Playing the name game

6th October 2000 at 01:00
Pokemon cards have been banished from many playgrounds for understandable reasons. But I would like to suggest that the knowledge children gain from playing Pokemon should be welcome in the classroom. Children used to amaze us with their grasp of dinosaur names, now it is their ability to rattle off all 151 Pokemon and spot any spelling errors that leaves us open-mouthed.

Pokemon names can be a valuable resource for teachers striving to interest pupils in the word-level objectives relating to spelling conventions and rules at key stage 2. Like dinosaur names, the names of the Pokemon follow internally consistent rules combining recurring elements. The way the names have been translated from Japanese exploits familiar word-building techniques in English. The names also have a dash of creativity and poetry.

An effective way for pupils to grasp the idea of word derivations is to ask devotees to explain the origins of the word, from the Japanese for pocket monsters, and how it has led to similar compound words such as Pokeball and Pokemart.

Further investigations could involve finding names derived from English words, such as Gloom, Ditto or Golem, sometimes with different spellings, as in Drowzee, Onix and Jynx. Pokemon also rovide examples of "portmanteau words", which pack two meanings into one new word, in coinages such as Cloyster and Tentacruel.

Pokemon have the ability to evolve into more powerful creatures and as they evolve so do their names. Ask children to identify the common prefix in Poliwag as it turns into Poliwhirl and then Poliwrath, and to find out its meaning.

In all these activities, children can be asked to explain why the Pokemon names, with their origins, structures and meanings, are appropriate for the creatures they are applied to. Why, for instance, is Ditto a good name for a creature "capable of copying an enemy's genetic code"?

Pokemon names are a source of productive language play, sometimes lacking from the daily grind of literacy hours. The Pokemon books (Scholastic) give the first two stanzas of a Poke Rap made up purely of 32 names; children can be challenged to come up with more verses using other names. Children can also show their creativity by inventing new names and coining new Pokewords. What's in a name? A lot if it happens to be a Pokemon's!

Michael Lockwood is a lecturer in English and primary education at the University of Reading. E-mail: Web:

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