View Full Version : Help with Japanese Names...

4th February 2001, 16:01
Can anyone help correct or verify these names? My Japanese is terrible.

Sasaki Gendayuu Sadayasu

Suzuki Taizen Tarou Chikanobu

Akimoto Kawachi Moriyoshi

Sasaki Goroemon Teruyoshi

Fukao Tsunouma Shigeyoshi

Much appreciated,
Rob Boger

Nathan Scott
14th August 2003, 21:05
Hello Mr. Boger,

Sorry you didn't get any responses. However, I've been wanting to post a request for advice on translating Japanese names (especially older ones) for sometime anyway, so I might as well tag it on to this thread.

So, does anyone have advice on translating/guessing the intended pronunciation of a given Japanese personal name? This seems to be the hardest thing to translate in Japanese (when no furigana is added), and I don't have any good guesses outside of following an established precedent (if one is available). What I mean is, if you are translating a lineage, the given names (not surnames) typically share something in common. So when deciding which way to read the kanji, this seems to be a logical guide. Here is something I was working on recently as an example:


Masatatsu (same masa kanji)

Masayoshi (same masa kanji)

Yoshisada (same yoshi kanji; could also be read Yosada)

Yoshiryo (same yoshi kanji; could also be read Yoryo)

Yoshizumi (same yoshi kanji; could also be read Yozumi)

Yoshishu (same yoshi kanji; could also be read Yoshu)


Looking at this example now, it is perhaps not the most challenging example I could find. But, if you look at the Yagyu lineage, or Maniwa nen ryu lineage, the correct romanization of the given kanji can be very tough to correctly establish. The longer the lineage, the more creative the kanji readings tend to get.

But examples such as this are not as tough as single names with no other precedent reference to draw from. This seeming inability of Japanese to "read their own writing" strikes me as baffling - is there something I'm missing?

Generally, it would seem that names tend to follow the "kun" reading (Japanese reading listed in smaller print in most jiten as a secondary reading), rather than the "on" reading (Chinese/Sino-Japanese reading listed in larger print as the primary reading).

Any other tips would be greatly appreciated!


Nathan Scott
14th August 2003, 21:36
Here is a good example of a difficult reading choice:

Kuroda Tetsuzan is the current generation of Kuroda in his family arts. The given names of previous Kuroda's include names like Yasuji, Shigeki, Masakuni, etc. The Kuroda family line is quite old, and "Tetsuzan" is an odd choice of kanji if you look at the previous readings:

?? (Shift-JIS)

The first kanji is nelson #6253, and has the On reading of "tetsu" (iron), and the Kun readings of "-kana; kane-" (metal).

The second kanji is nelson #1439, and has the On reading of "san" (mountain), and the Kun reading of "yama" (mountain).

I reckon that "Tetsuzan" (both On readings) is a logic rendering, but "Tetsuyama" (On and Kun reading) appears to be at least equally as popular. Fortunately, the correct reading for Kuroda Tetsuzan is known, but what if it were a name from 3-4 generations ago, and there was no pronunciation pattern to reference - any thoughts?


Nathan Scott
14th August 2003, 21:53
I can't get the F'ing kanji to reproduce. See this link for kanji reference:


P Goldsbury
15th August 2003, 00:28
Some explanation of the difficulties involved is given by P G O'Neill in his book "Japanese Names: A Comprehensive Index by Characters and Readings", published by Weatherhill in 1972 and probably out of print.

Surnames are easier to deal with than given names, but I happen to know three people here in Hiroshima with the name ÒJ. Each reads the name differently, viz, Kotani, Furutani, Furuya. There is simply no way of knowing beforehand which is correct.

As for given names, O'Neill's dictionary is not really satisfactory, except for the common names like Hiroshi ?G,, where he gives over 70 possibilities.

I have found that some Japanese parents use the characters in their own given names as part of the names of their sons and daughters, but in many cases the reading of the character is different.

Best regards,

Nathan Scott
15th August 2003, 01:49
Professor Goldsbury,

Thanks for the reply. I'll look for that book (couldn't hurt). Everyone agrees that translating Japanese names is tough, but nobody can offer any reliable guidelines!

