A reader by the name of Muhammad sent in a question about the name “Palutena” from the Kid Icarus games, and since she was also just recently announced for the new Super Smash Bros. game, it seemed like a perfect time to share it!
Hi, I recently started playing Kid Icarus for the first time, and I’m getting made fun of for calling Palutena by what I believe is a better translation of her name — “Palthena.” I was wondering you could do an article on what you would believe the best translation would be.
Her name in Japanese is Palutena — and it was kept this way in English even into modern times. However, she was based on Pallas Athena, and Parthena is one of her titles. So I’m of the opinion that calling her “Palthena” or “Parthena” is more accurate.
But, I’m not an expert. You are! So I would love to see your opinion.
Name translation is probably one of the biggest, most complicated, most headache-inducing part of an entertainment translator’s job. It’s such a big, broad topic that it deserves a whole series of articles, or even a site of its own! For now, though, I’ll just say that this particular issue is one I encounter all the time in my own work – how to handle foreign or foreign-sounding names that Japanese writers have adopted or created from scratch.
In this specific case, Palutena’s name seems to have a basis in Greek mythology, like most of the other names in the game. The problem arises from the fact that different languages often pronounce Greek mythological names differently. I could write a lot about the subject, but long story short, what we call “Athena” in English is called “Atena” in Japanese.
What does this mean for “Palutena”, then?
From the Athena spelling thing, my first instinct years ago was to think, “Hmm, I wonder if her name should be Paluthena instead.” Looking into it later, Japanese sites seemed to indicate that the name comes from “Pallas Athena”, in which case it would be logical to assume that “Palthena” is the correct English spelling. Other sites think it might come from the Japanese word for “Parthenon”, in which case “Parthena” would be the logical spelling. Others think it might come from the actual word “parthena” which supposedly means “maiden”, in which case the spelling would be as-is. Only the original creators would’ve known, I guess.
But! I’ve also learned from professional experience that Japanese creators don’t necessarily know that English pronounces Greek mythological names and words differently. So it’s very likely someone on the Japanese side of things wasn’t aware of this and set the English “Palutena” name in stone. Or maybe the translator wasn’t aware the name had an actual origin. In any case, the result is that “Palutena” became the official English spelling and pronunciation, regardless of any original intent.
There are a couple other things to note:
- Has the origin of her name ever come up in any official way, like in an interview or a manual or something? If so, let me know!
- I have no idea how Greek myth names are actually pronounced in ancient Greek – for all I know “Palutena” is a closer pronunciation than “Palthena” or “Parthena”. Hopefully someone can shed some light on this in the comments.
- As Muhammad mentions, the “Palutena” spelling has existed since the original NES game. It’s probably still that way in the modern games simply for legacy/consistency reasons:
(Scan courtesy of FlyingOmelette.com)
Anyway, this multiple-name situation happens all the time, and there are always people who prefer the “official” way while others prefer the “correct” way. Hellsing’s Arucard/Alucard thing springs to mind. The Pokey/Porky thing from EarthBound and MOTHER 3 comes to mind, too. In my experience, as long as you’re able to get your point across to whoever you’re talking to, it usually doesn’t matter what you use.
Basically, this is all to say that I don’t have an answer to what the most accurate spelling should be, but I do agree that it’s likely Parthena or Palthena. Still, since there’s so much uncertainty about her name, I’d personally just stick with calling her Palutena unless some new info comes to light or something else happens. It’s a well-established name by now, so I doubt it’ll change.
Since this does involve three different languages and cultures going back and forth – including one I know nothing about – I’m sure I’m forgetting something significant. If so, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!