Dragon Ball Zee or Zed?

Dragon Ball Z. How is it pronounced? Perhaps you never asked yourself the question, but it turns out there are a few different ways to say it. All because of the Z.

For example, is it pronounced Dragon Ball Zee, Dragon Ball Zed or something else entirely? The title of the show represents a linguistic problem with various answers that depend on where you live and what language you speak.

Why does it matter? Because the show is an international phenomenon with no agreed upon standard for how to pronounce its name. And the differences stand as another example of diversity seen within the localized versions of the Dragon Ball series.

To really understand why this is the case we have to learn a little about languages and world history from within the Dragon Ball perspective.

The American Way

Dragon Ball Z is a proper noun, the name of an entity, so it should be pronounced the same in every country, like how the band ZZ Top should be pronounced Zee Zee Top regardless of where you speak it.

But unfortunately this is not the case for DBZ, and the pronunciation varies around the world.

Americans are taught to pronounce the letter Z as Zee. We are taught to pronounce it this way in schools as well as on Sesame Street at home.  So we pronounce the show’s title as Dragon Ball Zee.

We pronounce it Dragon Ball Zee in the theme song, in the marketing materials, video games and everywhere else. For example, the original theme song to Dragon Ball Z in America has lyrics of, “Dragon, dragon, rock the dragon, Dragon Ball Zee!  Dragon, dragon, rock the dragon, Dragon Ball Zeeee-yah!”

Now, in the United Kingdom the people use the Queen’s English and pronounce the letter Z as Zed. They end their alphabet with a full stop; “X, Y, Zed.” So it is pronounced Dragon Ball Zed.

And Australian’s, while normally saying Zed if the letter stands alone, will still finish the alphabet with “X, Y, Zee.” Same with New Zealand. Yet in words they’ll pronounce it as Zed but without the d, so Zebra is not pronounced Zed-bra, in contrast to the American Zee-bra.

In Canada they have both French and English as national languages, but which English do they speak, the Queen’s English or American English? In this case, the answer is both, and it’s called Canadian English! Because the country is so large and geographically varied sometimes they will say Zed and other times Zee, depending on the region.

Yet this is not an English specific issue. To make things more complicated, the French also pronounce Z as Zed, so if Canadians decide to speak French, then they will say Dragon Ball Zed.

In other parts of Western Europe the Spanish may say Ceta, the German’s say Zed and the Swede’s say Zeta.

However, as a result of the popularity of the American Dub (and the intro along with it), the American pronunciation of Dragon Ball Zee was catapulted into the common fandom across the world.

A user by the name of “Super Sayian Prime” on the Daizex.com forums stated that he grew up in Canada where he was taught to pronounce Z as Zed, but he also grew up watching American Dragon Ball Z, which confused him because they always pronounced it Zee. He said, “This shows’ theme always screwed me up on the alphabet. I’d always say “Zee” instead of “Zed”.”

The same problem occurs in Australia where children watch the American’s Sesame Street alphabet song and are then corrected later by their parents to say Zed. The letter T (tee) rhymes with Zee, but it does not rhyme with Zed, hence the issue. Therefore, teachers that instruct children in the alphabet use the rhyme as a learning device but also teach them about Zed.

Americans might it find it strange to pronounce the Z as Zed, but the reasons why others do so is very rational and goes back thousands of years.

A Brief History of Z

The Greek Alphabet, source (www.uic.edu)

The Greek Alphabet, source (www.uic.edu)

As mentioned, Zee and Zed are not the only pronunciations. In fact, Z has a rather involved past.

In ancient times when the Romans borrowed 21 of the 26 letters from the Etruscan alphabet, they included Zeta as the 7th letter in the alphabet. But at some point after 250 BC the letter was dropped because Latin words no longer needed that particular sound. Then when Rome conquered Greece in the first century BC, the Z was taken back into Latin from the Greek so they could transliterate Greek words. This time they placed it at the end of the alphabet and pronounced it Zeta just like the Greeks.

The modern pronunciation Zed is derived from the Middle French Zède, which the French in turn derived from the Latin Zeta, which the Romans borrowed from the Greek. Today, some languages use Zed while others use a form closer to the original Latin and Greek.

The pronunciation Zee comes from America.

Noah Webster (1758 – 1843), an American lexicographer and author of the American Dictionary of the English Language (today known as the Merriam-Webster dictionary), proposed to change the pronunciation of the letter.

