Aang – In Chinese Áng, 昂, means “soaring”, a fitting name for an air bender
Katara – In Japanese Katara, 語ら, means “to talk”, the first episode makes a point of characterizing Katara as someone who doesn’t always pay attention to her surroundings once she gets talking
Sokka – In Japanese Sokka, そっか, can mean “Is that so?” in a colloquial sense, which fits Sokka’s sarcasm
Zuko – In Chinese Zú, 卒, means “soldier” and Kòu, 寇, can mean either “enemy” or “bandit”, which is fitting for Zuko’s role as the villain of the first season and also his Blue Spirit alter ego
Iroh – Could potentially be derived from the first two characters of the Chinese idiom Yǐ róu kè gāng, 以柔克刚, which means “to overcome hardness/strength with softness”, which pretty much sums up Uncle Iroh’s character. Yǐ róu on its own meaning “with softness”
Appa – in Japanese Appa, アッパ, means “upper”, a fitting name for a bison that soars above the world
Inuit Inspirations for the Southern Water Tribe
For the Southern Water Tribe, Avatar: the Last Airbender draws inspiration from the Inuit. The design of the boat that Katara and Sokka are fishing in at the start of the episode is based on an Inuit boat called an umiak. The umiak was much larger than a kayak and was intended for long-distance travel and/or for transporting large groups of people. It was traditionally built by stretching a skin over a lightweight frame. The frame used walrus and/or whale ribs for ribs, with driftwood and/or baleen as framing. Bearded seal skin would then be stretched over the frame to make it watertight.
The clothing worn by Katara, Sokka, and others of the Southern Water tribe is based on traditional Inuit clothing made from caribou skin, seal skin and other furs. Seal skin clothing was used during the warmer months as it was water resistant but not warm enough for winter weather. Caribou skin clothing would be worn during the winter. White caribou fur was used as trim. The women’s parkas would often have an over-sized hood that could double as a baby carrier.
Katara’s hairstyle is also based on an Inuit hairstyle where two braids at the sides of the face would be loosely pulled back into a larger braid at the back.
The Southern Water Tribe dwellings are a combination of tents and an igloo. The tents are based on an Inuit dwelling called a Tupiq, a tent made from seal or caribou skin. The Inuit would live in Tupiq while on land and during the summer. During the spring and fall they would live in houses made of sod and use the Tupiq as a roof. During the winter and while out on the ice they would live in igloos (Inuit plural: Igluit). Igloos were built by stacking cut blocks of snow into a paraboloid dome sometimes with a small tunnel at the entrance to help trap heat. The interior of an igloo would have a lower and higher level. The area where the blocks were cut from would form the lower area. Because warm air rises and cool air falls, the lower area would serve as a cold trap while the warmer higher area would be used for sleeping.