For Pokémon fans, one of the most anticipated games of 2021 is Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. The Gen 4 remakes will be the first time trainers have traveled back to Sinnoh since the game’s original release in 2006. One unique way to reacquaint fans with Sinnoh’s additions to the Pokédex is to look at how the Pokémon’s Japanese names differ from their English counterpart.
Sinnoh added a lot to Pokémon lore and has remained a favorite region among Pokémon fans. The Diamond and Pearl remakes will be very shortly followed up by Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which takes place in ancient Sinnoh. Pokémon Legends: Arceus promises to break the Pokémon mold several times over, as it will be the franchise’s first open world game and one which takes place in a radically different time period.
Among the 106 new Pokémon added in Gen 4, there are some truly fascinating differences. Some Pokémon – like Lucario, Giratina, Rotom, and Arceus – take their English names directly from the Japanese originals. But, as with Sword and Shield‘s befuddling Cramorant, the names given to Pokémon in Game Freak’s native Japanese often shed light on the designers’ intentions. Some, like Chimchar and ヒコザル (Hikozaru), nod to a time-honored tradition. Hikozaru roughly translates to “fire monkey child.” It’s one of the many fire starters throughout Pokémon‘s generations which starts with hi, the Japanese word for “fire,” and ends with the animal the Pokémon is based on. For deeper explanations, the following comes courtesy of Bulbapedia, Jisho.org, and the author’s experience with the Japanese language.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Torterra
The English Torterra and Japanese ドダイトス (Dodaitose) have very similar etymological roots. Both borrow from the word “tortoise,” and where the English uses the Latin word terra (“ground”), the Japanese uses their native word, do. Dai means “big,” and for yet another layer of word play, dodai means “foundation.” So Torterra is a big foundational ground tortoise, which checks out.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Piplup
As Gen 4’s water starter, Piplup holds a dear place in many hearts. The Japanese name, ポッチャマ (Pocchama), is an adorable illustration of this Pokémon’s antics. Pochapocha is a word which both references the sound of something small splashing in water, and an onomatopoeic illustration of something that looks chubby and cute. Additionally, bocchama is a formal word meaning “son” or “boy.”
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Bidoof
Bidoof’s Japanese name, ビッパ (Bippa) relays the Pokémon cuteness and origins perfectly. Biibaa, taken straight from English, is the most common word for “beaver” in modern Japanese. Ba and pa, incidentally, share a character, whose sound is changed only by the marking beside it (バ vs パ ). This segues directly into the pun at the heart of Bippa, which combines biibaa with deppa, a protruding tooth. With charm like that, no wonder Bidoof is the first Pokémon to get its own holiday.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Luxray
Luxray is known as the “Gleam Eyes Pokémon” because it has the ability to see through solid objects. With this in mind, Luxray’s Japanese name, レントラー (Rentoraa, or Rentorar) is a little history lesson, because it likely references Wilhelm Röntgen, the scientist who produced the first x-ray. To firmly ground this Pokémon in its feline nature, Rentorar combines Röntgen with the Japanese word for tiger, tora, and “roar.”
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Drifloon
Fuwa fuwa is a fun and useful word: it can refer to something soft and fluffy, or to something lightly floating along. As a source of inspiration for both its tuft of hair and its affinity for drifting, it’s no wonder Drifloon’s Japanese name is フワンテ (Fuwante). Incidentally, the fu also works for fuusen, the Japanese word for “balloon.” But there’s yet another layer of wordplay in Fuwante, because fuantei mean “instability.” Such a cute portmanteau for a Pokémon which kidnaps children.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Bronzong
Bronzong looks like an animate version of a doutaku, an ancient Japanese bell. According to The Met, doutaku were not used for their resonance. Rather, in different eras, they were either used for ritual or buried to “ensure a community’s agricultural fertility.” This makes it curious that the English counterpart for ドータクン (Doutakun) references a resonant instrument such as a gong. The n at the end of Doutakun could be a nod to don don, which is the onomatopoeia for hitting a drum. But kun is also an affectionate, cutesy suffix to put after a boy’s name, and it’s often used in the names of Japan’s local mascots.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Garchomp
Despite the fact that Garchomp is a Dragon/Ground-type, his formidable jaws and facial appearance take heavy inspiration from sharks. Like its English equivalent, ガブリアス (Gaburias) emphasizes the might of this Pokémon’s maw. Gabugabu is an onomatopoeia for guzzling something or gulping down something like a drink. More horrifyingly, gaburi means to do an action – like gulping – emphatically. The name’s ending could come from Carcharias, a genus of sand tiger sharks which share physical similarities with Garchomp.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Abomasnow
Abomasnow’s Japanese name is just a statement of fact. ユキノオー (Yukinooh) can be broken down into yuki no oo, which translates directly as “king of the snow.” This statement pairs nicely with its evolutionary line, as Snover’s Japanese name, ユキカブリ (Yukikaburi) breaks down into the words for “snow,” and “headdress” or “crown.” Abomasnow grows into its crown quite nicely.
Sinnoh Pokémon In Japanese: Weavile
Pokémon Gen 4 introduced an evolutionary line for Gen 2’s Sneasel, giving the franchise a powerful Dark/Ice-type. There are quite a few hypotheses for the roots of マニューラ (Manyuura). Ma is the word for a demon or evil spirit. Yuu is a possible reading of the kanji character for “weasel.” Attaching it to an n to make “nyuu” is likely a play off “nya,” which the Japanese equivalent of “meow.” Additionally, the word manyuura bears a notable resemblance to sennyuusha, which means “intruder” and adequately describes this sneaky predator.
The Sinnoh region introduced many Pokémon which instantly became classics in the Pokémon franchise. With Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl on the way, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus right behind them, trainers will be spending a lot of time in the Sinnoh region in 2021 and 2022. Both games will hopefully be enough to keep fans busy until the next Bippa Day.
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