Pokemon Reimagined: Understanding Chinese Pokemon Names

We all know them, we all love them!

Pokemons are all the same internationally. Right? The legendary games and anime series have been a global success and it is almost impossible to have never heard of this Japanese franchise. The name “Pokémon” is actually a shortcut for “Pocket Monster” (jap. ポケットモンスター Poketto Monsutā) and the main plot of the games, films and anime series deals with collecting little magic creatures. Pokemons can have various shapes and sizes and they live in the wild or among humans. However, since the Japanese games became a global hit, the little monsters’ names had to be translated into different languages, which is why they often sound completely different in every country.

But first, how many Pokemons are there?

There are over 800 species of Pokémon, which can be categorized into different types, such as Fire, Psychic, Poison and many others. The amount of different Pokemons is constantly growing, since there are new kinds added with new games released. As species, they are listed in the National Pokédex, and each one of them has an assigned number, type and combat statistics. Over 800 little creatures! As you can see, it would be impossible to list them all in this article. Instead, let’s just focus on the most popular.

Pokemons in China

Needless to say, Pokemons are very popular in China, as well as in other areas Chinese-speaking areas such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. Here, however, we encounter the very first problem when it comes to Chinese Pokemon names. Depending if you are in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, the names of the Pokemons may differ. What is more, even the name of the franchise itself – Pokémon – used to be different in all these three places! In Hong Kong, people are used to the name 寵物小精靈 (Cantonese: cung2 mat6 siu2 zing1 ling4), in Taiwan the little magic creatures were called 神奇寶貝 (shénqī bǎobèi), meanwhile in China Pokemons are known as 宝可梦 (bǎokěmèng), which resembles the original pronunciation.

However, since 2016, The Pokémon Company intended to standardize the name, so it introduced a new term: 精灵宝可梦/精靈寶可夢 (jīnglíng bǎokěmèng), as well as unified some of Pokemons’ names. Despite these changes, don’t be surprised if you encounter different Pokemon names online since it may depend on the origin of the website. Actually, the Pokemon names are still a source of controversy, especially in Hong Kong: in 2016, a group of young people even protested the changes at the Japanese embassy, claiming that they disrespect the Cantonese language (photo).

Popular Pokemons in Chinese

Leaving politics aside, let’s check out how some of the most popular Pokemons are named in Chinese, and some other related vocabulary.

  1. Pikachu – 皮卡丘 Píkǎqiū

The little yellow Pokemon with a thunder-shaped tail and electric power is the very symbol of the franchise worldwide and the most recognizable Pokemon. It was the very first Pokemon of Ash, which is the main character of the Pokemon anime. His Chinese name is 小智(xiǎozhì), which actually means someone silly or witless (小 means little, 智 means wisdom, wit).

Actually, the name of this Pokemon was also a subject of controversy in Hong Kong: when its name became standardized to 皮卡丘, Hong Kong users were displeased, since they were used to calling it 比卡超 (bei2 kaa1 ciu1).

2. Charizard – 喷火龙 Pēnhuǒlóng

Voted the most favorite Pokemon in a massive Reddit survey, Charizard is a dragon-like Pokemon that breathes fire at its opponents. His type (属性 shǔxìng) is Fire (火huǒ) and Flying (飞行 fēixíng).

3. Gengar – 耿鬼 Gěngguǐ

Another fan-favorite Pokemon. It is 幽灵 (yōulíng – Ghost) 属性and 毒 (dú – Poison) 属性.

4. Arcanine – 風速狗 Fēngsùgǒu

Arcanine is famous for its fast speed. Its Chinese name literally means “a wind-fast dog”. It’s a fire pokemon: 火属性.

5. Bulbasaur – 妙蛙種子 Miàowāzhǒngzǐ

Bulbasaur is among the oldest Pokemons and it is number one in the National Pokédex (宝可梦列表 bǎokěmèng lièbiǎo). It is 草 (cǎo – Grass) 属性and 毒属性.

6. Blaziken – 火焰鸡 Huǒyànjī

This courageous Pokemon’s Chinese name literally means “flame chicken”. Its 火属性 and 格斗 (gédòu – Fighting) 属性.

7. Umbreon – 月亮伊布 Yuèliàngyībù

Umbreon is a sly Pokemon that likes to await its foes in the darkness. It evolved as a result of exposure to the moon’s waves, hence its name in Chinese: 月亮 yuèliàng means “moonlight”. It is 恶 (è – evil, in Pokemon universe translated as “Dark”) 属性.

8. Raichu – 雷丘 Léiqiú

Raichu is a cute evolved form of Pikachu. Just as his “older brother”, Raichu possesses electric powers, what makes him a 电 (diàn – Electric) 属性 Pokemon.

9. Gardevoir – 沙奈朵 Shānàiduǒ

Gardevoir has the ability to read the future and uses its psychokinetic energy in combat. It is 超能力 (chāonénglì – Psychic) 属性and 妖精 (yāojīng- Fairy) 属性.  

10. Eevee – 伊布 Yībù

This beautiful Pokemon is capable of mutating the environment in which it lives. Its type is Normal: 一般 (yībān) 属性.

Interested in more vocabulary in Chinese? In Maayot we can help you with that. Check out some of our articles below: