Why do One Piece characters have tongue-in-cheek names?
Eiichiro Oda names his One Piece characters in colorful and twisty ways, like Donquixote Doflamingo, and there might be a reason for that.
It’s not uncommon for anime characters to have very weird naming conventions. A play is no exception. From Roronoa Zoro to Donquixote Doflamingo, some of the names Eiichiro Oda has chosen for his characters can be difficult to pronounce. Or rather, they have a way of sticking out a fan’s tongue. Why is this exactly?
In the case of Zoro’s name, it’s a matter of translation. Zoro’s surname “Roronoa” is actually a localization of “l’Olonnais”, which is the name of the real French pirate François l’Olonnais. l’Olonnais – originally called Jean-David Nau – was active in the Caribbean in the 1660s after working as a contract servant, primarily targeting Spanish ships. He was also known by the names of Lolona and Lolonois. Oda was inspired by him to create the surname Roronoa. Likewise, Zoro’s first name is a tribute to the legendary swordsman of the same name, who battled corrupt officials and other criminals in a series of stories spanning 1919 to 1959.
Donquixote Doflamingo takes its name from another Spanish story: El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, Where The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha. In the story, Don Alonso Quijano was a Spanish nobleman who read so many books on chivalry that he decided to become a knight errant. In the history of the 17th century, he made several misadventures, the most notable of which was mistaking a windmill for a giant and attacking it. Fans who grew up in the 90s may remember a cartoon based on this story titled The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda. Don Quixote of A play embodies what is called “quijotism”, which is the pursuit of ideals despite obvious impracticability or failure. His first name, Doflamingo, comes from the pink feathers he wears, resembling the feathers of a flamingo.
While it would be interesting to dissect the historical allusions and inspirations behind these characters, the question remains: why does Oda give some of his characters names that flow like tongue twisters? One of the reasons could be that he likes alliteration. It is when a sound or letter is repeated at the beginning of words placed very close to each other. For example, in the classic tongue twister, “She sells seashells”. Donquixote Doflamingo would be a perfect example with alliteration using the syllable “do”. Roronoa Zoro maintains a similar syllabic rhythm with “ro”. However, what about names like Trafalgar D. Water Law?
There are many names of Spanish inspiration in A play. Donquixote, Zoro and even Trafalgar are all connected to this country in one way or another. Trafalgar is the name of a cape in Spain. Although the name itself is Arabic, it was also the site of an important battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Water Law could also be a tribute to this as it sounds like “Waterloo” in Japanese with only a one syllable difference. Waterloo was the site of the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, in connection with the importance of the name of Trafalgar.
In this case, it’s most likely wanting to pay homage to a real-world counterpart while making sure the name is unique. This trend is also apparent in the names of Zoro and Doflamingo with the literary references and a true pirate in the case of Zoro. Both characters adopt aspects of the people who inspire them, and because they’re both major players in the overall story, it’s important to remember their names. If all the characters had the same name, it would be difficult to keep them straight. By creating these foreign-inspired names with a unique, flowing rhythm, Oda makes sure fans can’t forget them.
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