Though fans rave about the expressive animations and intricately-woven story in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, the 2010 Nintendo DS release hasn’t managed to reached the same level of popularity as Shū Takumi’s other brainchild, the Ace Attorney series. Luckily, if you happened to miss out the first time around, the game recently saw an HD remaster on Steam and Switch. If you haven’t yet, why not give it a try this Halloween? It’s hard to imagine an Ace Attorney fan coming out of the experience unsatisfied!
Those of you who have played Ghost Trick probably noticed another big difference between it and its more popular sibling, however: its characters’ names aren’t anywhere near as goofy. After all, the first Ace Attorney game names the witness in its first case “Frank Sahwit”. This isn’t an outlier, either; it sets the tone for character names throughout the rest of the series. Since wordplay usually doesn’t translate, Ace Attorney localizations have had to rename nearly every character in the entire franchise. This is something fans of that franchise have been carefully documenting since the days of the original trilogy, so there’s probably not much for us to add.
Ghost Trick‘s localization team handled names very differently, though. In the Japanese version, the names are laden with meaning. Most notably, almost every character has a name related to Buddhism, death, or both. But for whatever reason, Ghost Trick‘s English localization mostly chose names that sounded phonetically similar to the original ones. In the process, they obscured the etymology of almost every name. The result is a game where the names are much less silly than in any given Ace Attorney game, but also much less meaningful.
So, let’s go through and see how they handled each name! We compiled this information from various sources, including English ones, so you might know some of this information already. However, we also drew information from Japanese sources that nobody has ever translated into English before, and there’s also a few original observations of our own, as well. So, I bet even the most diehard Ghost Trick fan will learn something from this article!
Let’s start things off with the protagonist, Sissel, called シセル (Shiseru) in Japanese. His name derives from the word 死せる (shiseru), which roughly means “dead“. (Hey, nobody ever accused Shū Takumi of being too subtle with his naming!)
While “Sissel” is clearly based on the Japanese name, it isn’t a direct transliteration, either. Instead, the name “Sissel”, as with most of the rest of the cast, looks the the product of reverse localization. The process looks like this: imagine the name was originally in some language other than Japanese, and that シセル is the result of transliterating it into Japanese. What might the original name have been? There’s several options, as there usually are; “Sissel” just happens to be the one they chose.
If you’ve studied Japanese, you might be a somewhat confused right now. After all, 死せる is not a valid conjugation of 死ぬ (shinu), the verb meaning “die”. That’s true in modern Japanese, but 死せる is a conjugation of the archaic verb, 死す (shisu, “die”), and is essentially the same thing as the modern 死んでいる (shindeiru, “is dying/has died”). Archaic conjugation is a little beyond my pay grade, so thanks to this user on Japanese StackExchange for his thorough breakdown of this one!
In his tweet explaining the meaning of Sissel’s name, Takumi remarked that he wanted to keep the setting of Ghost Trick vague, and so he picked names that don’t obviously belong to any specific nationality. Considering the absurdity of what Ace Attorney localizations had to go through to change the setting from Japan to California, maybe he was trying make the localization team’s jobs easier this time.
Next up is the game’s heroine, Lynne, called リンネ (Rinne) in Japanese. Her name comes from 輪廻 (rinne), the Japanese word for Saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth in Buddhism. Several times throughout the course of the game, she dies and Sissel goes back in time to save her, so the name fits her well. She dies even more often than Maya Fey gets accused of murder, which is impressive!
Like most of the cast, her English name seems to derive from her Japanese one. However, unlike the E in Lynne, the E in Rinne is not silent, so the names don’t quite line up one-to-one. If they’d wanted to preserve her name’s meaning, there would have been a pretty graceful way to do it: name her Samantha Sarah, but have her go by the nickname Sam; thus, Sam Sarah. If I were on the localization team for this game, I probably would have pushed for it.
