Regional Authenticity in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet

On Wednesday, a presentation revealing more information about the upcoming Pokémon titles, Scarlet & Violet was broadcast on the official Pokémon YouTube channel. As it was the most detailed look at the next entries in the franchise yet, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at the different approaches taken in naming the Paldea region’s new faces, human and Pokémon alike. To keep this article from getting too bloated, I’ll just focus on people and places, saving Pokémon for later.

I’m a very busy guy, so I just smush the two names together and call them ‘Scarlet.’

At this point, most people probably know that each of Pokémon‘s regions broadly resemble real-world locations. The first four generations are based on regions of Japan, while later generations take a more global inspiration from places like New York City, the United Kingdom and Hawaii. Likewise, Scarlet & Violet‘s open-world Paldea region appears to be based on the Iberian Peninsula, a region southwest of France consisting primarily of Spain and Portugal.

This is especially interesting given Japan’s historical connection to Portugal; Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to reach Japan, which had a strong effect on Japan’s culture and structure moving forward. It led to the Nagasaki prefecture founding a port of the same name, which served as the primary means of getting goods from not only Europe, but also China. At the time, due to Chinese piracy, direct trade with Chinese merchants was banned in Japan, but Portuguese merchants were able to act as intermediaries to deliver these highly-coveted goods.

In addition to opening their trade globally, the Japanese adopted many Portuguese terms as loanwords such as inglês->igirisu for ‘English’ and pão->pan for ‘bread’. Source: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

From a Japanese-to-English localization perspective, the choice of setting is also pretty interesting! With the exception of the Hawaii-inspired Alola and France-inspired Kalos, the etymology of a tremendous portion of both English and Japanese geography could be traced to English and Japanese wordplay. As the Iberian Peninsula is dominated by neither of those languages, names took inspiration from Spanish and Portuguese, instead.

All that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at how and when the two versions try to invoke regional authenticity, by examining the namesakes of everything introduced in the presentation. To start with, let’s look at the region in general. パルデア (Parudea) in Japanese, Paldea’s etymology is still unclear, even to Japanese fans!

Theorizing gets pretty wild sometimes. Here, users speculate that it could be a portmanteau of Gen IV legendaries Palkia and Dialga, signifying yet another Diamond/Pearl remake!

The English-speaking community seems to have settled on the idea that the name is a portmanteau of the Greek paideía and the Spanish/Portuguese aldea/aldeia. While the latter pair are simply equivalent to ‘village’ in English, paideía refers to an educational ideal similar to the study of humanities in the modern day. It might seem strange for a region inspired by Spain and Portugal to be named using a Greek word, but it’s actually consistent with the name of the Iberian Peninsula itself! ‘Iberian’ comes from the Iberus—the Greek name for what we now refer to as the Ebro—a river which cuts through the northeastern part of the region.

As Jun’ichi Masuda (composer, producer, and director of various Pokémon games) points out, it wouldn’t be the first time a region was named for a Greek word, despite not being based on Greece itself!

It fits neatly with both the regional inspiration and the school theme, but it’s not clear-cut that paideía is the actual inspiration. A commonly-proposed alternative is that it’s simply a combination of the English ‘pal’ + aldea/aldeia. The main sticking point is that there are almost no Japanese resources discussing paideía, so it would be pretty unlikely for the Japanese staff to be aware of it. On the other hand, it’s not so unlikely they would find it when looking up Greek terms about education, and its relative obscurity would explain the confusion Japanese players are expressing over the name’s origin.

The game starts with the player enrolled in one of two academies, known as Naranja (Spanish for ‘Orange’) and Uva (Spanish/Portuguese for ‘Grape’). While Japanese localization simply named these schools Orenji and Gurēpu⁠—the English loanwords for the same fruits—the localization opted for foreign names, to add some regional authenticity.

By the way, these schools are located in the city of Mesagoza, the apparent capital of this region. Mesa in Spanish is ‘table’, while goza likely references the Spanish city of Zaragoza. The city’s name is simply テーブルシティ (Tēburu Shiti, lit. Table City) in Japanese. Here, the localization once again added region-specific flair.

