The Right And Wrong Way To Write Your Name In Japanese

If you’re learning Japanese, one of the first things you do is learn what your name is in Japanese. It’s great because it personalizes the language and gives you an identity in Japanese.

But sometimes there’s a little confusion about how to write your name in Japanese. Let’s look at the right and wrong way to write your name in Japanese.

Right: Katakana (カタカナ)

If you don’t know a lot about Japanese, katakana is one of the Japanese alphabets, and is used for writing foreign names in Japanese.

Foreign names are typically spelled out phonetically with katakana, so Chris becomes kurisu (クリス), Sarah becomes sēra (セーラ), and Michael becomes maikeru (マイケル). It’s usually very easy and straightforward.

Katakana

Image sources 1, 2, 3, 4.

Writing your name in katakana is awesome! The reading is obvious and people automatically know that it’s supposed to be a foreign name. Plus, you’re probably not the first person with your name to transliterate it into Japanese, so chances are there’s a standard way of writing your name in katakana that people are familiar with.

You can even pretty easily look up these standardized names on sites like this.

But for some people, writing their names in katakana isn’t enough. They want to go further and write their names in kanji but, for a number of reasons, this is a bad idea.

Wrong: Kanji (漢字)

Kanji are Chinese characters that are frequently used in Japanese. Each character has its own, sometimes complex meaning.

After learning how to write their name in katakana, some people want to write their names in kanji. I know that we at Tofugu talk a lot about how useful and great kanji is, but when it comes to writing your name, avoid kanji like the plague.

KanjiYou might think that writing your name in kanji is super cool and extra-Japanesey, but most of the time you’re really just making things harder for yourself and more importantly, other people.

Kanji By Sound

One way people recommend writing your name in kanji is by finding kanji with the same sounds as your name in katakana, but this is a bad idea for a couple of reasons.

If you’re picking kanji based on sound alone, then the meanings of these kanji will probably be really weird and completely unrelated to your name.

For example, if Chris decides to write his name like 躯里子, it will sound like kurisu, but the kanji mean “corpse foster child” which, in case you didn’t notice, is complete gibberish (or just really morbid).

The other problem is that pretty much every kanji has multiple readings, so somebody might look at your name and either have no idea how to pronounce it, or they’ll pronounce it differently than you intended.

In other words, writing your name by constructing kanji by sound will mostly just baffle other people and really not do you any good. And the other way of writing your name in kanji ain’t a whole lot better.

Kanji By Meaning

Another way people try to flip foreign names into kanji is by meaning. Every name, no matter what the language, has some sort of etymology, or story behind it. Some people think that by recreating that meaning or story with kanji, they can distill the essence of their names and transfer it over into Japanese.

This doesn’t work well either. If you’re constructing your kanji name based on meaning, then the reading probably won’t make any damn sense. Sure, you might have conveyed that Chris means “Christian martyr and patron saint of travelers,” but the Japanese probably won’t read all that as an actual name.

But Other People Have Kanji Names!

Some foreigners can have kanji names, but those are special cases. Since the Chinese and Korean both use kanji in their languages in some way or another, some Chinese and Korean names are able to use kanji.

And it is true that foreigners who become Japanese citizens typically have kanji names, but that’s kind of unrelated. They’re not using kanji for their foreign, given names; but rather, they’re adopting a wholly Japanese name and just using the kanji for that.

Be Proud Of Your Name

Writing your name in kanji is trying to make your name into something it isn’t. Instead of spending time trying to find the perfect kanji to create a name that nobody will understand, instead spend some time looking into your own name.

What’s its etymology? Why did your parents pick that particular name? The answers to these questions are a lot more rewarding than writing your name in kanji could ever be.

[Header image sources: 1, 2.]

  • jiikko

    I am Japanese and therefore my English is certainly not good, but oh
    well, I hope you can understand it. First of all it is true that it is
    difficult to change one’s name from the alphabet to Kanji, but with some
    experience there are good possibilities. Most of them are surely not
    the trivial Japanese name and some people find it funny, however in the
    other hand it could be really cool. Also note that some Japanese parents
    give their children western names like “Leo” with the fitting

  • SelfStudy

    The way I’ve heard ‘Hiram’ pronounced would be transcribed as ハイラム.

  • Erica

    ダウン maybe?

