Hello! My name is Mami. I am from Japan, but recently moved to Canada. Having experience with foreign people in Japan, as well as being in a foreign place (♬ Ohhh Canada ♪), one thing I have noticed is the difficulty that there is with people’s names. I wanted to share my experiences with you on this topic, because I think it’s important for everyone to think about (or at least humorous, in some cases, eh!?).

The Importance Of Names

A name is a very important element of how people identify with a person. Many celebrities’ names become a kind of symbol for that person. What do you think about when you hear the name Brad Pitt? Just think about it for a moment… Now, what would you think if I told you that Brad Pitt’s real name is Carol Christmas?

brad pitt christmas sweater
Merry Christmas, Carol

I’m sure you’d be surprised, because that’s not his real name (did I get you?). His actual real name is William Bradley Pitt, but he wouldn’t be nearly as cool with a name like Carol Christmas. Now compare this to Brad Pitt. Obviously, the coolest of them all is this one. This is how important a name is for someone’s image.

Let’s look at a couple more examples. Do any of you know who “Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra” or “Thomas Cruise Mapother IV” are? Maybe you can figure out the latter? The first person, Margaret Mary Emily Anne is actually Meg Ryan. Thomas Cruise Mapother IV is, and you probably guessed, Tom Cruise. Mapother is spelt M-A-P-O-T-H-E-R but it is pronounced “May bother,” with a “B.” That’s strike one in the action movie star new-name handbook right there, so he removed that part. He also shortened Thomas to Tom, just like Ryan shortened Margaret to Meg. With these shorter versions of their names it became easier for people to remember who they were.

Some people’s names don’t originate from English and can, sometimes, sound strange to English speakers. Though the pronunciation doesn’t change, what a name means in one country is not what the same name could mean in another country. For example, Lea Michele, who became famous with her role in the TV show Glee, changed her name from Lea Michele Sarfati to the shorter version: Lea Michele. It is a Jewish name that, oddly enough, means “French,” but Lea was made fun of as a child because her classmates called her “So-fatty” or “So-farty.”

Anyways, my point is: names are very important, both to the people who have the name and to the people who have to remember the name. This is especially so for Japanese, I think.

The Difficulty Non-Japanese People Have With Japanese Names


My name “Mami” (pronounced mommy) is a good example of this. Mami is quite a common name in Japan and mostly means “true beauty” or “true”, but in English, it just sounds like mother. Therefore, I always feel embarrassed when I introduce myself, because I have to say, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Mami.” It’s pretty strange, isn’t it? “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Mother. Say my name.” Even my teachers and my bosses have to call me Mommy!

There was a famous Japanese actor, whose name was, Yuusaku Matsuda (pronounced like “You suck” Matsuda). The name Yuusaku means “superb job” in Japan, but in English speaking places it means something very different. So sometimes, celebrities have to change their names if they want to perform in countries with other languages.


Once you remember the Japanese five basic vowel pronunciations, it’s not really hard for non-Japanese people to catch or pronounce Japanese people’s names. Yet, like above, they just sometimes sound so silly or very confusing. There are other problems, though, that don’t even arise from incorrect pronunciation.

One such case was back in 2008 when author/translator Hiroko Yoda tried to register for Facebook. Turns out, she wasn’t allowed to join, because her last name (a fairly common Japanese last name, btw) was Yoda, the popular Star Wars character. They were blocking her because of her name! Of course, no American has the name Yoda (well, I’m sure there were a few poor kids, actually).

Confusion with Japanese names doesn’t only happen with non-Japanese people. Japanese people will get confused by Japanese names as well! So, you can feel a little bit better. In Japan, we don’t really use “あなた (anata)” meaning ‘you’ in conversations. Instead, you have to use their names like “abc-san”, “def-kun”, “ghi-chan”, etc. Therefore, remembering people’s names is the first thing you get used to when you speak Japanese.

However, it’s a little tricky when you have to guess Japanese people’s name from kanji because there are different readings for even just one kanji, and names often have their own weird readings. I assume that many of you guys are probably wondering how Japanese people know how a name kanji’s kanji reads if he/she doesn’t know who the person is yet. Don’t worry! It’s actually difficult for even Japanese people, unless the kanji are usually read in a particular way in a name. That’s why Japanese names in official document usually have “furigana”, which is a Japanese reading aid.

Difficulty For Japanese People With Non-Japanese Names


I also have difficulty catching people’s names because they are not familiar to me at all. So during introductions, if it was the first time I heard that name in English, I usually can’t catch it, even if it’s simple.

For example, even with the common name Michael, which I knew because of Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and other famous people, I had trouble here in Canada when a guy introduced himself to me for the first time.

