The Yo-Kai Watch video game series has been a smash hit in Japan, even managing to outsell Pokemon. Recently there has been news to start bringing the franchise and its accompanying merchandise to English-speaking audiences, and the main character of Yo-Kai Watch, Amano Keita (pictured above, right), has become Nathan Adams. This leads me to speculate on the specific choice made here, and to think about how it compares to the meaning inherent to the original name.
Video games are no stranger to changing characters’ names to make them more culturally accessible, but a question arises as to whether there is any meaning lost (or even gained) in localization of names. For example, a lot of Pokemon characters names gain become much more explicit in terms of wordplay though in a way that has less to do with the inherent meanings of names and more to do with how they sound or have built up associations through culture and history (Lance the Dragon Master, Brock the Rock Gym Leader).
In the case of Amano Keita (which sounds like a fairly typical Japanese name) in Japanese his name references very specific things, and because the name has official kanji it becomes easier to see what it could mean. Amano Keita is 天野景太, where 天 means “sky/heaven,” and 景 means “scenery/view.” The Ama in Amano is on a basic level associated with the Japanese goddess Amaterasu (EDIT: It also might very well refer to Amanojaku, a demon-like creature in Japanese folklore. Thanks to Zack Davisson for informing me!). Thus, Amano Keita’s name basically means “a view of the heavens,” which I think associates him with spirituality and mythology and thus the titular youkai in Yo-Kai Watch.
What about Nathan Adams? Initially, what can’t be ignored is the fact that “Amano” and “Adams” sound somewhat similar. I have little doubt about that.
In terms of basic meaning, a Google search reveals that both Nathan and Adam are Hebrew in origin (Adam being a little more obvious in that regard), so there might very well be a continued connection to heaven and spirituality through the name as well. At the same time it probably won’t earn the ire of those who don’t wish to associate Judeo-Christian beliefs with the Japanese occult, because even though Nathan means “gift from God,” Nathan Adams is also fairly generic-sounding and few truly associate names like “Christopher” with Christ anymore.
However, I’m not sure if this is the actual reasoning, because as explained above, I don’t know the degree to which a localization would actually pursue the deeper origins of names, especially because they don’t have the benefit of kanji to make things explicit. That said, sometimes names are selected because of how they sound, with different kanji used to transform it into a “real” name, similar to English. For example, the female character in Hurricane Polymar is Nanba Teru, or “Number Telephone.”
There is another way in which the English name can be associated with the spiritual and the occult, which is The Addams Family. This, I think is actually more of a likely origin, and while Yo-Kai Watch isn’t focused on the macabre the way The Addams Family is, there’s still that connection with the afterlife, ghosts, and monsters. As for Keita vs. Nathan, I wonder if Nathan was picked because it sounds close to “nature.”
While it’s difficult to draw firm conclusion, I believe that both names spirits and the occult/celestial, though due to cultural differences their exact meanings don’t exactly draw from quite the same concepts. I get the feeling little of this will actually matter in terms of how the character of “Nathan Adams” is perceived, but it was at least fun to explore the potential connotations of his name.
If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.