Things that irk me about Japan 2: Japanese Names

30 03 2009

Hey readers!  (to all 10 of you :P)

I put up a post about things that irked me about Japan a little while ago, and somehow that got a lot of views!  Well ok, it only got 63 views, but for me that’s a lot!  So today, I’ve decided to continue the series with something else that totally irks me about Japan, but will NEVER change, Japanese names.

No I don’t hate the names of Japanese people at all, in fact I think they sound rather cool, and some of the female ones are pretty cute.  I’m also not talking about how they reverse their names and present the surname before the first name.  What I do hate however, is how it is near impossible to read someone’s name without prior knowledge of how it is read.  Unless it is a common name like 佐藤 (satou) or 鈴木 (suzuki) (These two are the first and second most common surnames in Japan.  I have 2 Satou’s and 1 Suzuki in my department, gosh).  What do I mean?  read on!

Miku Teachers Rin and Ren on how to read her name

Miku Teaches Rin and Ren on How to Read Her Name

Let’s start with Hatsune Miku!  Hatsune Miku’s name in Kanji is the following:  初音未来.

So you ask… Why am I crying about it?  It’s clearly Hatsune Miku…. WRONG.  You only read it as Hatsune Miku because you knew it in advance.  In reality, 初音 can be read as Hatsune, Uine, and Haine.  未来 can be read as Miku, Mirai (Danny Choo’s Mascot), Miki, Asuka, Itsuka, Mikuna, Mikuru and many many more.  As you can see from here, most of the time last names have fewer readings than first names.

In fact, the number of readings is so catastrophic that the government has stepped in and put  limits on the number of Kanji that can be used as names and their associated readings.  If this pamphlet that I got from the city hall is to believed, the number of Kanji that are allowed to be used stands at 2,232.  Also, to make it worse readings of Kanji for names are INDEPENDENT of the Kanji used for text.  Case in point, 英雄 read eiyuu in text, but is read.. Hideo, Eio, Fusao, or Akio as a name.

Miku Ponders which Reading to Use for the Following Name

Miku Ponders which Reading to Use for the Following Name

Ok, so you say it’s only difficult because Hatsune Miku is a made up name.  Let me pull out a real name from the internet.   In keeping with the theme, I’m going to go with Fujita Saki、藤田咲, voice sampler for Hatsune Miku.  Ok, so we know her name is Fujita Saki because I just told you, but what else could you have potentially read her name as?

藤田 could have been Fujita, Touda, Fuereira, Fushida, Fujida, or Fudzita.

咲 could have been Saki、Emi, Emu, Sai, Saka, Saku, Sakuji, Sayaka、Shou, or Momoka.

So how do you read someone’s name properly if it is someone you have never met?  To put it quite simply, you don’t.  When you introduce yourself in Japan especially in business, during the exchange of business cards you wait until the person reads his name to you or you take your best guess and wait for them to correct you (9/10 times you will be wrong).  After he does, you’re going to be expected to remember it.  I’m terrible with names even in English, asking me to remember names in Japanese is impossible, so I usually scribble in the reading of the name on the card, while no one is looking :P.

So there you have it :P.  Don’t despair if you cannot read a Japanese person’s name!  Chances are, a native speaker probably couldn’t get it right on the first try either.

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10 responses

31 03 2009
meronpan

definitely agree it’s awkward, though luckily after enough exposure, you can at least identify the most common reading as a decent first guess. true, that’s no substitute for having to remember in business situations… but considering the magnitude of the issue… not much else to do besides shrug and mutter ‘shouganai’ ^^;

i also think it’s neat to have that extra uniqueness in one’s name… though perhaps that’s spillover of my love for kanji’s insane complexity.

even harima had this problem in school rumble (though he is furyou :P)… torimaru instead of karasuma ^^; (鳥丸)

7 04 2009
aprilius20

That Torimaru bit still has me laughing every time I come across it^^;

1 04 2009
aaroninjapan09

Usually, there are readings that are more common than others. If you guess with the most common reading, sometimes you can get it right. Though just guessing with the most common reading really doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it right. I asked my good buddy, who is Japanese, to read one of my coworker’s names and he read it wrong :P, half proving my point.

Fortunately, most Japanese people are fairly understanding of the issue, and won’t get mad at you if you get it wrong on the first go.

1 04 2009
bluemage

I can’t read your blog articles at work inconspicuously with all these Miku pictures! (Haha just joking, I love them Miku pictures. ^_^)

O_O This is far, far worse than in Mandarin where certain characters have two sounds or English words that have two different sounds. But yeah, without knowing in advance how a Japanese name is read, there is no way to know. Oh well, usually when you meet new people anyway they tell you their name.

1 04 2009
Yuki Phnx

omg, am i one of your ten readers? haha, of course i am. i’m here!

this remind me of an episode of Sailor Senshi LA. I think it was the second….when Usagi bumps into Mamoru for the first time, he reads her name tag as “Tsukino Buta”. Ok, so he was making fun of her first name….cuz the character was obviously nothing close to pig. But then Usagi thought, “wow, he read my name just like that!” And she tries to read HIS name tag and FAILS. poor Usagi.

sorry….dunno how that relates. I guess the same could be said or how English names are written! For one name like Sean, it could be written Sean, Shawn, or Shaun. There are probably even MORE names that have more than 3 ways to write them. Sometimes though, I think it’s because foreign parents are trying to give their kids “white” names and end up not knowing how to spell it “right”, so we find ourselves a new spelling of a name. hm…..

3 04 2009
Lorfarius

I’m one of these few readers :p Besides the obvious suggestion of regular content have you considered just going on a few walks with a camera around where you live. Taking snap shots and posting them with a bit of blurb? Give us a chance to see more of what its actually like over there.

4 04 2009
Rin

Well, it’s hard since a lot of characters are pretty much the same for so many names…
Japanese names aren’t the only thing. My last name can be pronounced differently and other names can be different. I think Japanese people aim for what should their child should be by meaning…
Like Sakura can mean cherry blossoms…and so on…
In writing…I bet the parents of the child had a harder time trying to figure out which characters to use for their child’s name…
Woot…one of the 10 readers here huh…

5 04 2009
aaroninjapan09

Bluemage: Miku pictures are awesome! Yea the name situation is some what grim in Japan. That’s why when you register for anything serious, they always ask you to write your name in kanji and then rewrite it in katakana just to make sure.

Lorfarius: Hehe thanks for being one of my readers! I always love comments. I actually had considered doing what you suggested before (and I already have the pictures taken), but it just seemed kind of boring, since I spend most of my time in the suburbs. Since you suggested it though, I’ll put one up later.

Rin: Yep Rin you’re one of my 10 readers :P. I wonder how parents in Japan name their kids. The kanji meanings or do they prefer a nice sounding pronunciation.

6 04 2009
robostrike

So many variations x_x. Well, I’ll be on my way to learning kanji soon…after I memorize katakana and understand japanese grammar.

6 04 2009
Lorfarius

Hussah! More pictures are always fun 🙂

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