Ray, a ghost possessing a desk lamp, is the game’s tutorial character. He’s also one of the rare characters with an entirely original name in the English version. The name he gives Sissel is clearly an ad-hoc alias, so maybe they felt they had more wiggle room to be creative with this one.
There’s no need to speculate on this name’s meaning, as he tells Sissel outright: it’s meant in the sense of “a ray of light in the darkness”. The name is metaphorical as well as literal, since he possesses a lamp. Lastly, although this is probably unintentional, the name is phonetically similar to the Japanese word 霊 (rei), meaning “ghost”.
In the Japanese game, he introduces himself as クネリ (Kuneri). He explains that it’s because he’s always going クネクネ (kunekune) in the lamp, which means to wiggle, wave, or bend back and forth. He chooses a much more humble name here than in the English version! And unless I’m missing something, it’s one of the rare exceptions to the Japanese version’s broader naming theme.
This hitman tries to kill Lynne near the start of the game, and is successful, until Sissel rewinds time to save her. His name is ジーゴ (Jīgo) in the Japanese version, which comes from 地獄 (jigoku). This word means Hell, and works whether you’re talking about the Christian Hell or Naraka, the Buddhist one. His unflattering nickname, “Nearsighted Jeego”, is essentially the same in Japanese:ド近眼 (do-kingan, “super nearsighted”).
Commander Sith is a high-ranking official from an unspecified foreign country. His name looks like a Star Wars reference, and may well be, but there’s more to it. Like Sissel, his Japanese name, シス (Shisu), derives from 死す (shisu), the archaic verb meaning “die“. Since he is the game’s antagonist, the choice to give him a name closely linked to the main protagonist’s may have been intentional.
As if it weren’t enough to name two characters after the word 死す, Shū Takumi did it yet again in a later game. The Japanese name of Courtney Sithe, the coroner from The Great Ace Attorney 2, is コートニー・シス (Kōtonī Shisu). If you’ll recall, Ace Attorney localizations have had to rename almost every single character, so Courtney is a rare exception! The reason they didn’t change her name is probably because “Sithe” resembles “scythe”. This retains the association with death while managing to be just a little bit more subtle.
The next assassin we meet has a similar appearance to his colleague Jeego, and fittingly, a similar etymology as well. His name is exactly the same in Japanese, テンゴ (Tengo), and is a shortening of 天国 (tengoku, heaven). His nickname, 先回り (saki-mawari), basically means “getting there first” or “anticipating” in the sense of predicting someone’s next move. “One-Step-Ahead” captures this well.
The fact that tengo means “I have” in Spanish is almost certainly a meaningless coincidence, but don’t worry, Spanish speakers: there’s a very juicy tidbit for you later in the article. And if you think you know what it is, you’re probably wrong.
This is another rare example of a character with a totally original English name. I couldn’t tell you if “Kamila” has any relevant meanings, so if you can think of anything, please leave a comment. Perhaps they just couldn’t find a reverse localization they liked, and decided to get creative instead. On the other hand, her Japanese name, カノン (Kanon), has an impressive three meanings!
First and foremost, Takumi confirmed in a tweet that he took it from 観音 (Kannon). This is the Japanese name of Guanyin, a female Bodhisattva, which ties her to the game’s broader naming theme. Fans have noticed two other relevant meanings, though. For one, it sounds like the musical term “canon“, which alludes to her love of listening to music on her headphones. Lastly, it sounds like the word “cannon“, which gives her name a connection with that of her dog, Missile.
In another tweet, Takumi mentioned that he was considering naming her リボン (Ribon), a name that would have had two meanings. First, it sounds like the English word “reborn”, fitting the theme. Second, it alludes to the large ribbon she wears on her head. However, he must have felt this name was a little too on-the-nose, because he ended up changing it.
Ace Attorney fans might already know this one. Takumi named this Ghost Trick character after his real-life pet dog, ミサイル (Misairu). A shiba inu of the same name appeared in the fourth case of the first Ace Attorney game, but he’s in an optional scene that not every player will see, and it’s unlikely many players will go out of their way to see it on a repeat playthrough. The real Missile, like the Ghost Trick character, was a Pomeranian.
Even though Takumi reused his dog’s name, a missile is a deadly weapon, so his name fits the theme just fine. Additionally, an unexpected connection appears in the English version, where the game’s two playable characters, Sissel and Missile, have names that rhyme. (It doesn’t work as well with Shiseru and Misairu.)
Emma is another character whose English name is reverse-localized from her Japanese one, エンマ (Enma). This refers to 閻魔 (Enma), the Japanese name of Yama, the king of the underworld who judges the dead in Buddhism. In addition to tying into the game’s broader theme, the name is suitable for her role in the story, as she stands in judgment of her husband’s actions.
Like Kamila, her English name differs significantly from her Japanese name. And as before, any meaning this new name might have eludes me. Her Japanese name, on the other hand, is エイミン (Eimin), from 永眠 (eimin), meaning “eternal sleep“. This is yet another death-related name, and it suits her role in the story, as she is bedridden with an illness during the game’s events.
The Justice Minister
The justice minister’s name never appears in the script in either language, but Takumi did pick out a name for him: オッチンドル (Otchindoru). I can’t claim to understand this name with 100% confidence, but I can speculate, at least.
It may be a portmanteau combining the words おっちん (otchin, “sitting”)—something he does all day—and 死んどる (shindoru), a contraction of 死んでおる (shinde oru). This phrase, in turn, would be a stiff, formal variant of 死んでいる (shindeiru, “is dying/has died“), which we discussed earlier with Sissel’s name. His title, 法務大臣 (hōmu daijin, “justice minister”), may also fit the theme, as 葬る (hōmuru) means “bury”.
McCaw is one of the detectives investigating Sissel’s murder. His Japanese name is マッコー (Makkō). 抹香 (makkō) is powdered incense that Buddhists burn to make offerings to the dead. You might not be able to pick out his jacket’s color from this portrait, so in case you forgot, McCaw is the green detective. His blue counterpart is never named.
Who doesn’t love this guy? Cabanela’s Japanese name is カバネラ (Kabanera). This name is more complex than most of the other names in the game. However, Ghost Trick fans have known one piece of the puzzle since the game’s release: the first part of Kabanera derives from 屍 (kabane), meaning “corpse“. If you’re a fan of anime, you might have also seen this term in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
The “ra” at the end of his name, on the other hand, has confused English-speaking and Japanese fans alike since the game’s release. The most common guess is that it is meaningless, and Takumi added it for aesthetic reasons. However, we may have finally cracked this long-standing mystery. We believe his name is a portmanteau of kabane and Habanera!
Habanera is a Spanish word that refers to anyone or anything with a feminine grammatical gender from Havana, Cuba. A lot of things fall into this category, but if we keep in mind that this is a Japanese game, we can narrow it down significantly. When Japanese people use the term ハバネラ (Habanera), they generally mean either the dance also known as contradanza, or the famous aria from the opera Carmen. The man constantly dances, and has an operatic flashiness to him, producing a bouquet of roses in the game’s ending (spoilers obviously), so the name fits him well.
At this point, Spanish speakers will probably want me to mention that the Japanese transliteration of Habanera is wrong. The initial H is silent in Spanish, so the correct form should be アバネラ (Abanera). Translation can be so tricky! Fortunately for Cabanela, his name works either way. Although, if our etymology is correct, that L in his name should probably be an R.
Like McCaw, it’s surprising that such a generic-looking character even has a name. His Japanese name is リンジュー (Rinjū), which comes from 臨終 (rinjū). The kanji meaning “look toward” and “end” make up this word, which refers to the last moments of a person’s life—their metaphorical deathbed.
