So I understand that translating literally is often not enough, since there has to be a "patching" between the cultures of the two languages. What I don't understand is how to handle translations like マサラタウン or certain movie/song names like ミュウツーの逆襲 EVOLUTION (yes, this is about Pokemon).

Let's take these two examples assuming one has no prior knowledge regarding the terms:

  1. In the first example, I'd simply translate it has Masara Town. For Pokemon connoisseurs out there, you'd probably recognise the name Pallet Town, the English translation that appeared in games.

  2. For the movie name, my first guess was "Mewtwo's Counterattack: EVOLUTION". The actual translation is "Mewtwo Strikes Back: EVOLUTION". I feel like I got the idea but it doesn't feel as natural.

I'm far from an expert, so I assume that I'll have these kind of problems until I can properly convey the original meaning. That being said, I'd like to know what's the thought process behind these types of translation. Does the writer/editor decide on a translation they're happy with, "coining" the term for other people to use? If so, does anyone have an idea on how do they do it?

Other name examples in which literal translation does not match:

  1. ルーシィ (Rushi) for Lucy
  2. リズベット (Rizubetto) for Lisbeth
  3. I could probably fill a page with these, but I think you lads and lasses got the idea

Note: I realise that this has potential to become an ongoing discussion and, thus leaving the purpose of this site. So I'd like to ask to tackle this from the following point of view: is there something I can actively do to eventually get these translations right or will I just have to use previously coined terms?

  • 2
    These are examples of localization more so than just translation. Also, just as another point of terminology, leaving something as Masara Town from マサラタウン would be transliteration and not translation.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 22:20
  • Though we do use the word masala in English, so if you used that spelling it would be translation, but it's not hard to see why they didn't go with that. To me anyway.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 22:28
  • It really depends on how true you want to be to canon. But that's another can of worms, with regards to fair use and copyright.
    – Starfox
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


When it comes to localization of proper nouns, especially titles, experts may do something aggressive for various reasons. It's a very creative task, and you have to be very good at both languages and cultures. Check this list of Pokémon and imagine how Japanese names are localized to English. You can see many patterns:

  • Transliteration: ピカチュウ → Pikachu; ズバット → Zubat
  • (Partial) translation: ニャース → Meowth; ビリリダマ → Voltorb
  • Newly coined, ignoring the original etymology: メタモン → Ditto; カモネギ → Farfetch'd; ユンゲラー → Kadabra

Sometimes there are practical reasons to change the title entirely, sometimes there are absolutely no reason.

  • バイオハザード was changed to Resident Evil to avoid trademark issues.

    When in late 1994 marketing executives were setting up to release Biohazard in the United States, it was pointed out that securing the rights to the name Biohazard would be very difficult as a DOS game had been registered under that name (from Wikipedia)

  • ポケットモンスター itself was rebranded as Pokémon to avoid its possible sexual implication (although ポケモン is common in Japan as an abbreviation).
  • 上を向いて歩こう was changed to sukiyaki for no good reason.

    In Anglophone countries, the song is best known under the alternative title "Sukiyaki". In Japan it refers to a Japanese hot-pot dish with cooked beef, the word sukiyaki does not appear in the song's lyrics, nor does it have any connection to them; it was used only because it was short, catchy, recognizably Japanese, and more familiar to English speakers. A Newsweek columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew". (from Wikipedia)

  • クッパ in Super Mario franchise was changed to Bowser for no apparent reason.

So, conveying the original meaning is not always the top priority. People who are responsible for localization have to think many aspects, and they choose names thinking what will be the best for the local audience.

Lastly, the Japanese language doesn't distinguish L and R consonants. Your example of "ルーシィ → Lucy" seems to be a fairly faithful transliteration to me.

  • 「クッパ」、ノコノコの名前に使っちゃったんですよね… Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 8:14

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