|| Pocket Monsters, or
"Pockemon" for Short
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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | Pocket Monsters, or "Pockemon" for short
Most of us know that the word "Pokémon" is short for the words "Pocket Monsters," right? While these days the franchise's titular creatures are only ever referred to as "Pokémon," there was actually a point in time when the "Pockemon" spelling was much more common. This article looks at how the way we refer to the creatures has changed over the years.
In Japan the franchise is known as Poketto Monsutaa (ポケットモンスター), which is the way the words Pocket Monsters are pronounced in Japanese. In order to create the word commonly used to refer to these titular creatures, Japan took the first two phonemes from each word -- "Po" and "ke" from Poketto, and "Mo" and "n" from Monsutaa -- and put them together to make the brand new word "Pokemon" (ポ ケモン). In other words, Poketto Monsutaa becomes Pokemon.
If we were to do the same thing with the English words, Pocket Monsters, we'd take take the first two phonemes from each word -- "Po" and "cke" from Pocket, and "Mo" and "n" from Monsters -- and put them together to make "Pockemon." In other words, Pocket Monsters becomes Pockemon.
And yet these days, we spell it "Pokémon" instead of "Pockemon". Why did we drop the "c"? And why is there an accent over the "e" there?
The Pocket Monsters franchise started on February 27th, 1996 in Japan and September 8th, 1998 in the U.S. That's a gap of a little over two and a half years. Accordingly, there was a significant period of time where the only time we ever saw anything related to the franchise written out in the Latin alphabet -- the alphabet we English speakers use -- was in materials straight out of Japan.
For the first few years, things were a bit inconsistent. The Pokémon Company wouldn't open its doors until April 1998, and Nintendo wasn't quite as strict about making sure everybody was following the same style guides as they are now. So companies had to make their own decisions about how to write out the series' proper names. This resulted in a variety of spellings all across the board, like "Rapurasu" instead of "Laplace" or "Nivi City" instead of "Nibi City."
This inconsistency extended to the franchise's titular creatures as well. The overwhelming majority of the products released in Japan simply opted to use "Pocket Monsters" on their packaging. It makes sense when you think about it; in Japan, the video games are Pocket Monsters Red & Green, not Pokémon Red & Green. Other products -- the TV series, various manga series, etc. -- all opt for the unabbreviated Pocket Monsters branding as well.
You may have noticed how the text that wraps around Lizardon and Fushigibana in the logos above says "The Pocket Monsters Trainer" instead of "Pokémon Trainer." This kind of wording was actually pretty common back in those early years. Instead of going through the headache of deciding on a way to write out the word "Pokémon" in English, companies invented alternate phrases to avoid the issue altogether.
The few products that did opt to use the word "Pokémon" in their titles decided to just say screw it, we're going to use the term "Pocket Monsters" when we write their names out in English. So for example, the Japanese text on the first Nintendo 64 game says Pokemon Sutajiamu (ポケ モンスタジアム) but the English text below it says "Pocket Monsters Stadium," not "Pokémon Stadium" as you would expect.
But then where were times when a third option was used.
Sometimes a company would feel brave and try their hand at writing the abbreviated word ポケモン out into English letters. And nine times out of ten, the spelling they chose was "Pockemon."
Below is a gallery of all the examples I've been able to find of the "Pockemon" spelling. Click on each image to view a larger version.
Elsewhere in the world, this British gaming magazine from 1998 apparently opted to use the "Pockemon" spelling. This was before the franchise would make its English language debut later that year.
Now, the "Pokemon" spelling did sometimes appear here and there during this initial two-and-a-half-year period. It wasn't as common, but it wasn't unheard of, either.
But, for the most part, the "Pockemon" spelling seems to have been much more prevalent.
The TV series, meanwhile, just kind of did its own thing. In Episode 075 "The Curtain Rises on the Pokémon League! The Water Field!," for example, the show uses both the Pokémon and the Pockemon spellings with absolutely no regard for consistency.
It is also worth noting that, during this time, we never, ever see the spelling with the accent over the "e." The "Pokémon" spelling wouldn't be seen until well after the franchise made its debut overseas.
When the franchise did eventually make its debut in the rest of the world, the "Pocket Monsters" naming got dropped entirely. You probably know this story already, but it was due to conflicts with the similarly named Monster in My Pocket. In this (archived) article posted on The Overtake, Joe Morrison, one half of the duo that created the Monster In My Pocket franchise, explains:
So "Pocket Monsters" was off the table. So let's go for the abbreviated version of the name, right?
So at this point you might expect them to use the spelling most common in Japan, "Pockemon." But, of course, that's not what ended up happening at all. Nintendo of America opted for "Pokémon," a brand new, never-before-seen spelling of the word that removes the "c" and replaces the "e" with an accented "é."
The "é" was most likely added because if it wasn't there, most non-Japanese speakers would assume that the "e" is silent and that "Pokemon" was a two syllable word. Some people ended up thinking that anyway -- I'm sure we all have stories of an older relative referring to it as Pohk-mon at some point -- but in the end the accent did help a substantial number of fans realize that the word is supposed to be three syllables and not two.
But what about the loss of the "c"? One argument against the "Pocke" spelling is the existence of the word pokke (ポッケ), an abbreviation of the word "pocket" that's often used by caretakers when talking to young children. You can also see the spelling used for a brand of Yamaha bikes from the 1980s and as the name of a monkey character on the old NHK kids' show Ittemiyou Yattemiyou. One could argue that if Pocket Monsters' titular creatures were really meant to be written "Pockemon" then the original Japanese spelling would have been ポッケ モン, not ポケモン.
On the other hand, the Japanese word for "pager" is pokeberu (ポケベル), a word that most companies wrote out as "pocket bell" despite not using either the ポケット or ポッケ spelling.
Character space considerations may have also played a role. "Pokémon" is one letter less than "Pockemon," and while a one letter savings may not sound like a lot today a single letter could make a world of difference back in the 8-bit Game Boy days.
Whatever the reason(s) may be, the Pokémon spelling is what is currently recognized as the official, correct spelling of the characters featured in the Pocket Monsters series.
Once the show made it to the West, Japan basically stopped using the "Pockemon" spelling altogether. The most recent example I could find was that Mewtwo Strikes Back manga I mentioned earlier; from the summer of 1998 onwards, "Pokemon" took its place.
The first time I can find of Japan using the Americanized "Pokémon" (well, POKéMON) spelling was on the box art for Pokémon Pinball, a Game Boy Color game released in Japan on April 14th, 1999.
"Pokemon" and "Pokémon" would be used interchangeably for a few more years, but after a while even the "Pokemon" spelling would start to get phased out.
These days, we only ever see the Pokémon spelling in Japan. It makes a certain amount of sense; having a single name for your product in most countries makes a lot of sense, from a branding perspective. It's simpler to just have one spelling that's used throughout the world, right?
Still, it's interesting to think that there could have been a universe where the "Pockemon" spelling is the one we could have been using all these years!
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