Teaching at these academies are Professors オーリム (О̄rimu) and フトゥー (pronounced Futū), named Sada and Turo in the localization, respectively. The English names are straightforward enough, coming from the Spanish pasada, meaning ‘past’, and futuro, meaning ‘future’.

As for the Japanese names, they’re a touch more complicated. Olim references the identical Latin word for ‘past’, while Futū references futurum, meaning, well, ‘future’! Beyond that, though, aren’t these character professors? So, you’d expect them to be named for trees, according to standard Pokémon conventions! Japanese users are struggling to untangle this as well, but I think I have at least some explanation. As far as Olim is concerned, it’s possible to read it as olm; in the Catalan language this is the word for the elm tree!

Catalan is spoken primarily in Catalonia (duh). Since Catalonia sits on the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, this name makes perfect sense for the region!

For Futū, however, nothing seems right. There is a Samoan tree known colloquially as futu, but contrasted with the Catalan olm, it doesn’t seem like a very good fit, does it? It’s possible that olm is merely a coincidence, and that neither professor name is intended to reference trees. After all, the professor in Pokémon Legends: Arceus appeared to be named for the lavender plant, which itself isn’t a tree. It seems likely to me that the most important part of naming these characters to Game Freak was the connection to ‘past’ and ‘future’.

As a matter of fact, the legendary Pokémon featured at the top of this article support that theory, since they also have a connection to the past and future. With identical names in Japanese and English, コライドン (Koraidon) and ミライドン (Miraidon) get their names from a 3-part pun. First, the Japanese 古来 (korai) and 未来 (mirai) mean ‘ancient’ and ‘future’, respectively. Second, being vehicle-like creatures that can be ridden across the region, the raidon part of both names evokes the English phrase “ride on!” Lastly, the don suffix at the end comes from the Latin/Greek –odōn, commonly seen at the end of lizard names like ‘iguanadon’ and ‘pteranodon’. Despite what you might expect, –odōn has nothing specific to do with dinosaurs, and just means ‘tooth’.

Megalodon—a tremendous, ancient mackerel shark once thought to be an ancestor of the great white shark—gets this part of its name from its spine-chilling chompers.
Meanwhile, the pteranodon gets its name from its wings (pter-) and having no teeth (-anodon)!

Moving on, we’re also introduced to Clavell (クラベル, Kuraberu), the director of the academy. While the localization tacked on an extra L to more closely resemble a name, his namesake is unmistakably clavel, the Spanish name for the red carnation, Spain’s national flower. If that’s not regional authenticity, I don’t know what is!

There’s not a whole lot to say about Arven and Penny. Arven (ペパー, pepā) takes his Japanese namesake from either peppermint or just plain pepper, but I’m not sure about the English inspiration. Meanwhile, Penny’s Japanese name is ボタン (botan), which is the Japanese name for the peony flower. Like Clavell, her name was altered slightly to sound more like an regular name, though I think any reference to the flower will be lost on English-speaking audiences.

That leaves us with just two more named NPCs: Grusha and Jacq. Grusha will make a nice transition into the Pokémon, so let’s start with Jacq, shall we? In Japanese, his name is ジニア (Jinia), which is a direct transliteration of the zinnia flower’s name. So, why Jacq? Well, the answer actually goes back 8 years, to the release of Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire!

The Hoenn remakes included a few brand-new additions to the region, among them Dragon-type trainer Zinnia. Her original name was ヒガナ (Higana), a truncation of 彼岸花 (higanbana), the Japanese name for red spider lilies. These poisonous plants were placed near graves to prevent disturbances from wildlife, so they’re closely associated with death.

Despite never being explicitly stated, I think it’s clear that Zinnia’s tribe was wiped out, so the relationship to death seems intentional. In fact, given that her goal is avoiding a repeat of this tragedy in the modern Pokémon world, the protective nature of higanbana is all-the-more appropriate. As for the renaming, they may have had trouble coming up with version of “red spider lily” that didn’t overlap with another upcoming character.

Due to the prominence of Zinnia in a fairly-recent release, the localization team probably realized it would be confusing to name Jacq the same thing, necessitating a change in his name. Of course, with so many plant-based character names, it was a matter of time before one overlapped. In fact, even Peony has been used, before, though the workaround was more subtle in Penny’s case.

