Brief trivia about Meiousei, the Japanese name for Pluto


It looks like a really tasty type of ice cream…

The spacecraft New Horizons flew by Pluto (or is flying by, rather) after a long nine year journey. We finally have clear images of this planet dwarf planet with more to come over the next few days (if all goes well). Something to be really excited for! I still remember the day the mission launched… The power of math and science are amazing to be able to pull off such a feat that took over nine years of flight time and likely much more of planning. However, to keep this relevant to this portfolio/blog, just some very brief trivia.

So what is Pluto called in Japanese? The answer is Meiousei  冥王星 (Lit. “Dark King’s Star”) which was coined by Hoei Nojiri as a way to “localize” the name “Pluto” to Japanese speakers. As you may know, Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld (their version of Hades), and so this seemed to be the best way to get that name over.

It must have been successful, as China, Korea, and Vietnam adapted the name and use it to refer to the dwarf planet as well. That is a significant chunk of the world’s population! So now if you ever see “Meiousei” or the characters 冥王星 (which no doubt will be on the news now and for a few days), you know what they’re referring to!

The more you know!


4 thoughts on “Brief trivia about Meiousei, the Japanese name for Pluto

  1. The oriental world (especially Japan) has very different methods for naming science and astrological terms. I went to Osaka Aquarium the other time and my mind was quite boggled at how they named the different species of animals. Definitely something worth studying in the future.

    • It’s pretty awesome looking at things like that, huh? In this case it seemed straightforward enough, but I’m sure there are many instances where it may take a little explanation in discussing how one thing became another. I would say that’s true across all languages. It’s pretty interesting stuff : ) Do you have any examples to provide that you remember?

      • I can’t quite remember a specific example now off the top of my head. ;( But many species of fish are named by using onomatopoeia combined with katakana slang that describe their characteristics.

        Usually if a species is named using kanji we can automatically guess the etymology based on the Chinese characters used (as with Pluto). Part of my confusion was figuring out what the katakana for each fish was referring to.

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