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The Meaning Behind Son Goku’s Name In Dragon Ball Explained

Goku at birth is already an enlightened being and his job is to change those around him, leading them to the path of happiness.

DRAGON BALL © 1984 by BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA Inc

Son Goku or Kakarot is one of anime’s most iconic characters. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15, 30, 45, or 80, you’ve heard of Goku and the Kamehameha in some way or another.

But what makes him so special? Sure, it could be nostalgia, his characteristics, his overwhelming strength or Dragon Ball fans constantly screaming at you, “Can he beat Goku though?” during powerscaling debates.

The real reason lies behind the meaning of his name, given to him by his grandpa Gohan, “Son Goku”.

Son Goku is the Japanese-styled mirror reflection of Sun Wukong

Son Goku is the Japanese translation of the Chinese name Sun Wukong, rendered with the characters, 悟空.

In the original version of “Journey to the West,” a Buddhist monk named “Tang Sangzang” is tasked with traveling to India to retrieve a collection of Buddhist manuscripts. He meets a group of demons on his journey who turn out to be his most formidable allies. Sun Wukong tells the story of his long quest for enlightenment, making him an ally in and of himself.

(Goku and Sun Wukong drawn by Akira Toriyama)

Series creator Akira Toriyama has stated in numerous interviews how much he loves Journey to the West and its impact on Dragon Ball is an understatement in terms of its philosophy, world-building, etc.

However, in Dragon Ball, Toriyama loves to play opposites, and he created Goku’s character opposite to Sun Wukong in the sense that, in Journey to the West, the Monkey King starts off as egotistical, violent, and unenlightened & goes on a journey to become enlightened.

On the other hand, Goku already starts off as enlightened, and through his character, Toriyama shows the readers how to become truly enlightened via martial arts.

The hidden meaning behind Son Goku’s name in Dragon Ball

Derek Padula, a famous Dragon Ball scholar, defined the meaning of Son Goku in Japanese as “Monkey Grandchild Aware of Emptiness.

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.”

the true meaning behind Son Goku's name in Dragon Ball

He goes on to explain that Zen, in Buddhism, emphasizes enlightening to emptiness, which does not exactly mean ‘nothing; rather, they speak of ’empty’ and ‘hollow,’ to ultimately become free of attachment and attain enlightenment.

Sun Wukong received his name from his master, Subodhi. Similarly, Goku got his name from his first master, grandpa Gohan, who taught him how to tame the mind and emotions through self-control.

Grandpa Gohan and Goku in Dragon Ball Minus

(Dragon Ball Minus)

When Goku bumped his head and completely forgot his Saiyan origins and their nature, he basically was reset, and grandpa Gohan fed his brain the necessary teachings that would help him not only survive but, more importantly, martial arts that cleansed the souls of those who came across them.

Toriyama also stated that Goku is the most pure-hearted person in the series, that nobody, other than Zeno, came close to his level of purity.

“At any rate, I wanted him to have the sense of being that rare guy who seeks only “to become stronger than before”, so much so that it feels like “there’s no one as pure as this person”. And while he does end up saving everyone as a result of that, he himself at least has a very pure sincerity about “wanting to become stronger”.

Throughout the series, we see Goku influencing others to the side of good – Krillin, Yamcha, Ten Shinhan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and so on. That’s because Goku himself is a liberated person from the beginning, and his job is to cleanse the soul of others in this Universe through martial arts.

And the ultimate state of its mastery is what Bruce Lee called it “Mushin” or in Dragon terms, Ultra Instinct.

Goku’s pure-heartedness naturally led him to learn Ultra Instinct

Goku learns the principles of Ultra Instinct via Popo’s training on Kami’s lookout. Of course, it was not called Ultra Instinct then but the principles are similar.

For instance, Popo instructs Goku in chapter 164 to “crouch as silently as the sky and strike as quickly as lightning.” And Popo proceeds to make his heart still and give a blank expression.

Goku's Road To Achieving Ultra Instinct: Popo enters into a state of calmness and tranquility

Making your heart and mind quiet and tranquil are two separate things. Ki Control and the user’s outwardly radiating Ki can be altered by a shift in the user’s emotional state.

In this metaphor, the heart represents our emotional responses, while the mind represents our logical deliberation.

What this means is that you have achieved full mastery of self-control and self-awareness when you are able to keep your emotions in check even in a stressful scenario that shakes you up. This is a topic that Merus discusses as well in Dragon Ball Super chapter 52.

The mind contributes to mental peace. By controlling the ability of your emotions to affect your state of being, you can keep your heart rate steady.

When Popo calms his heart, the air becomes motionless, and Goku almost can’t feel his Ki even though he’s right in front of them.

Think back to when Goku used Perfected Ultra Instinct against Moro in DBS Chapter 64. As the transformation takes place, the wind and sea gather up speed, and the ground begins to quake.

After that, there was complete silence. The high winds and seas subsided. After Popo calmed Goku’s beating heart, he felt the same way that Piccolo and Gohan do now.

In the very same chapter, Piccolo was able to observe Goku’s movements by looking from his back, a feat Beerus did in the manga’s Zeno Expo.

This pattern continues in Dragon Ball Super’s Granolah the Survivor Saga when Goku begins to use his own version of Ultra Instinct.

Goku does not totally shut off his feelings in this mode, but instead uses them to his advantage.

He is now in control of his emotions rather than letting wrath rule him as it did when he was in his Great Ape form or needing to stay angry in order to use Super Saiyan at first.

The Saiyan experiences his emotions, but he does not allow them to control his behavior; this is the pinnacle of enlightenment.