This isn’t unusual for long-running series. Fire Emblem Gaiden (recently remade as FE Echoes: Shadows of Valentia) features a character named Robin. To avoid confusion with Fire Emblem Awakening’s player-inserts (themselves renamed from Reflet to Robin), Gaiden‘s Robin was renamed to Tobin in his long-awaited English debut.

Our last major NPC is Grusha, the leader of the Glaseado Gym. Their cool appearance probably gives away their focus on Ice-type Pokémon, huh? Well, another connection is their Japanese name, グルーシャ (Gurūsha). A transliteration of груша (grusha), meaning ‘pear’, the name is of Russian origin. Fitting for a gym nestled in the icy north of the Paldea region.

I’ve seen a lot of speculation as to Grusha’s gender online, by the way. The confusion is largely due to their apparently-feminine features contrasted with the official Scarlet/Violet website referring to them as male. I can’t say their gender for sure, but what I can say is the equivalent page on the Japanese site doesn’t make any reference to gender. Additionally, in Russian, names that end in ‘sha’ are generally feminine (e.g. Natasha).

However, there are many masculine names with a diminutive form that get ‘sha’ tacked onto them, like Aleksander (‘sander→Sasha). In fact, the archetypically-Russian Gregory can be shortened to a very similar nickname: Grisha! All that being said, personally, I’d be pretty surprised for this to be a localization mistake. I mean, it uses masculine pronouns six times! Surely the writer asked someone, right?

As for Grusha’s Gym, Glaseado is referred to as ナッぺ山 (nappeyama, Mt. Nappe) in Japanese. While yama is simply Japanese for ‘mountain’, nappe has a French etymology. Located on the northern end of the Paldea region, perhaps this name was inspired by the fact France’s territory just barely creeps into the Pyrenees, a mountain range on the northern edge of the Iberian Peninsula.

Literally ‘layer’, the French nappe is most commonly associated with a napkin or tablecloth. This is why it also came to refer to mountains formed by sheets of rock shifting over one another, giving an appearance reminiscent of a rumpled tablecloth. In addition, nappe refers to the technique of thickening a liquid in cooking until it’s able to coat the back of a spoon. The Japanese interpretation of nappe is usually related to the latter definition.

While this etymology may seem overly-complicated at first glance, it actually fits with an already-established theme of the region. I mentioned earlier that Mesagoza is Table City in Japanese. Well, as mesa means ‘table’ in Spanish, it also refers to a large, raised platform made of layers of sedimentary rock. That being the case, it’s not-unlikely the Japanese developers meant to invoke the same double entendre involving both geology and dining! It looks like something like this is going to be the theme for each city in this region.

Looking at some of the region’s new Pokémon (like Smoliv, here) it’s likely food is going to play a big role in Paldea’s theming.

I buried the lede a bit, but the English localization of nappeyama (Glaseado) comes from the Spanish glaseado. Glaseado can mean either ‘frosting’ or the past tense form of glasear (‘to glaze’). That’s also pretty fitting with the cooking-related definition of nappe, isn’t it? For English-speaking players without Spanish knowledge, it probably also evokes the term ‘glacier’. I think the localization actually did an excellent job of preserving the spirit of the name, all things considered!

Man, that was a lot of info! I wanted to include a breakdown of each of the Pokémon’s names, too, but that might double the length of this already-substantial article! I think it’s interesting that the Japanese writers were largely content with terms not linguistically tied to the region, but the English localization found it more appropriate to add some local flavor, don’t you?

In any event, I think I’ll post that Pokémon name breakdown in a week or two, so if you’re interested, why not follow me on Twitter, where you can be notified about it and any other articles we happen to post on the site? We also post smaller localization tidbits throughout the week, like what you see on either side of this paragraph.

For more Nintendo-related localization trivia, read about this tutorial that lies to the player in Paper Mario! And if the Paldea region’s kitchen theming made you hungry, Matthew also wrote about how a fan translation turned a Touhou character’s fear of dessert into a meme.

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