I wish more publications would use furigana for names. It seems like it was getting popular for a while, and then died off for some reason. Bummer.


18th August 2003, 18:23

The original post is quite old but I think Mr. Boger was hoping to verify whether the Japanese names are reasonably well-transcribed into English. I think yes, they are, with the exception of ?H͓` -- ͓ should be KAWAUCHI, not KAWACHI. (A typo?)

I might also omit the break in "Taizen Tarou" as well as the final "u" -- TAIZENTARO.

There are several places where the readings don't match with popular readings I'm familiar with, such as v = YUU? and ?_ = NOBU?, but these are old names and I assume they were matched in Mr. Boger's source. (Can't argue.)

Slightly off topic, but I'm interested in the conventions re: putting Japanese into written English. My preference is simplicity. A good example is the word ?. I have seen the following: dojo, do-jo, doujou, doojoo, dojyo... Do you like to go practice at the "doo-joo"? I don't. Putting Japanese into written English will never feel perfect, but I like when people who don't speak Japanese are able to say the words correctly when they read them. And I'm willing to sacrifice my secret knowledge that ? is actually spelled "doujyou" for the sake of good pronunciation. Do you know what I mean? (To be clear, I like DOJO.)

Mr. Scott -- I enjoy reading your posts here. I'm interested in what you have written in this thread. I think it is safe to say THERE ARE NO RELIABLE GUIDELINES. This applies to life, as you know, and to the on yomi/kun yomi decision. I liked the example provided by Professor Goldsbury where ÒJ = Kotani, Furutani, and Furuya. You see my screen name is KODANI, but it's written ?J which has the possible readings Kodani, Kotani, Otani... My strategy is to learn as many names as possible, noting which are most common, which are most rare, and then make an educated guess when the time comes.

As a student, I try to let it be a pleasant surprise when I'm wrong!

(Even Japanese scholars are students of this so we're already in good company...)

Nathan Scott
18th August 2003, 19:22
Hello Mr. Conley,

Thanks for the reply and kind words.

You've raised a question that has been becoming a pet peeve of mine. Deliberate misspellings of romaji.

We all know romaji is not a perfect system, and that everything in Japan is "shades of gray", not B&W. But romaji only works if we all adhere to the current recognized spellings, since often there are no kanji to reference and many words imply a different meaning if misspelled (like jujutsu and jujitsu).

I assisted in writing a book a few years ago, and approached a well known academic for advice regarding "correct" romaji spellings (stuff like "honbu" or "hombu"). He said that while the rules of language tend to change over time, there is a recognized standard for a given language at any given time, and that to disregard this standard is ignorant. Good dictionaries exist (for a few bucks), but many people - native Japanese in particular - insist on spelling words phonetically ("doujyou" instead of dojo). Most native Japanese, as you probably know, will insist that their way of writing romaji is correct (even though romaji is not a Japanese writing system, it is an English writing system intended for Non-Japanese) in spite of the fact that there method is against the recognized standard.

In their defense, I have come to understand that Japanese language helper software products intended for use on English keyboards (ex. KanjiKit) require the phonetic method of romaji spelling in order to indicate the correct-intended kanji. So anyone using such software would need to understand this method as well in order to use such software successfully. But the romaji issue in general is an ongoing fight with EVERYONE it seems - Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

What I find amusing though is the recent trend of non-Japanese that are intentionally misspelling romaji in the "Japanese fashion" on the net so as to appear "more Japanese" than the rest of us who are making the effort to spell it correctly! If you live in Japan, I can see why you'd need to know both methods of spelling, but why spread confusion and misinformation to others by writing the language incorrectly ya'll!? :rolleyes:


PS. Professor Goldsbury, I found a used copy of the jiten you mentioned on the net and picked it up. Thanks for the advice.

