Players discuss the fine art of translating character names

Players have been discussing all the good, bad, and ugly things about the character name translation process. While some interesting ideas have been shared, there have also been some pretty brutal criticisms.

The conversation traces back to a user on Resetera by the name of SolVanderlyn, who started a popular thread on the subject. “One of my favorite things to talk about is translation in video games. In the past, this was due to the fact that Japanese to English translations generally ranged from bad to terrible,” SolVanderlyn began. “Finding that the original scripts were so much more cohesive, I fell in love with translating on the spot. It is his own way of discovering the truth. What is really being said? What is the author’s intention?

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SolVanderlyn gave Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as an example because “I’m playing the Xenoblade series right now.” The user noted that “Xenoblade Chronicles plays around with their names pretty well, but Xenoblade Chronicles 2 changes a lot of names, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and sometimes for no reason.” The user went on to describe the names that “worked, didn’t work, and didn’t make sense.”

Pyra and Mythra apparently worked out quite well for Homura and Hikari. “Homura is a Japanese name that means fire or flame,” explained SolVanderlyn. “Hikari is a Japanese name that means light. This is an incredible change. It perfectly evokes the original meaning while still sounding like a cool fantasy name.” Several users, including DiipuSurotu, noted the connection between Mythra and Mithra, the “Zoroastrian divinity of covenant, light, and oath.”


When it comes to “name changes that didn’t work”, SolVanderlyn focused on Dromarch for Byakko. “This one is weird,” the user noted. “Byakko evokes the East Asian mythology of the Celestial White Tiger, one of the four cardinal celestial beings in Chinese astrology. This is what the character is almost literally.” SolVanderlyn added that “Dromarch, as far as I can tell, is a completely made up name” before noting that “this one doesn’t even try to line up with the meaning of the original and sounds silly to me.” The user calling themselves Dice noted that “a lot of Pokémon games are really good and creatively turned into English”, but noted that “there was no way they would keep the Umbreon name”. This particular Pokémon is known as Blacky in Japanese.


SolVanderlyn ultimately pointed to Morag for Meleph as a “name change that doesn’t make sense”. The user described how Meleph “has celestial connotations. Meleph is a star in the constellation Cancer. It sounds much smoother and more graceful than the hard Morag we got in English. Unlike the other names I mentioned, this one didn’t have a distinctly Japanese influence that had been lost to English speakers, so it seems like it was changed for the sake of it.” However, the user who called IDreamOfHime quickly chimed in to say that “Morag is a fairly common Gaelic girl’s name in Scotland,” prompting an apology.

The conversation continues apace and players have been pinpointing their favorite and least favorite performances. The various games in the Street Fighter and Final Fantasy franchises have so far been the subject of heated debate and this seems to be just the beginning.

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