as a matter of fact, each creature has a name that suggests a particular ability or their appearance, hence making the localization of names indispensable.

 

Let’s look at a few of them!

 

The Localization of Pokémon Bulbasaur

Localizing Bulbasaur was no easy task for the team. The original name was “Fushigidane” which literally means “mysterious seed”. Now, “mysterious seed” isn’t that bad, but it’s certainly not as badass as Bulbasaur. Instead of going for the literal translation, the team decided to change the name into something with a little more flair, hence Bulbasaur, a literal dinosaur with a bulb on top. Clever right?

 

The localization of Jigglypuff

While the literal translation of Bulbasaur wasn’t that bad, it’s a whole other story for Jigglypuff. Jigglypuff’s original Japanese name was “Purin”. Do you want to know what the literal translation is? “Custard pudding”.

 

Try launching a Poké ball while screaming “Custard pudding, I choose you!”.

 

How did that sound? Not that cool right? Because of that, the localization team opted for a name that would still convey the essence of the Japanese name, hence, Jigglypuff!

 

The Localization of Hitmonchan

The localization behind Hitmonchan was more a matter of cultural relevance than it was about the name itself. Hitmonchan’s Japanese name was “Ebiwalar” based on famous Japanese boxer Hiroyuki Ebihara. Ebihara was considered a boxing legend in Japan, but was not as famous among the western audience, so the team needed a name that would still convey the idea of a fighting type Pokémon. For that reason they decided to change it into Hitmonchan as a reference to famous actor Jackie Chan.

 

Hitmonlee’s Localization 

Similar to Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee’s original name was based on a Japanese fighting legend. Hitmonlee’s Japanese name was “Sawamular”, based on Kickboxing legend Tadashi Sawamura, also known as “The Demon of the Kick”. For the Japanese audience, the reference might have been pretty obvious, but for the western audience, the localization team needed a name that would convey a Pokémon with powerful and fast kicks. For that, they decided to go with Hitmonlee, based on legendary actor and martial artist Bruce Lee.

 

Farfetch’d Name Origin

 

At first glance, the name Farfetch’d might seem like just a twist on the English phrase “far fetched,” which refers to something unusual or an improbable situation, but it’s more than that. It is in fact a reference to its original name, which comes from a Japanese phrase that literally means “a duck comes bearing green onions”. Farfetch’d’s original name is in fact Kamonegi which is the abbreviation of the aforementioned Japanese phrase. 

The Japanese phrase is used to symbolize a rare or improbable event, and the reason why a duck bearing green onions represents a lucky event might have a culinary connotation behind it. It is stated on Bulbanews that because a fundamental ingredient of a good duck stew is green onion, seeing one carrying it would be a pretty convenient occurrence, hence Farfetch’d.

 

Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam 

 

Another fantastic example of how the localization of Pokémon ensured cultural relevance. Starting with the psychic trio, Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam’s names in English play on the classic magic chant “Abracadabra,” enhancing their mystical, psychic attributes. The original Japanese names—Casey, Yungerer, and Foodin—refer to famous mystics Edgar Cayce and Uri Geller, and the concept of “fortune,” suggesting their psychic abilities. The English adaptations cleverly pivot to emphasize their magical qualities in a way that is both fun and culturally resonant, making these names memorable and fitting for their mysterious powers.

 

Bonus Fact: The Adaptation of Jynx

 

Notoriously, the Pokémon Jynx underwent a significant design change to address concerns about her appearance. Originally, Jynx had a black face with prominent, exaggerated lips, which caused controversies over racial insensitivity. In response to these concerns, the company decided to change Jynx’s appearance, from black to purple.

 

Conclusion

 

As you can see, localization doesn’t stop at literal translation, but goes beyond, ensuring that essence, intent and meaning are all accurately conveyed from the source to the target.

 

Simple literal translation, would have left Pokémon fans with boring, flat names, instead of the iconic names we all know and love. The attention behind these names, highlights an often overlooked factor of Pokémon’s worldwide appeal, being localization. 

 

As a matter of fact, the localization of Pokémon ensured that each name reflected the characteristics of the creature, captivating audiences across different cultures and enhancing the universal Pokémon experience.

 

Thanks for reading, and if you wish to know more about localization, click the button to take a look at our blogs.

What are some specific strategies used in the localization of Pokémon names?

Strategies include cultural references, puns, and phonetic cues. For example, “Hitmonchan” and “Hitmonlee” were named after famous martial artists Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee to convey the fighting nature of these Pokémon to Western audiences, utilizing familiar cultural figures to create a connection.

How has the localization of Pokémon addressed cultural sensitivity?

The localization process also involves sensitivity to cultural issues, as seen in the redesign of the Pokémon Jynx to address racial concerns. Jynx’s original design was changed from black to purple to avoid cultural insensitivity, demonstrating the franchise’s commitment to respectful and inclusive content.

How does the localization of Pokémon names enhance player engagement?

The localization of Pokémon names, such as changing “Fushigidane” to “Bulbasaur,” involves creative reinterpretations that reflect each creature's characteristics and abilities. This not only makes the names easier to remember but also helps players from different cultures connect more deeply with the game, enhancing overall engagement.