Meaning of Goku's name?

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Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by nickzambuto » Thu Nov 10, 2016 3:13 am

Surely it has to be some type of pun right? Apparently it means "monkey" in Japanese? So Goku's name is actually Monkey?

And what's this about a possible very loose translation meaning something to the effect of "master of knowing nothing"? Sean Schemmel has brought that up several times.

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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by sailorspazz » Thu Nov 10, 2016 4:08 am

His name is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese name Sun Wukong, the protagonist of the classic tale "Journey to the West". Early Dragon Ball was very loosely based off this story, though quickly moved on to becoming its own thing.

While Sun Wukong may be also called the Monkey King, the name doesn't literally mean that. The Gokuu/悟空 part of the name is what is being referred as possibly being translated as "master of knowing nothing"; the first kanji is one for perceiving/being enlightened, while the second kanji conveys emptiness. The name was already in existence long before Dragon Ball came along, so we can't say that the meaning is specific to Gokuu, but perhaps Toriyama kept it in mind as the character developed? Can't really be sure whether he thought deeply about it at all, or was like, "oh, I'll just use that name from Journey to the West!" :P
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by Kid Buu » Thu Nov 10, 2016 4:20 am

Yeah it's based on Journey to the West. I remember seeing the episode of Inuyasha about JOTW and being caught off-guard where the monkey character was called Son Goku.
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by Shoryuken » Thu Nov 10, 2016 4:43 am

孫悟空 (Son Goku/Sun Wukong) itself is a multilevelled pun:

孫 (Son/Sun) - Visually similar to 猻 (monkey)
悟空 (Gokuu/Wukong) - Aware of the Vacuity referring here to two basic tenants of Buddhism awareness and void. It's a fairly religious named bestowed to him by a Buddha in the story. It's not hard as Sailorspazz mentions to imagine the semantic journey from "Aware/Enlightened of the Void" to "Master of Knowing Nothing", though 空 here means "void" in its religious as well as spatial sense, not sure that 空 has any connotations with stupidity/knowing nothing in Japanese or Chinese.

Monkey presumably stems from the fact that Sun Wukong is in some translation called Monkey and Monkey King, indeed, one of his many titles in the story is the "Beautiful/Proud Monkey King" (美猴王) .
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by nickzambuto » Thu Nov 10, 2016 9:41 am

You guys insult me. I'm aware that Goku was inspired by Wukong!! I was just curious if that was really it, or if there was any other meaning to his name. Particularly the master of knowing nothing translation, and something I recently read that claimed Goku is Japanese for monkey.

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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by Desassina » Thu Nov 10, 2016 11:08 am

It could have been a pun made of kugo, which means Emperor's Meal, whose dishes include: Monkey Brain; Monkey King and Shark-goat brain; among others. It could have been similar to Saiya-jin taking from Yasai (vegetable) beings.
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by sailorspazz » Thu Nov 10, 2016 2:10 pm

It definitely doesn't mean monkey in Japanese; the most commonly used word for monkey is saru (as Freeza used to insult Saiyans), and jisho.org lists a number of other less commonly used words as well. Interestingly enough, under the "names" portion on the side it does mention "Son Gokuu", but again, it's because it's frequently associated with monkeys due to Sun Wukong being the Monkey King, not because the name literally translates that way.

As for translating Gokuu into "master of knowing nothing", it is possible given the meaning of the kanji its comprised of, though I do question how much meaning can actually be pulled from looking deeply into it. As Shoryuken mentioned, it's a name steeped in religious meaning, and not being very familiar with Buddhist symbolism personally, I can't say if it's something that's meant to be picked apart and examined, or should just be taken as is, like a specialized term or something. I have no clue if a native Chinese or Japanese person would look at the name and get the same "mastering nothingness" connotation that can be taken from the literal meanings of the kanji, or if Wukong/Gokuu is just so ingrained as a famous name that no one thinks anything of it :?
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by DerekPadula » Thu Nov 10, 2016 8:42 pm

I translate Son Goku as "Monkey Grandchild Aware of Emptiness."

Given that Son Goku's name is the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese name that is bestowed upon the stone monkey by a Buddho-Daoist sage, and it is written in kanji and hanzi, there are many ways to translate his name.

To correct a comment above; Sun Wukong's name isn't given to him by the Buddha, but rather by Patriarch Subodhi. He is the sage who teaches the stone monkey the arts of immortality, cloud-soaring, and transformation. When monkey first comes to the master, he does not have a name, so Subodhi gives him one. There's a speech that explains why he gives him this name, but it's too detailed to go into now. Here's the short version:

Sun (孫) is comprised of two radicals that mean "monkey" and "grandchild."

Go (悟) means "aware," "enlightened," "awake to," or "wisdom."

Ku (空) means "empty," "void," "vacuum," or loosely as "space."