  • Kurisu

    So, my name is Kurisutofaa, which would probably be shortened to Kurisu, are you telling me I can’t use Kanji? :/

  • Ltsgosrfn@gmail.com

    My name is a combination of kanji and katakana. When my wife and I married, we decided it’d be best to combine her family name and mine, especially for our kid’s future, bank loans and other purposes in Japan. We got our marriage registered in that name, she started a new family registry (or amended her old one somehow) all quite easily. Now with the new immigration system in place, they let me put my name like that on my permenant residence card and in the registration system too. It’s definitely unique, only drawback is that my name never fits in any space on any form whatsoever, especially in romaji.

  • http://www.facebook.com/layla.torres.568 Layla Torres

    how I can write my name in japase

  • Abigail Sano

    i’m becoming a citizen of japan since my family is moving there… am i given a new japanese surname? how does that work? btw my name on this account is fake completely

  • 神優 勝者

    Japanese people couldn’t pronounce my name (a rare French version of a common name), so one day a few years back, a bunch of them decided to give me a Japanese name, which was a translation of my real name (both first and last), and is actually legal/real.

    This is the name I use when communicating with Japanese people, and it doesn’t cause a problem. Three people decided to use my real name because they could pronounce it (or thought they could), but the rest prefer using my Japanese name.

    Would you still consider this to be wrong? (Also, G+ reversed it on this site. Surname is 勝者/まさひと)

  • Amy

    Just the kind of article I was looking for.. Hopefully I can get some advice!
    I’m learning Japanese at university, and I’ve been talking to some Japanese people.. They’ve told me of friends they have with the name ‘Amy’, but as a Japanese name written in Kanji.
    The suggestions I’ve been given are;
    詠美
    瑛美

    Anyone’s thoughts would be appreciated!

  • Zlarp

    My surname’s etymology literally goes “tree” plus “meadow”, which translates nicely to 木原 :)

  • http://twitter.com/DiscordantFlesh Silent Agony

    “Corpse foster child” AWESOME! Sounds like the name of a death metal band!

  • http://twitter.com/hituiuc 四郎

    This is a really old post so I don’t know if my question will be answered, but anyway:

    What if you have an an American first name but a Chinese last name? For instance, someone like Henry Sy. His given name is American, but his last name in Chinese is 施. Is it okay to mix Katakana and Hiragana?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000197577056 Daniel Moreno

    At least you end up with the same amount of syllables. Daniel(2 syllables) goes to ダニエル(danieru[4 syllables]).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000197577056 Daniel Moreno

    Like in English separated by a dot. English is a compulsory class and Japanese are taught very early how to write their names like an English speaking person, so by and large they tend to expect it of us.

  • Toyotama

    In all honestly, I have no idea how my name should be written in Japanese…. My first name is fairly easy – it’s be written as ロシーン (It’s Roisin, pronounced Ro-sheen)

    I have no clues as to how to write my surname, McLaughlin. It’s pronounced like Mick-Loch-Lin (The ‘laugh’ part’s actually pronounced like the word ‘loch’ , with a gutteral ‘ch’) – I don’t know how to write this properly…

    I know this wasposted up a while ago, but is there any chance someone could let me know? ^^;

  • Ami Okoruen

    Hi. My name is Ami. I had a Japanese person at my house and they said I can write my name like this 亜美, is this kanji? (o^^o)
    Apparently Ami is a Japanese name too?

  • walker

    i have only a basic knowledge of writing kana, but i’ve been told i have a good ear for japanese sounds, so here goes, in romaji: makurokkurin. or maybe mukurokkurin. really not sure about the “ma” vs “mu,” but i think either will work better than “mi,” despite your spelling, because it sounds closer to my understanding of scottish and irish pronunciation. if you do pronounce it with a stronger “mi”, please forgive my presumption.

    if you need it for official documents, i recommend getting a more authoritative version written by a native speaker. apparently they’re pretty strict on that sort of thing.

  • Toyotama

    My attempt at writing it phonetically was pretty much based on how i *think* it might be pronounced in a differt (read: ((stereo))typical US accent)… since even though I’m scottish, I think sometimes I still pronouce it a little oddly… makurokkurin sounds more accurate than using ‘mu’ anyway.
    So, thanks for the suggestion :) It sounds a lot closer that the attempts I was making at it.
    (Also, it’s not for official doccuments or anything, it’s more that I was wondering how I’d write it for introduion myself… mostly online, or when I’m just practicing vocab etc. I’ll keep you sggestion in mind though~)

  • N. Butler

    Here’s a cool site that has some clothes with English names in Kanji— kanji-wear.com

  • Dominic

    >Writing your name in kanji is trying to make your name into something it isn’t.

