All old-school gamers should be familiar with localization by now. Whether that is the censorship of Nazi symbols in Bionic Commando or the hilarious cutscenes of Zero Wing, things can change for better or worse when crossing the Pacific. It is fair to say though that there is probably one simple translation more famous than any other.

So at Namco, this designer named Toru Iwatani had created a round, yellow character that ate dots in a maze. He decided since this game was about eating, his character would have a related name. The Japanese onomatopoeia for somebody opening and closing their mouth while eating is paku paku taberu, so Iwatani called his creation Pakkuman. When Namco released the game though, they did not name it after the character. Instead it was called Puck Man, presum- ably due to the similarity in Japanese pronunciation and his resemblance to a hockey puck (though nobody really knows).

After striking a license with Bally to promote this game to the U.S, the Americans brought up a concern. They worried that vandalizing kids would scratch out the two halves of the ‘P’ in Puck Man which would leave an “F” at the start of the marquee. Yikes. Midway president Hank Ross said the Americans sent a list of alternative names back to Japan and they were all rejected as unsuitable. However, Namco offered a suitable alternative with “Pac”, ironically bringing the American game’s name closer to the original name for the character. They put a hyphen in and thus “Pac-Man” became his moniker to the rest of the world.

 

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