Why?  Primarily because he wanted Z to be pronounced in the same way as B (bee), D (dee) and V (vee). And perhaps as a point of national identity to distinguish from the British form of English.

There were other pronunciations as well, such as Izzard. In the 1755 Johnson’s Dictionary it states “Z… zed, more commonly izzard or uzzard, that is, shard.”

These pronunciations were rarely used up to the middle of the 20th century alongside the more common Zee, but they were there all the same, and for a while their use could help could signify where a person was from. If a person said Zee then they were from New England and the North-Eastern colonies, and if they said Zed then they were from the South, where it was born from French or Spanish colonies.

As we know, eventually Zee conquered Zed.

Even so, then you might reply, “Our alphabet would no longer rhyme: T, U, V, W, X, Y and Zed?”

The thing worth keeping in mind is that the alphabet is not a poem and it does not have to rhyme. But we prefer that it does and creative people still find a way:


O, P, Q, R, S and T

Read it back again to me.

U, V, W, X, Y, Zed

Now it’s always in your head.”

See?  And there’s a brief history of the letter Z.

But what about the Japanese?

The Japanese Z

The Dragon Ball Z Logo

The Dragon Ball Z Logo

How do the Japanese pronounce the letter Z? Dragon Ball Z was created in Japan so certainly the Japanese must know the proper pronunciation of their own show.

Not necessarily.

The letter Z is not part of the Japanese language, and the Japanese pronounce the Latin alphabet Z by saying Zetto, which is based off the original Latin Zeta.

To be specific, the Japanese say “Doragonbôru Zetto” from the katakana of ドラゴンボールZ.

To confuse matters further the developers and marketers of the shows’ related products occasionally say Zed as it is pronounced most everywhere else in the world, perhaps to cater to those markets. So they are inconsistent in the pronunciation of their own creation. Notably, they do not say Doragonbôru Zii.

Mike Labrie from Daizex.com said on a forum post about the topic, “Hell, I’ve seen tons of Japanese commercials with a narrator and the zed pronunciation, followed immediately by another one with Masako Nozawa and the zetto pronunciation. If the original country won’t decide on a pronunciation, you don’t have too much to complain about.”

Another important question, what does the Z in Dragon Ball Z even stand for?

The ‘Z’ was added to the title by Akira Toriyama to signify it as different from the original Dragon Ball, as well as to denote it as the final arc of the series.  He was tired of working on the show and wanted it to end, so he picked the last letter of the Latin alphabet thinking that there would be no further place to go afterward. The irony of course is that it lasted even longer than the original and was followed by another, known as Dragon Ball GT.

The Z series lasted much longer than Toriyama wanted it to, and the Z theme began to creep in, such as in the Z Sword, the Z Warriors, and Z TV. It became a part of the comic book and the show.

In regards to the Z Sword in particular, Americans (FUNimation) called it the Z (Zee) Sword, while the Japanese called it the Zetto Sodo. And as you might have guessed, the British called it the Zed Sword.

So, which Z is correct?

The Latin Z, from Wikimedia Commons

The Latin Z, from Wikimedia Commons

There is no correct one, per say.

It depends on where you live and how you speak.

I cannot base an argument for the American version being “correct” simply because it is the most popular in the West. Why not? Because it is an American translation of a Japanese TV show to begin with, and Zee is an altered version of both the original English Zed and Latin Zeta.

Likewise, I cannot pose an argument for Zetto being “correct” either because it is only the romanji pronunciation of the Latin letter, although it is the original pronunciation.

So what’s to do? Is there a solution to all this?

Fundamentally it is a linguistic concern that stems from Americans pronouncing the letter Z differently from everybody else. If we want a global pronunciation, then Americans will have to change their Zee’s to Zed’s, and the others that followed the American pronunciation will slowly change in turn.

But I have doubts that this will happen because it would involve a complete shift in our educational system.

If you’re an American, then as an individual fan you can certainly make the effort, but is it even necessary? Other international fans will know what you mean all the same when you say Zee.

Perhaps if you’re a hardcore fan of the Japanese you may even want to call it Zetto, but others might have a hard time with it.

Luckily, now if you’re talking with a fan and they say Dragon Ball Zee, Zed or Zetto, then you’ll be able to understand why, if you didn’t already.

Zee, Zed, Zetto, it’s all in the mind!