18th August 2003, 21:55
Even the Japanese have just about as much trouble with this as we do. To give a good example, I had a very eye opening experience once when I went with an 8-dan iaido sensei to meet an elderly menkyo kaiden level sensei of the same ryu. These are two people you would probably assume would just know this sort of thing so was excited to get to listen to these two talk abuot the finer points of the ryu, its history, etc. The older sensei had written a very good book on the ryu and one day the 8-dan sensei pulls out and opens up this book up to the lineage page and starts asking the elder sensei what the correct readings for all the names are. The elder sensei, in a refreshingly honest admission, said that even he doesn't know for sure. During the course of conversation (which became rather long and involved) I had pulled out a list of reading I had come up with dirong my own research from my notes. The elder sensei grabbed it and looked it over and commented something to the effect of "You have it really hard because you have to write out the reading. Being Japanese we can just copy the kanji and sort sneak by by acting like we know the readings when quite often we don't." Even more surprising (at least to me), as he looked at my list, he asked where I got a few of the readings from source-wise, corrected a couple of small points and then both of them made notes based off of "my" list!?!?

When dealing with budo related names, the best (and only) advice I could offer is to try and get in touch with people actually involved in the school in question as they are the ones most likely to actually have that information if it exists. However it isn't too surprising if they don't have it all either.

Not that this helps any but....

Rennis Buchner

Daniel Kogan
18th August 2003, 22:23
Since it sounds as though most of you are interested, I thought I would add a bit of a twist to the name reading problem.

For those of us who study (rather than learn ) Japanese in order to learn Okinawan Karate there is yet one more complication to this little name game.

To follow on the ÒJ example, a very common Okinawan surname is ?, often read as ?gKinjo?h, Unless of course it is Kaneshiro, or Kanegusuku or Kanagusuku. In Okinawa not only do you have the ambiguity of the On yumi and Kun yumi, you also have the Hogen readings and the arbitrary mixing of the two.

Just food for thought.

Daniel Kogan

18th August 2003, 22:31
Mr. Scott: Thank you for the reply.

I agree it would be great if there were a standard for writing Japanese words in English. "Romaji" as taught to students in Japan is terrible for English speakers (konnniti ha?) as is the current standard in some American universities I'm familiar with. (My example word above ? is spelled DOOJOO in a popular textbook. All words ending with a syllable from the line followed by get the double-o treatment. Even DOUJOU is better than that; it is at least more accurate for people who are studying Japanese.) There are abundant explanations for all of the variety, none of which helps anyone say the words acceptably well. !!! Students of Japanese have to drop their dependence on romaji quickly. !!! People who will always only read English representations of Japanese words do not benefit from syllable-by-syllable notation.

Things like "ju jitsu" are just wrong, whereas variations like "honbu/hombu" and "kenpo/kempo" are based on observing the sounds of Japanese. Japanese sounds like "m" before "b" and "p" but like "n" before "t" and "d" and so on. Is there a standardized system that makes it a rule to use "m" where appropriate?

I agree that it is ignorant to ignore standards when they help understanding, but in this case I'm not sure which standard to follow. My preferences are based on what I think is readable for people who speak English, not Japanese.

Perhaps I've stepped in a little underinformed, in particular about recent trends in martial art publications or this forum, but thanks nonetheless. Not sure if this romaji tangent has far to go, but I'm certainly interested in any queries related to names and kanji readings and so on.

19th August 2003, 00:43
There are several methods for writing Japanese in romanji, many of them decades old. Keep in mind that several of these systems are for use by non-native Japanese speakers who are also NOT native English speakers. So, for an American, 'dojo' might look best, but for a French person, or Spanish speaker, that might not be the case.

Many of the romanji systems have simple rules (like long vowels = add u after the vowel; dojo -> doujou) that when known help any non-native Japanese speaker understand what the Japanese word should be.
From the linguistic point of view of trying to understand the implied Japanese word (studying Japanese), 'dojo' actually isn't very good, as there's no indication if either vowel is long or short.


r e n

P Goldsbury
19th August 2003, 00:54
Originally posted by Nathan Scott
PS. Professor Goldsbury, I found a used copy of the jiten you mentioned on the net and picked it up. Thanks for the advice.

Mr Scott,

My pleasure, but please do not rely on it too much. It is reasonably useful for Japanese surnames, but far less reliable for given names. Here in Hiroshima University, some 500 students attend my classes each year and so I have to get used to given names when I call the roll. I have become reasonably good at reading surnames, but the given names do not follow the same rules, or any rules at all that I am aware of.