    In the context of someone who is a long term residence of Japan, why is this a bad thing? Names change all the time throughout history. One’s surname only came into being due to one individualistic person long ago making it up or adapting it from something else. If you’re going to butcher the pronunciation of one’s name by mashing it into a katakana transliteration I see no problem with using a more aesthetically pleasing kanji version provided it’s chosen with some sense.

    Okay, names like 有道出人 can seem a bit DQN, but it’s not my place to judge.

  • Jeff Doyle

    I studied Japanese in university and was taught that non-Japanese names were written always in katakana, which after visiting Japan, seems incorrect. Sometimes they are written in hiragana, probably because it is more aesthetically appealing

  • J

    “The other problem is that pretty much every kanji has multiple readings, so somebody might look at your name and either have no idea how to pronounce it, or they’ll pronounce it differently than you intended.”

    You make it sound like this a problem specific to foreigners trying to write their name in kanji, but it pertains to native Japanese too. It’s kind of a fact of life, it’s hard to assume you know the reading of someone’s name before you can actually ask them. So… I don’t really see why this should deter someone from using kanji if they’re aware of that factor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lava.princeton Lava Yuki

    My name in japanese is pronounced as ラワ. So i asked my japanese teacher nd a few friends for kanji suggestions and decided on 蘭和. The meaning is gud, and its easy to read so i dnt see the problem in writing names in Kanji

  • Jaden

    侍影殿

    I like it. Makes me feel like a badass. XD

  • LOLLY

    hi my name is lolly :”3 i want to know how to write my name in Japanese? i couldn’t find the right way to write it ;c help!

  • 八雲

    やくも < 八雲

  • MavsWorld

    My wife is Japanese, but prefers to write her name in hiragana, she says it looks cuter than the kanji version. She also said that when her mother was a child it was common for people to write their names in hiragana instead of kanji, (I’m guessing due to education levels).

    I think if you take a kanji names, it might seem a bit weird to Japanese people if you are a westerner, though being a westerner I could be wrong. I’m just going from experiences I’ve had with similar things.

  • Ray

    Could I suggest りりあ, there is an AV star called 川島りりあ who is hot :)

  • ELM

    What about name stamps? I hear it’s impossible to buy anything from online or do bank transactions without them. What does a foreigner, living in Japan, who has to write their names in Katakana do? Is it even possible to have a name stamp in Katakana?

  • Junko Beatrice

    Well, my parents are Japanese and Italian. I’m Canadian.
    So I have a Japanese name and an Italian name. I go to Japan often since I have a lot of family there.

    So I guess I could make a Kanji for my name, since it’s of Japanese origin, if I really wanted too but…

    I like my middle name better, so when I’m in Japan, I use it. Shortened to ビーチェ usually though, because ベアトリーチェ is really just too long for a name in Japan. Besides, I’m a foreigner there, so I would rather have a foreign name, if that makes sense?

    In Canada it’s easier just to use Junko, though. Less foreign sounding.

  • Smoshsdisturbing

    I say yes to kanji being correct, because it’s just being plain copycat-ish no matter WHAT your continent origin is!!! -.- :P
    Sooorrry!!! =P

  • Anthony

    I think my name looks cool in katakana, アンソニー, but in kanji it’s either nonsensical or a string of seemingly sage-like adjectives. If I were to adopt a Japanese name, then it’d probably be 直木 since I’m fond of the sound and like the fact that it has a simple meaning which, at the same time, seems to capture who I am in a metaphorical sense. My last name is just bad all around. In katakana, it’s バノバー and in kanji it just gets really ridiculous: “Ten thousand peace old woman”, what? I’d happily receive a new surname through marriage if I move to Japan, lol.

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/ Robert Madewell

    I’d totally own that name!

  • 1237

    What’s the Kanji for the name ‘Ben’ or ‘Benny’ and what’s the meaning ? :D

  • SRIJAN GHOSH

    how do you write SRIJAN GHOSH IN JAPANESE KANJI

  • Mia Cooper

    what about my name, Mia? I seem to find that its pretty much the same in a lot of languges

  • Jose

    I think some names can be translated in to kanji like: “Jose” Phonetically it will be “Hou-Sei”/”Hou-Se” in Romaji, “ホウセイ” in Katakana, “宝世” in Kanji which means individually “treasure” and “world” respectively which equals “world treasure”? LOL “You are a mighty king who holds the treasure of the world in his hands,” is what some say it would mean.

  • 宗喜

    I am Chinese, what about pronouncing my Chinese name in Kanji pronunciation?