Culture

What is my name in Japanese? Read this to learn yours!

One of the coolest things about Japanese people is their names. Since most names are spelled with kanji (Chinese characters), they have specific meanings associated with each one.

Take for example this Japanese name for a girl, Suzuka. One way to spell it is with the kanji that means cool breeze 凉風. Another way to spell it is with the kanji for refreshing beauty 涼佳. In both cases, they are pronounced the exact same way (suzuka), but since they are both spelled using different kanji, they both have different meanings.

Pretty cool, huh?

On the other hand, my name is Nick and that’s the end of it. There’s no special meaning associated with it other than my beautiful face (I kid!).  This is just one of the characteristics of our alphabet. The letters each have a pronunciation, but not a meaning. And if you are familiar at all with katakana, which is one of the Japanese writing systems, then you’ll know it works in the same way: it has phonetics, but not meanings.

What is my name in Japanese? It’s ニック (nikku) !

How to learn your name?

As you saw above, my name in Japanese is spelled with katakana. This is the script that’s primarily used for foreign words. You see, the Japanese language is actually pretty limited on the amount of different sounds that it contains when you compare it to others. So when they borrow a word from a different language (such as your name) they have to make it Japanese-sy (not a real word, I know!).

Take my name in English for example, and you will notice that the vowel in it has an ‘ick” sound to it (I’m not icky, I swear!). But that “ick” vowel is not a part of the Japanese language, so it gets changed to the “ee” sound. In Japanese my name sounds more like “neek”.

To learn your name in Japanese, you will have to do the same thing. Think of how it sounds, not how it is spelled, and then translate that sound into the closest Japanese equivalent that is possible. And be sure to spell it with katakana!

There are a couple of guidelines that you can follow to help determine how your name would be spelled and pronounced in Japanese. They are:

  • The “th” sound is usually replaced with one of the S-Kana
  • If the name ends with a consonant, it will usually use a kana that ends in the “u” or “o” vowel
  • An exception to the above is that if it ends with a “r”, the Japanese version just elongates the preceding vowel sound
  • Generally when a word ends in “d, k, p, or ch” you insert the small “tsu” kana ッ (like my name above)
  • And “l” sounds are replaced with one of the R-Kanas

Sorry, was that confusing at all?

Sometimes it makes more sense to just look at how some names are already transcribed into Japanese, and then work off of that for your own name. Here are ten common male and female names and their Japanese versions:

English Name / Katakana Spelling / Pronunciation in Roman Letters

Here is a small list of common names, followed by their Japanese spelling in Katakana, and then how you would pronounce it.

If you’re not sure about the correct pronunciation, you can read this article to learn it.

Tom / トム / tomu
Richard / リチャード / richādo
Edward / エドワード / edowādo
Phillip / フィリップ / firippu
John / ジョン / jon

Joyce / ジョイス / joisu
Nancy / ナンシー / nanshii
Mary / メリー / merii
Elizabeth / エリザべス / erizabesu
Karen / キャレン / kyaren

If none of these names belong to you, try looking for it here. I was originally going to include a large list of names, but the site I just linked to does such a fantastic job of it, that I just decided to direct people there instead.

If you STILL can’t find your name though, drop me a comment here and I will transcribe it by hand. I know the rules for converting non-Japanese words into Japanese ones, so it won’t be a problem for me as long as you list the name and how it’s pronounced.

So… My Japanese name doesn’t mean anything?

Unfortunately, it does not. Since all non-Japanese names get translated based on their sound, they don’t get any special meaning attached during the translation process. Of course, if your name already has meaning in it, like many Chinese names do, then you could translate your name’s meaning rather than its pronunciation, if you want.

That would be pretty cool since you could get a different sounding name, but it would still mean what it means. However, a lot of people (myself included) will just have to be happy with some cool looking katakana. But personally, I don’t mind!


Now it’s your turn! Does YOUR name have a specific meaning to it? Do you know how to spell it in katakana?

Let me know with a comment below! 


 

2 Comments

  • Elizabeth

    My name is Elizabeth, which is a biblical name meaning “word of God.” I lived in Japan for four years. Not only does my name have no special meaning in Japanese, but I have it on good authority that it is virtually unpronounceable! Japanese called Dibetto-san, a variation of my nickname, Dibette.

    Living in Japan was fun. My children were very young there. They loved the village festivals most of all, with the lively folk music, wild costumes, dancing and great street food.

    Japan is a really fun place, and their language and culture are fascinating.

    All the best,

    Elizabeth

    • Nick Hoyt

      That’s super cool that you lived in Japan for so long! And raising your kids in a foreign country, what an experience! My sister is in Thailand with her husband and two little boys right now, learning Mandarin.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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