It is always amusing here to be present when meishi are ceremoniously exchanged. There is the bow, and then the moment when the lower ranked recipient tries to avoid making a gaff by misreading the Kanji of the given name. Usually explanations are forthcoming on how the name is to be read. I am sometimes tempted to offer a similar explanation: my surname indicates a settlement of a rich man (but we have since fallen on hard times) and my first name can mean rock or stubbornness (more often the latter). Astonishment usually results.

Best regards,


Nathan Scott
19th August 2003, 01:47
AFAIK, the accepted standard for romanization is the modified Hepburn system. Interestingly, I have an original Hepburn dictionary, and the romanization rules have changed significantly over the last 100 years. But the more recognized, authoratative jiten, such as the New Nelson kanji dictionary and the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English Dictionary, pretty much agree on the proper spelling of romanized words (which by the say is spelled "romaji", not "romanji").

I don't know if other non-Japanese countries recognize other systems of romanization, but the modified Hepburn system IS, to what I've been told, THE system of romanization currently recognized.

For example, there is an entry for "honbu" (headquarters), but there is not an entry for "hombu", which is considered by some to be an "alternate" spelling.

Another reference I used personally when working on the aforementioned book project was a Japanese Stylesheet guide posted on koryu.com some years ago (still there):


Though this stylesheet was not written with the intention of being an authoratative text on writing (rather, an explanation of the logic and compromises taken in writing their publications), it does present to me at least a logical guideline for the rest of us writing about Japanese culture in English to adhere to. Why not all strive for consistency anyway? Is the public more or less likely to understand what the hell we are saying if we all choose to push our own language variants?

Anyway, I would agree - again - that writing in romaji is limiting and perhaps at times even misleading (one should become familiar with kanji at some point). But most, including me, seem to agree that adding too many macrons and such are overly burdensome to the reader, and are currently hard to insert in most text programs I know of anyway. I personally think that the best combination when writing something important is to include a glossary including either the associated kanji and/or a phonetic spelling next to the term (along with a translation of course).


19th August 2003, 02:15
I've been up all night with a painful swollen ankle, nodding off and then waking up to new replies to this thread...

Points well-taken, Ren. Perhaps I overstated my case. Or at least wrote from my pretty slim perspective at the time. Taken to one logical extension, it seems I'm arguing for "dough-joe" as the best alternative, which I'm not.

It's the "when known" qualifier of the romaji systems simple rules I'm interested in. I guess the only thing I'm driving at, however, is I think it's fine when we deviate from the rules for names and common words. And the only reason for that is to make them more accessible and appealing as English words for people who do not study Japanese. Maybe this is a silly idea.

If I'm corresponding about kanji readings or whatever, of course I would represent the reading as accurately as possible using generally accepted, standard romaji.

19th August 2003, 02:33
Thanks for the information, Mr. Scott.

Although I really like the "m" in words like "honbu" for the sake of good pronunciation, I can't bring myself to write them that way. Kind of contrary to what-all else I wrote, but I guess I learned to use "n" in school and won't change.

I will strive to use good romaji !!!

Adam Young
19th August 2003, 06:07
with the exception of ?H͓` -- ͓ should be KAWAUCHI, not KAWACHI. (A typo?) Actually, I believe that the reading of those kanji are actually "Kawachi", athough you are correct in noting that a first glance reading should be "kawauchi".

Kawachi-no-kuni was a region of Japan near Osaka, I think. This make me think that the full name above is incomplete. The name looks like it should be Akimoto Kawachi-no-kami Yoshi[something].

Adam Young
19th August 2003, 06:12

Also, I think that this is properly read as Minamoto-no-daibu, although I admit that I could be way wrong here. I am miles away from my dictionaries and I haven't made a practice of reading old names in 6-7 years.

Adam Young
19th August 2003, 06:19
?H͓` Ah, ha. My first instinct was correct. A little research turned this dude's full name. ?H͓` or Akimoto Kawachi-no-kami Gikan. I am not really sure than Gikan is correct - a Yoshi---- name would seem more apropos - however the resource I found had it as Gikan.

Man, I didn't know I would be translating ninjer names! :eek: Apparently this guy was a link in the chain of Koto Ryu koppojutsu.