A recent question a reader asked was about the name “Yoshi” and why it’s sometimes written “Yossy” on some Japanese things. Apparently, some believe this “Yossy” spelling is the intended spelling of the name and that “Yoshi” is actually incorrect. So what’s the real deal? Here’s a look!
First, here are some examples of “Yoshi” being spelled “Yossy” in some Japanese materials. Here’s the box art for Yoshi’s Island:
Here’s “Yossy” on the official Japanese site for Yoshi’s Cookie:
Even the official URL for a later Yoshi’s Cookie game spells it as “Yossy”:
And here’s Yossy in an official manga:
So we see that sometimes Nintendo officially spelled his name as “Yossy” on Japanese materials… but not all the time! The majority of the time his name is spelled “Yoshi” on Japanese things:
And here’s good ol’ Yoshi’s Story:
So what’s going on? Why is Nintendo spelling his name multiple ways? Which name is right?
It all boils down to the fact that there are two main, different ways of writing Japanese words using English letters. Here’s a quick history lesson:
- Back in the late 1800s/early 1900s, after serious contact with the West was reestablished, many Japanese scholars advocated replacing the existing writing system with one that used English letters. A system for doing this was devised, but the way it works was weird. They made it easy to learn and understand, but words written in this style aren’t pronounced the way they look. It’s hard to explain quickly, but basically this system was designed for Japanese people to write their own language.
- Foreigners, on the other hand, devised a system of their own that lets you write Japanese words with English letters that DOES make the pronunciation of words clear. This system was designed for outsiders to learn and speak the language. For the most part, this style is what most translators and students of the Japanese language will use and encounter.
The problem is that while almost everyone in the world is familiar with the second system, the first system is what is taught in Japanese schools. So this often causes weird situations when name spellings are dictated by the Japanese creators. These creators will use English spellings based on the system they were taught, not really knowing that the rest of the world will pronounce their spellings differently than intended.
To make matters worse, within each spelling style there are all sorts of minor variations and weird exceptions and such. It can be a language landmine if you’re not careful! For more info about these spelling system differences and their histories and all that, there’s a good article on Wikipedia here.
Anyway, that’s enough general talk – let’s look specifically at the case of Yoshi!
First, in Japanese, his name is spelled as ヨッシー. When pronounced, this is like “yo shee”, with the “sh” part held for a little longer than usual. When a consonant sound is held like this, it’s usually doubled in the spelling, but “ssh” looks odd and might cause some people to give the wrong pronunciation. The “ee” part is a little longer than usual too. I don’t know, it’s tough to explain unless you’ve studied the language, but in any case, “Yoshi” is the closest approximation with the second style of spelling that doesn’t look awkward.
Using the Japanese style of spelling, it would be a little more like “yossi” or “yossy”, although the latter style is a little rarer to see.
In essence, some folks on the Japanese side thought, “Hey, we should write ヨッシー’s name in English here to make it look cool. Since I learned how to spell Japanese words with English letters in school, I’ll put that knowledge to use!” And out came “Yossy”… but the intended pronunciation is still “Yoshi”. They didn’t realize that for English speakers, that spelling would be pronounced more like “yaw-see”.
So the whole “Yossy” vs. “Yoshi” thing is just a misunderstanding resulting from different spelling styles. This issue, the whole l/r problem, and a number of other things is why I often say that even when a Japanese creator explicitly gives an English spelling of a name, you sometimes have to be cautious about it. What they intended and how it really comes across to English speakers doesn’t always match, as seen here.
You know, I’m sure there are lots more weird, alternate spellings of things in other games too – if you can think of any, let me know in the comments! I’d like to compile a list of these sometime 😀