Dabira, the Guardian of the Park
Like the Justice Minister, this is a character whose name is never stated in the main story in either language, although later releases did officially reveal his name. His English name, Dabira, is identical to his Japanese name, ダビラ (Dabira).
There’s no official explanation for his name, but one Japanese fan site suggests it comes from 荼毘 (dabi), meaning “cremation“, tying it to the game’s theme. Like with Cabanela, though, that leaves an unexplained “ra” at the end, which I have to give credit to Anthony for cracking. Like Cabanela, his name is a portmanteau, and this time the other half is ビラ (bira). This means “leaflets“, which he constantly tries to give to people.
Finally, another original English name with meaning! Despite what you may have heard, though, “bailey” doesn’t mean “swimsuit” in any English-speaking country. In truth, a bailey is the outer wall of a castle or the area enclosed by it. But, more relevantly, the Old Bailey is a famous criminal courthouse in London (and is where most trials are held in the Great Ace Attorney games). Or, more simply, it refers to bail. So, his English name may allude to his job in law enforcement.
His Japanese name is ボーズ (Bōzu), deriving from 坊主 (bōzu, “Buddhist priest”). The other prison guard has no name in the English version, but in Japanese, his name is コボーズ (Kobōzu). This comes from 小坊主 (kobōzu), meaning “young Buddhist priest“, forming another connected pair of names.
Formerly a detective, Jowd is now a death-row inmate that Lynne asks Sissel to save. His Japanese name is ジョード (Jōdo). This comes from 浄土 (Jōdo), the Japanese word for the Pure Lands, heaven-like celestial realms from Buddhist traditions. In particular, there’s an entire branch of the religion, Pure Land Buddhism, whose adherents aim to be reborn in one.
Memry is an undercover police officer working as a waitress in the Chicken Kitchen. Her Japanese name, メメリ (Memeri), is a shortening of the Latin phrase memento mori, meaning “remember that you will die”. That may sound like a bit of a stretch on my part, but Takumi himself confirmed this origin. What a grim name to give to such a good-natured young woman!
There’s a few other characters I haven’t discussed yet for a few reasons. First, there are characters with no stated name in either region, like the pigeon man, the bartender, the chef, and so on. Second, there are characters that there is very little to say about. Take, for example, Beauty and Dandy: their names are English dictionary words, even in the Japanese version of the game. Lastly, there’s a few characters I can’t discuss without spoiling the game.
Before we start the spoiler section, though, there’s a few other terms worth discussing.
First, let’s look at the name Temsik, which originally belongs to Temsik Park. After a meteor lands in its grounds, “Temsik” comes to refer to the meteorite and its fragments as well. The generally accepted explanation for this name is that it’s a reversal of the word “kismet”, meaning “fate” or “destiny“. Since I can’t come up with a more compelling explanation, I buy it.
The park’s Japanese name is different, though. It’s アシタール (Ashitāru), which has two possible meanings. The first is Ashtar, which would fit the extraterrestrial and paranormal nature of the meteorite. Alternatively, it may come from 明日ある (ashita aru). This phrase means “there will be a tomorrow”, or more naturally, “tomorrow will come“. But Ray tells Sissel that he will disappear at dawn, so is that really true…? Either way, if this is the real meaning, then like “Temsik”, Ashitāru refers to the inevitable nature of the future.
Maison de Amida
The name of Lynne’s apartment building is Maison de Amida. Maison de is French, meaning “house of“. Its Japanese name, メゾン・ド・ナムアミ (Mezon do Namuami) is slightly different. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down.
First, Mezon do is just the Japanese pronunciation of Maison de, so that part is the same. The last word, Namuami, is a shortening of the Buddhist prayer 南無阿弥陀仏 (namu Amida Butsu), meaning “praise Amitābha Buddha“. Amitābha, called Amida in Japanese, is the principal Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism, which came up earlier when we were talking about Jowd.
