47

Chewbacca (Chewie to his friends) is the Wookiee in the original Star Wars trilogy. We know his name because people other than he say his name. Whenever he speaks, it's in growls and other noises, he can't verbalize Basic like the humans and C-3P0 can. But, he also can't enunciate the name 'Chewbacca'. Other Wookiees have the same issue, they have names that they obviously couldn't pronounce.

How does Chewbacca have that name, when he himself cannot pronounce it?

  • 43
    I would argue that he pronounces it correctly, and we mispronounce it. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Oct 15 '15 at 21:00
  • 4
    Or maybe it's the Basic translation of whatever his name is in starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Shyriiwook – Brendan Hughes Oct 15 '15 at 21:19
  • @BrendanHughes Y'know, your link provides an answer... It is indeed a translation, but doesn't appear to be of his original name. (Or if it is, it seems a rather large/intentional coincidence with him and Solo) – Izkata Oct 17 '15 at 4:46
  • It's just a matter of accent. Just because you can't understand it, it doesn't mean he can't speak the word. – Baby Yoda Nov 1 '15 at 10:18
24

The canon comic Chewbacca shows that he does not pronounce his name as "Chewbacca."

Zarro: Do you have a name?

Chewbacca: YRRAANNH!

Zarro: I don't... know how to say that.

This is Wookieepedia's explanation for the apparent descrepancy. It makes sense to me.

The unique shape of the Wookiee throat made Shyriiwook a very difficult, even impossible language to speak for most non-Wookiees; presumably the word Shyriiwook itself, as well as other Wookiee words or names, were transliterations of the original Wookiee sounds into a form more easily pronounced by others.

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    I honestly don't see how this answers the question. It doesn't explain how YRRAANNH transliterates to Chewbacca, which are just to conspicuously different to ignore and just chalk up to 'transliteration'. – ThePopMachine Jun 8 '16 at 5:40
  • @ThePopMachine 'YRRAANNH' is probably as close to 'Chewbacca' as he can get. Considering how almost every noise he makes sounds nearly identical, I'm sure there are a lot more distinctive sounds in that growl to his ears than ours. Sort of like how Chinese sounds like indistinguishable, nonsensical yelling to a lot of English speakers. – DCShannon Jul 22 '16 at 0:45
  • @DCShannon: your describing Chinese as yelling aside, the point is that there are certain basic features to sounds that don't just disappear in transliteration just because you can't distinguish or pronounce some of their features. In particular, it doesn't make any sense to transliterate one sound as a completely different number of syllables. That's why the explanation isn't convincing. – ThePopMachine Jul 22 '16 at 14:36
  • 1
    @ThePopMachine Chew => YRR, ba => AA, ca => NNH. The mouth movements aren't that different. If you're not convinced, then you're not convinced, but it seems close enough to me. – DCShannon Jul 22 '16 at 20:52
  • @DCShannon, not sure if kidding or not. – ThePopMachine Jul 23 '16 at 5:21
18

This is explained in the Star Wars RPG sourcebook "Galactic Campaign Guide".

"Because names in the Wookiee language of Shyriiwook can't be pronounced by most species, the standard convention for other species is to translate the Wookiee name into a series of roughly similar phonics. Wookiees are comfortable with this practice since they understand Basic enough to recognise Basic versions of their names, and see no reason to insist that other species hurt themselves for the sake of accurate pronunciation."

Obviously it's worth noting that this book is no longer considered canon, but it's about as good an explanation as any.

14

Maybe Chewbacca is his name used by the "Human" characters in Star Wars.

It is quite common for ethnic groups and places to have different names in different languages. Many of those names are completely different from the name used by the inhabitants.

And many people are given nicknames by foreigners in their own languages.

For example, General George Crook was called Nantan Lupan or "Gray Wolf Chief" by the Apaches, who of course did not call themselves Apaches but Inde, which by coincidence sounds a lot like Indio, the Spanish word for Indian.

If Wookies can't pronounce their names that are heard or read in Star Wars, obviously those must be outsider names given them by non Wookies.

8

I feel like this addition is necessary after the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

It is established that Han knows some Shyriiwook, and he actually speaks some while Han and Chewie are in the cage together. Later, we have Han asking Chewie his name.

HAN: So, what's your name?
CHEWIE: [Wookie sound]
HAN: Chewbacca!? [1]

This is actually quite indicative, since Chewbacca is a proper noun, they've clearly never met before, and Chewbacca is not previously known to Han.

So this demonstrates that however it is that the Basic transliteration (probably better say transphonetization) works, there is some sort of mapping between the original Shyriiwook phonology and Basic phonology. I.e. One can hear a word in the original Shyriiwook and do a standard mapping into this alternate pronunciation for the rest of the Galaxy to employ.

So, that's how it is that his name is Chewbacca.


[1] This is paraphrased, pending a better transcript.

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