Thursday, September 10, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Eleven: Name Origins for Mana/Seiken Densetsu

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather extensive “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


The first game to bear the Mana title made the odd decision of making its three playable heroes nameless — that is, their names must to be chosen by the player — even though the Japanese version of the game had default names: the oddly feminine Randi for the male character, the gender-neutral Popoie for the rather asexual sprite, and Purim for the female character. This last one is notable for two reasons: For one, it would seem to come from the name of the Jewish holiday of the same name, even though little in the story of the Israelites’ escape from a massacre has little immediately apparent significance to Purim the character.

purim, porom and pullum: something in common besides their ponytails?

What’s always struck me about the name is that it seems to be extremely similar to those of two other female characters: Porom from Final Fantasy IV and Arabian fighter Pullum Purna in the Street Fighter EX games. There are differences, but given how certain letters and vowels can change from one language and back again, these three names are similar enough to possibly be all variations on the same source name, whether it happens to be taken from the Jewish holiday or somewhere else. If it is the holiday that gives the characters their names, it might make sense in that the story behind the holiday Purim in large part involves the heroism of Esther, the queen who saves the Israelites, and that Porom, Pullum and Purim are each women who each act heroically.

Secret of Mana offers a few other name peculiarities. For example, much of Purim’s story hinges around her search for her fiancé, a hapless soldier with the odd and unfortunately appropriate name Dyluck. (He’s unlucky and then he dies. Go figure.) I have no idea what this name is supposed to mean or where it came from, but it’s worth noting that Sword of Mana — a game released for the Game Boy Advance ten years after Secret of Mana that incorporates characters introduced in subsequent games — features a Dyluck look-alike named Durac. In all honestly, the original name might well have been Derek or something ordinary like that, but here’s to bad translations upping the exotic and mysterious factors.

The commenter scifantasy pointed out an additional interpretation for Dyluck’s name: du Lac, the surname of Lancelot of Arthurian legend. It’s plausible. Du Lac means “of the lake” and refers to Lancelot’s adoptive mother, the Lady of the Lake. I wonder if it’s meaningful that she too may have a counterpart in Secret of Mana: Luka, a water maiden who also lives on a like. As far as I remember, however, Dyluck and Luka never interact.

durac and old marley on top, dyluck and youthful phanna below

There’s similar doppelganger confusion between Phanna — a minor character who’s in love with Dyluck and who loses the ability to talk as the result of a curse — and her apparent Sword of Mana counterpart, Pamela — who loves Durac. As a result of a different curse, Pamela ends up much older than Durac. She changes her name to Marley, for reasons I’m not too clear on, and her love for Durac goes unrequited, like Phanna’s for Dyluck. The parallel becomes clearer when you learn that Phanna’s name is Pamela in the Japanese text to Secret of Mana. I have no idea why it would have been changed. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Secret of Mana also features a villainous character named Fanha, whose name is almost identical to Phanna’s. In short: It’s a goddamn mess.

marijuana and beer, essentially

Other matters in the Mana series are less complicated. For example, in Legend of Mana, the player can recruit a pair of magic-savvy tykes into the roster of playable characters. In the English version of the game, their names are Bud and Lisa. In the Japanese version, they’re Bud and Corona, and I can’t help but to suspect that the fact that the original set of names doubled as a slang term for marijuana and a brand of beer, respectively, persuaded the translators to switch out the female character’s name.

An anonymous commenter pointed out what I dumbly didn’t think of with this little theory: that Bud’s name is more likely just a reference to the Budweiser brand of beer, commonly called Bud. It would make more sense if both siblings were named after beer brands. Another anonymous commenter pointed out that a more innocent interpretation would be that Bud’s name just refers to a flower bud and Corona’s just to the solar corona, the beams of light around the sun.

One of the more recent entries in the series is Children of Mana, whose main cast is a trio of characters that seem to parallel the three heroes in Secret of Mana. In the U.S., the Children of Mana characters were called Ferrik, Tamber and Poppen. In the Japanese version, however, the three had names that all double as “action verbs”: Flick, Tumble, and Pop. And seeing as how the Mana games and this one in particular emphasize action — as opposed to the turn-based fight sequences in Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger — such names make sense. The names of the American counterparts are all sensible translations of the original Japanese, but the decision to omit the original verbal sense of action seems odd. The change from Pop to Poppen is especially strange, as poppen is a German verb that means “to fuck.”

Yes, of all the notes I could have ended on, a chose a dirty German word. With all due respect to Secret of Mana, of course.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

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