The localization must have understood this, as they turned Namuami into “Amida”. However, they chose to render it in a form that few players would understand. Maybe they thought it would be better to obscure the religious references to avoid offending people. But in that case, why not remove them entirely? It’s an odd decision; I can’t say I understand it.
Let’s wrap up the non-spoiler section with a few other minor place names. First, the English version reverses キッチンチキン (Kitchin Chikin, Kitchen Chicken) into “Chicken Kitchen” to make it sound more natural. Second, the submarine Yonoa has the same name in Japanese, ヨノア (Yonoa). This is a kana-by-kana reversal of the phrase あの世 (ano yo), literally “that world”, a euphemism for the afterlife. Anyone who’s beaten the game will understand how that name applies.
Lastly, Kamila lives on Dead End Drive, which may be a reference to the board game 13 Dead End Drive. Either way, the name contains the word “dead” and suggests the street has no outlet. In Japanese, this street’s name is オナクナリ通り (Onakunari Tōri, Onakunari Street), from 亡くなる (nakunaru), meaning “to die”. I’d say the English name is an improvement, here. It preserves the meaning while managing to be just a little bit more subtle.
WARNING: The rest of the article will discuss ending spoilers for Ghost Trick! If you haven't played the game and intend to do so, now is definitely the time to stop reading! If you've gotten this far and still need to know even more name etymologies, maybe this article examining the origin of the name Belnades from the Castlevania series will satisfy your curiosity?
The Japanese version of this name is exactly what you’d guess from the English name: アルマ (Aruma). Its meaning, too, seems guessable without any knowledge of Japanese: in Spanish and several other Romance languages, alma is a word meaning “soul“. Case closed on this one, right? A dead character in a game about ghosts has a name that means “soul”; there’s no need to delve further.
I was as surprised as you are probably about to be that that’s not it! According to Takumi, her name is actually a truncation of the word “Armageddon“. He seemed a little embarrassed to admit to the origin of this one, for whatever reason. The alma origin works better, in my opinion… maybe if he’d known about it at the time of that tweet, he would have said it was that instead?
Since アルマ comes from “Armageddon”, the English name would need an R to preserve that. The localization spelled it with an L, though. There’s a few possible reasons for this, but since the English naming seems generally unconcerned with etymology, it’s probably just an aesthetic change.
Yomiel’s Japanese name is ヨミエル (Yomieru). This derives from the word 蘇る (yomigaeru), meaning “to be resurrected“. His name has two meanings. First, after he remembers who he was in life, he returns to his dead body and begins manipulating it, making it look like he has come back to life.
Second… do you remember earlier, how I speculated that the connection between Sissel’s and Sith’s names is meaningful? I based that, in part, on a Shū Takumi tweet stating that he chose Yomiel’s name as a foil to Sissel’s name. Sith and Yomiel are the game’s two primary antagonists, so the pattern fits.
Additionally, some Japanese fans have noticed his name sounds like 黄泉見える (Yomi mieru), which means “Yomi can be seen“. Yomi is the afterlife in Japanese mythology, so this name also fits. While probably unintentional, it’s not entirely coincidental, either, as the etymology of yomigaeru is 黄泉帰る (Yomi kaeru), or “return from Yomi“. (A pedant would put a minor asterisk on this, but it’s essentially correct.) Regardless, good names have multiple meanings, sometimes even unintended ones!
Thanks for reading all the way through to the end! If you liked the article, or if you know any meanings I missed, be sure to tell us in the comments below or on Twitter!
Thanks also to the various English and Japanese sources we compiled this information from! These sources include the Ghost Trick wiki, multiple Japanese fan sites, and of course Shū Takumi’s Twitter account.
If you want to keep the Halloween mood going, we have a few options for you. Maybe you’d be interested in our examination of the Tiny Being’s Ring in Dark Souls and its confusing description? If not, then perhaps you’re more interested in hearing why the 999 localization completely changed the game’s first puzzle. Or if you think you’re up for it, there are few Halloween monsters scarier than a Japanese goblin.