21 November, 2016

Confusion about spelling Japanese names

Nothing to do with the blog post, except
that this is what we're seeing around the
place at present. Autumn colours are in
full "bloom".
It amazed me the other day to witness an email exchange between two translators who were trying to figure out how a Japanese name was pronounced. 

The translators had the name written in the usual complicated characters (kanji or sometimes called "Chinese characters"). But all kanji can be pronounced at least two ways, if not more. As a result when you sign in on a waiting list at a restaurant or at a doctor, you're always asked for the phonetic spelling of your name in one of Japan's two "alphabets", otherwise it could be very embarrassing for those who are reading out your name.

For example these names:

齊藤 or 齋藤 or They all say "Saitō".

 東海林 can be read "Tōkairin" or "Shōji".

So whenever you fill out a form here there is room for the kanji of your name as well as your phonetic spelling. As foreigners, we don't have kanji, but we do have two spellings of our name: we have our usual way with Roman letters, but also in Japanese phonetic alphabet.

My name is:

Wendy Marshall
マーシャル ウエンデー (pronounced "Maasharu Uendi") Yes, last name goes first. 

So in some situations I also write my name twice. For example, once in Roman letters to match my health insurance card and a second time so that the Japanese person reading it knows how to pronounce my name with minimal difficulty (not saying that there aren't some Japanese people who could easily pronounce my name from Roman letters).

However back to the email exchange I witnessed. These translators eventually called the church concerned to check the spelling of the name in the article so that they could render it correctly in Roman letters.

Amazing and not terribly efficient!


Ken Rolph said...

In Sydney currently there are so many unfamiliar names arising from our mix of world cultures. It's not just one way. There are groups who struggle with" Rolph". In the medical centre the staff no longer call people to appointments by surname, but by first name. This can et very interesting for common names, for instance if you call out "Maria" you usually get more than one person.

Anonymous said...

I once read a Japanese book series - I got almost all the pronunciations wrong! I only found out how to pronounce them correctly when I went to watch the TV show. :D