Sean and I were once having a discussion about the character at Animazement 2013, and he mentioned his understanding that Goku's name meant "Master of Knowing Nothing." I didn't feel like correcting him since it's a close enough translation, but it's not a literal translation. If you didn't know, Sean is a Buddhist and practices Zen--which emphasizes enlightening to emptiness. In any case, there's a classical divide between emptiness being associated with Buddhism and nothingness being associated with Daoism, so Zen does not speak of 'nothing,' rather they speak of 'empty,' and 'hollow,' to ultimately become free of attachment and attain enlightenment. Daoism on the other hand emphasizes the realization that there is nothing, to enter the gate of nothingness, and return to the Way. Goku is a Buddho-Daoist inspired character, so I didn't feel like nitpicking with the voice of Goku himself.

It is a name that you're supposed to derive a deeper meaning from, and it forms part of Sun Wukong's character and personal transformation throughout the story of Journey to the West. Likewise, for Son Goku in Dragon Ball. It's a name that is hundreds or possibly over a thousand years old, and lots of scholars both in the East and West have delved into analyzing his name.

Would you like to know more? I describe Son Goku's origin in over 70 pages of analysis in Dragon Ball Culture Volume 2.
Author of Dragon Ball Culture and the It's Over 9,000! book: https://thedaoofdragonball.com/books and The Dao of Dragon Ball website: https://thedaoofdragonball.com/blog

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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by Thouser » Thu Nov 10, 2016 11:18 pm

In Journey to the West the name was created for the Monkey King when he completed training under a Buddhist sage, who felt the monkey should have a Buddhist name.

Wu/Go (悟) = englightenment, to understand, to perceive
Kong/Kuu (空) = (in a Buddhist context) nothingness, void, emptiness, nonexistence, Sunyata

Basically it means "Someone who understands the Buddhist concept of Sunyata."

The kanji used for the Buddhist concept of nothingness in casual speech is the word for the sky, and it's used in words like "airport" (空港 kuukou). In the sense of "emptiness" it's used in the word for "vacuum" (真空 shinkuu).

The meaning of "sky" is actually aluded to in the Bardock special. When Son Gohan finds the baby Kakarrot and decides what he should name him, he looks at the cloudy sky and says "That's it! I'll name you Son Goku!"

The meaning of "sky" is also referenced by Goten's name, since the kanji for ten (天) also means sky.

Edit: Goku's surname Son (孫) means grandchild. In Journey to the West the sage chose this surname for the Monkey King because the character for grandchild resembles the character for monkey (猻). So as a whole, the name means "Grandchild Aware of Nothingness," but hints at "Monkey Aware of Nothingness."

The meaning of "grandchild" likely contributed to Toriyama's decision to give Goku a grandfather.
DerekPadula wrote:Sun (孫) is comprised of two radicals that mean "monkey" and "grandchild."
Not true. The radicals in grandchild (孫 sun) are 子 (child), and 系 (connect). It does not have a radical for monkey.

Rather, the character for monkey (猻 sun) has the same radicals as the character for grandchild, plus the radical for "dog" (犭). Basically the character for monkey uses the character for grandchild to tell you that both are pronounced "sun," but adds the radical for dog to let you know this is a character for a kind of animal.
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Re: Meaning of Goku's name?

Post by DerekPadula » Fri Nov 11, 2016 1:30 am

It is true within the relevant context of the monkey character we're referring to, and it's why I said, "Here's the short version."

But fair enough. I made a jump in logic and skipped a detail regarding the radical because this subject can get complicated, and I was trying to keep it easy to understand. If you want to read the logic behind where "Monkey Grandchild Aware of Emptiness" comes from, then here's an excerpt from page 355 of my book. It follows Monkey's acceptance into discipleship and analyzes the moment he receives his name:

"Buddhist Name
When a practitioner becomes accepted by the master of a Buddhist school they will be given a dhármanāma (Sanskrit: धर्मनाम, Chinese: fahào, 法號, Japanese: hōgō, “Buddhā Law name”). A dhármanāma is a Buddhist name given to an ordained monk or nun to replace their previous name given by their parents. Their former identity and self no longer exist, all worldly roots are severed, and they will henceforth only respond to their dhármanāma. The monkey has no parents and no worldly roots to sever, so this is his first actual name and it’s loaded with spiritual symbolism.

Xīyóujì is a Chinese story, so it follows Chinese naming conventions where a name consists of three parts: a surname of one hànzì followed by a given name of two hànzì.

[footnote 12. Sūn Wùkōng lacking a name and parents is similar to Son Gokū’s origin in Dragon Ball. In both cases their names are given to them by ascetic masters who serve as adoptive fathers.]

Aware of Emptiness
Monkey prostrates himself before the master and expresses his eagerness. Xūpútí says, “Well, it seems you have been created by heaven and earth… Though your features are not the most attractive, you do resemble a monkey that feeds on pine seeds. I intended to call you by the name of hú (猢, “macaque,” a type of “monkey” similar to the gibbon).13 Now, when the accompanying radical (on the left, modified as quǎn, 犬, “animal,” or “dog,” implying a “four-legged creature”) is dropped from this word, what’s left is a compound made up of the two characters of gǔ (古, “aged”) and yuè (月, “moon,” but figuratively, “woman”). However, an aged female cannot reproduce. Therefore, it is better to give you the surname of sūn (猻, “monkey”). When the accompanying animal radical is dropped from this word, we have the compound of zi (子, “boy,” or “child”) and xì (系, “lineage,” or “baby”), so that the name exactly accords with the “Doctrine of the Baby.” So your surname will be Sūn (孫, “lineage,” “descendant,” or “grandchild”).” The Měihóu-wáng cries with joy, “Splendid! Splendid! At last I know my surname.”

