Gengar’s name has several meanings, depending on how you look at it. You can assume Gengar is a play on the word doppleganger, which is appropriate for a Pokemon that pretends to be people’s shadows.
The kanji 幻 maboroshi can alternatively be read as gen, and is used in the words phantom and illusion.
Finally, there is a Danish word genganger, a term used to describe ghosts found in Scandinavian folklore. Who knew this wacky ghost Pokemon was so deep?
The pika is an actual rodent that exists in real life, but Pikachu’s name is more based on wordplay than it is an homage to the pika. Pikapika is the Japanese onomatopoeia for “sparkle,” and chūchū in Japanese represents a squeaking sound. So Pikachu is a squeaky, sparkly mouse. Makes sense!
Lapras is a variation of the word Laplace, which holds several meanings for the Pokemon. Pierre-Simon Laplace was a famous mathematician who studied the sea and the tides, which makes sense given that Lapras is a water Pokemon.
Additionally, la place is French for seat, which makes a lot of sense given that Lapras is one of the only water Pokemon that actually makes sense to ride (and Ash in fact does so in the intro to the cartoon).
Articuno, Zapdos, & Moltres
Do you know how to count to three in Spanish? If not, let the legendary birds teach you! ArticUNO, ZapDOS, MolTRES.
Given that this was the only Pokemon with a male and female version when Red and Blue came out, Nidoran confused a lot of kids in the late ’90s. The name is partly based on the Japanese words ni (two) and nido (two times, two degrees) referring to the two versions of the Pokemon that exist. The Japanese word ran also translates to orchid, a flower that can be purple or blue (the same colors of the male and female versions of Nidoran, respectively).
If it wasn’t already obvious, the kicking Pokemon Hitmonlee is an homage to Bruce Lee, while the punching Pokemon Hitmonchan is an homage to Jackie Chan.
Farfetch’d is obviously a misspelling of the adjective “far-fetched,” which may relate to the rarity of the Pokemon. However, there is more meaning behind the appearance of Farfetch’d. There is an old Japanese proverb that roughly translates to, “the bird won’t come to the party leek in hand, ready to cook itself,” which explains why this weird duck Pokemon carries around a leek.
Charmander Charmeleon, & Charizard
This one is easy – you’ve got a charred salamander, a charred chameleon, and a charred lizard!
Abra, Kadabra, & Alakazam
This might be obvious to ’90s kids, but younger Pokemon fans may not know that Abracadabra and Alakazam were two popular incantations that used to be spoken before the reveal of a magic trick. This explains their psychic powers, and why Alakazam can bend spoons (kind of like a magic trick!).
Kangaskhan is a combination of kangaroo and Genghis Khan, the brutally violent Emperor of the Mongol Empire. This may explain the Pokedex entry that states the Pokemon becomes”violently enraged” when protecting their young.
The names of Kabuto and Kabutops are derived from the Japanese word kabutogani, or horseshoe crab. Kabuto is also the Japanese word for helmet, specifically those cool helmets that samurai used to wear.
This one is pretty simple – Ekans is snake spelled backwards, and Arbok is cobra spelled backwards (with a ‘k’ of course, because Pokemon.) Remember in the cartoon how Arbok would say “charbok?” I have no explanation for that, just thought it was weird when I was 10.
If you were in band in high school, you know that a clef is a musical symbol found on sheet music that indicates the pitch of the notes being played. This explains why Clefariy and Clefable use the move “metronome,” which in real life is the name of a device that keeps the beat for you while you practice. And here we thought Jigglypuff was the musical one!
Given how rare Chanseys are, and the fact that they supposedly bring good luck to whoever catches them, it only makes sense that the name is a combination of the words “chance” and “lucky.” In fact, Chansey was originally named “Lucky” in the Pokemon Red and Blue beta.
Talk about Pokemon that like to shut themselves away from the world! Shellder is a play on the word shelter, and cloister literally means to shut yourself away from the rest of the world. What a bunch of pariahs!
Does anybody have a spare repel? Zubatto is a Japanese onomatopoeia for when a sharp object forcefully pierces something, perhaps referring to Zubat’s fangs or the screeching sound it makes.