The anime juggernaut that is Pokémon has followed the journey of Ash Ketchum across the various regions of the Pokémon world for years. From Kanto to Kalos, Johto to Galar, Ash has explored every region currently known to fans. When he set off over two decades ago, he had one goal: to become a Pokémon Master. However, now that he has finally conquered the Alola League and won the Manalo Conference, it seems he is well on his way to exploring what it means truly means to be a Master -- and maybe something beyond that.
This leads many fans to ask "What's next for Ash?" And the reality is that his future remains hard to predict. With him and Goh traveling Galar in Pokemon Journeys at the moment, it's clear that Ash has taken on a sort of mentorship role with Goh, much like how Brock mentored him before pursuing his dreams of being a Pokémon Doctor. So, while all his friends are pursuing grander goals than just battling and training, what new goal will Ash strive to reach now that his childhood dream has been fulfilled? Well, the answer might be right in front of us... in his own name.
Ash & Pokémon Professors Have One Thing in Common
Pokémon wouldn't be Pokémon without its multiple professors. Oak, Elm, Birch, Rowan, Juniper, Sycamore, Kukui and Magnolia are all Pokémon Professors from the mainline games, with the anime adding Professor Westwood and Ivy. All of these Professors are named after trees.
By this logic, if you're born with a tree name, you are essentially destined to become a Pokémon Professor at some point. Ash Ketchum might seem like an oddity here since only his first name is tree-centric but, then again, Ash is a unique character. He would be far from one of the only people slated to become a Professor with a tree-themed first name, either. One of the hints that Sonia Magnolia will become a Professor over the course of Pokémon Sword and Shield is that her name, Sonia, could have been chosen because it derives from the Parkinsonia, a flowering tree native to Mexico. And since Sonia is Professor Magnolia's granddaughter, her full title would also be Professor Magnolia.
Is Ash Really Professor Material?
Just having a particular name is hardly grounds to decide your entire career, of course. Ash has historically been unable to recognize tons of Pokémon he had previously encountered in the past; failed to understand type advantage, and rather than strategize his way to victory throughout Kanto and Johto, relied purely on tenacity and determination. That might make him a competent trainer, but does that make him a worthy Professor?
Every professor has a specialty. Professor Elm specializes in Pokémon breeding, Birch studies their habitats, Kukui studies the moves of Pokémon while Magnolia specializes in the phenomenon of Dynamax Pokémon. All of these areas of specialty prove you don't need to know everything about Pokémon, in the same way that real-life Professors have their own niches.
Ash, having just graduated from essentially an academy designed to train Pokémon Masters at Alola, has accumulated a vast deal of academic and practical knowledge that he's been imparting on Goh during their current adventures. On top of that, Ash has encountered and resolved conflicts with an absurd number of Legendary Pokémon, as well as the reality-altering powers of the Unown, and harnessed the powers of the aura alongside Lucario. He even met the Pokémon "God," Arceus. If all that doesn't make him some kind of expert, what will?
Ash's Special Relationship With Professor Oak
Ultimately, the greatest evidence that Ash is well on his way to becoming a Pokémon Professor is by comparing him to perhaps the most famous one of them all: Samuel Oak. Some fans theorize that Oak might be Ash's secret father, but even putting those theories aside, it is undeniable that Ash bears plenty of similarities to Sam Oak as a kid -- which we know thanks to the fourth Pokémon film.
In that film, Professor Oak's 10-year-old self is transported to the future (Ash's present), where he and Ash get along famously due to their similar personalities. At this point, Samuel was adventuring across the world observing Pokémon he did not recognize up until this point. This indicates that, at Ash's age, Professor Oak was in a similar space.
Ash has only advanced even further since that point, proven by him becoming a Pokémon Champion. Taking all this into consideration, it doesn't seem unlikely that Ash might continue to follow his father figure's example and become a Pokémon Professor. That's if, of course, the Pokémon anime would ever dare show us Ash grow past the age of 10.