The full word for the macaque (or monkey) in western China is húsūn (猢猻), so instead of using the first hànzì, Xūpútí uses the second and then changes sūn (猻, “monkey”) to sūn (孫, “grandchild”) by following the above logic. Given that our main character is an actual monkey and is given the surname of sūn, it implies the meaning of “monkey grandchild.” Likewise the inherited lineage of the monkey lore established in India and China.

[footnote 13. Sūn Wùkōng is a macaque, but his Dàoist heritage connects him to the gibbon, and for all intents and purposes he is regarded as a monkey. These are three separate yet similar animals with their own cultural histories that get fused together into one being.]

Sūn is also a surname given to someone when they don’t have a more meaningful one, like a name without being a name, or like saying you’re just the grandchild of someone else. In this case the emphasis is on the wordplay and symbolism between him being a monkey and joining Xūpútí’s family as one of his disciples, to become Xūpútí’s figurative grandchild along with his other disciples.

You can see from this example how Chinese literati interpret the etymology of their language, with each radical of a hànzì having its own meaning, history, and contextual effect on the others it’s combined with. This isn’t how all of the hànzì are created in antiquity, but it is often how they are interpreted afterward.

Sūn is delighted with his surname, but also requests that Xūpútí honor him with a given name. Xūpútí says that he uses 12 different hànzì to name his disciples according to their division. He tells Sūn that he will belong to the 10th division of disciples and will therefore have the hànzì of wù (悟, “awareness,” “comprehension,” to “realize,” “apprehend,” or “enlighten”).

His distinct hànzì will be kōng (空, “emptiness,” “hollowness,” “bare,” “deserted,” or “void”).

So wùkōng (悟空) means “aware of emptiness,” “apprehension of void,” or “awake to vacuity.”

Altogether, Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空) means the “Monkey Grandchild Aware of Emptiness.”"

To summarize the above excerpt: The sage gives him this name because he's an actual monkey, and the scholars and literati who contributed to Journey to the West over hundreds of years were making a monkey-based pun. The radical for 'monkey' is removed, but by the character's inherent nature it remains implied. And it wasn't removed just because it 'resembled' the other character, but because the master was originally going to name him 'Monkey,' but as he explains earlier in the story, he feels that only human beings can cultivate their essence, and animals could not succeed at it, so by the act of giving him this name (which removes the 'monkey / animal' radical) he is making him more human. In a symbolic fashion the master is giving him a human name that follows Chinese naming conventions. Thus through this discipleship / naming process it's like the Monkey King is being born again as a grandson of the master.

-- To go even further meta, a lot of this conversation in Journey to the West is reflective of conversations between patriarchs of Zen Buddhism, where one master was arguing that only Chinese people could cultivate, while a young disciple argued that any human could cultivate, even a hairy barbarian such as himself. Then this so-called 'barbarian' stunned the master with his profound understanding of emptiness, and he agreed to teach him.

In Dragon Ball's Son Goku, this monkey nature isn't as pronounced, so one might argue that his name doesn't mean the same thing, but I think that's a groundless argument since Toriyama based Son Goku on the same character and the same story, drew the initial concept art for his version of the character just like Sun Wukong appears in Journey to the West, and uses the exact same name. This was Toriyama and Torishima-san's intention. Granted that the final version of Son Goku might not look the same as Sun Wukong, but he still inherited that culture.

I think it's important to distinguish between 'emptiness' and 'nothingness' because these two words are respectively associated with Buddhism or Daoism. When you use the word nothingness it implies a Daoist connection, but Sun Wukong travels with a Buddhist monk and attains enlightenment to become "The Buddha Victorious in Strife." This is what the story is about, and his name has a lot to do with personality and insights into the true matter of things and situations during the story (such as demonic illusions), so I think "Aware of Emptiness" is a more fitting translation. In the West we don't casually make much a of a distinction between emptiness and nothingness, but I was taught in school that scholars do make the distinction, and use each word with that difference in mind.

I agree with everything else you said. I likewise argue (in Dragon Ball Culture Volume 4) that this is why Son Gohan exists as Goku's adoptive grandfather. And it's retroactive recursive naming scheme, where Son Gohan only has his name of Son Gohan because Son Goku is named after Sun Wukong, who is the grandchild of Subodhi, who in turn makes Son Goku the grandchild of Son Gohan. It's one of the many ways Toriyama connects Dragon Ball to the source material and then never explains it to his audience. It only clicks in your mind if you're familiar with the source.

So anyway... That's what Son Goku means.

Whether or not you think Goku's name is relevant to his personality or actions throughout the story comes down to subjective opinion, and I think it is relevant, especially in how quickly he enlightens to the martial arts lessons, just as Sun Wukong enlightened to the Buddha Law and Dao--as a Toriyama-style reversal of physical versus intellectual. But the parallels between the two characters is a whole 'nother topic! :lol:
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