“Hi, I’m Michael.”

But, I couldn’t catch it well, because Michael is pronounced マイケル (ma-i-ke-ru) in Japanese. Also, he said it so quickly, like “Hi’m’Michael,” so it sounded like one word to me. Because of the difference in pronunciation between the Japanese version and the English version, and also because of the speed at which he said it, I was unable to understand. Perhaps if he said it slowly, “Hi, I’m M~i~ch~ae~l” I’d have gotten it. But, because it’s such a common name in North America, people named Michael don’t usually introduce themselves that slowly.

Hey, Michael

However, it seems that this is not only my problem but others’ as well. I searched “外国人の名前” (foreigners’ names) 聞き取りにくい (hard to catch)” in Google, and approximately 275,000 results came up. In the results, I found a blog called “ハーフを考えよう” which literally means “let’s think about a half.” You might have known already, but “a half” is used to describe a “mixed race child” in Japan. Instead of saying, for example, “I’m half Japanese and half American,” Japanese people tend to say “I am half.” Anyways, this blog was written by “a half” person (half Japanese and half German) named サンドラ・へフェリン (Sandra Heafelin), and she said that her name was always misunderstood by Japanese people who heard 田村 (Tamura) instead of Sandra and フェミニン (Feminine) instead of “Heafelin.” Tamura is a very common name in Japan, by the way.

She also had a friend named Müller(ミュラー)and they went out ot dinner one day. Müller had made a reservation, but when they arrived at the restaurant, a server told them that they didn’t have a reservation for them. However, just a moment later, they found a reservation card saying “reserved 三浦様 (Miura-sama), 6 people.” The server mixed up Müller and 三浦, which is a very common family name in japan as well.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Since the Japanese language is limited to fewer sounds than many Western language countries, the version of the name in Japanese is quite different from the one that’s from somewhere else. Even names as simple as John can be confusing. For example, in English, John is just John, right? But, pronounced in Japanese, John sounds more like “Joan” because it is written as ジョン (jyon), but in English you pronounce it like the Japanese “jan” or じゃん sound. So Joan is John and there are probably a lot of ladies named “John” out there, at least when it comes to the pronunciation in Japanese.


Outside of common names, which do have set Japanese versions, there are also less common names that don’t have any really decided way to say them. Due to how Japanese works, this could mean that there is multiple ways to pronounce a foreign name. This can get confusing for both the person with the foreign name and for the people trying to say it. Miller isn’t “Miller,” it’s ミラー (mi-raa). Smith isn’t “Smith,” it’s スミス (su-mi-su). Bluth isn’t “Bluth,” it’s ブルス (bu-ru-su). To say the least, it isn’t always easy to make that jump.

What’s Your Name?


There is so much to be said about names. I think if you’ve spent some time in Japan and you have a non-Japanese name, you’ll have a story or two to tell (go ahead and tell us in the comments!).

For me, I have an interesting story about my name too. When I came to Canada for the first time, I had difficulty getting a job or even an interview. Then, I encountered an article about foreign names, which could possibly prevent someone from getting hired! I got a hint from the article and decided to put an English name on my resumé. I’d taken a while to decide my name, but ended up choosing “Anna.” I thought it was a cute name and easy to remember, because of the famous Japanese Airline ANA (which is pronounced the same way). It actually seemed to work, too, as I got a phone call right after handing out the “Anna” resumés. However, when I went to do the interview, I totally forgot what my made up name was! The interviewer said, “Hi, I’m ABC, and you are…?” I was like “Hi, I’m… well… uhmmmm… (made a really nice smile?).” Other than the horrible introduction I thought the interview went well. That being said, I didn’t get a callback, sadly.


This probably happened because I hadn’t gotten used to English names (and maybe I was a little too nervous). I figured that it’s also difficult to memorize foreign names, even though they sound similar to some random words in your native languages.

I hope you finish this article understanding the difficulty (and humor!) of names between languages, especially Japanese. Since names are so often made up of strange sounds (even for your own language!) you can get fun results, but sometimes it can create difficult or embarrassing situations, too!

  • Zach Walz

    Speaking of Michael, we have a dog named Maiko. Everyone thinks that her name is Michael. And they wonder why our girl dog has a boy’s name. I now spell her name every time I introduce her, so it becomes “This is Maiko. M-A-I-K-O.”

  • Guest

    Hi Zach. Awww she is soooo cute! Yeah, when I first heard the english name Michael, I thought it was M-A-I-K-O for sure. Although now I used to the name, it still actually sounds like ‘Maiko’ to me whenever I hear it. Now I’m wondering if there is anyone actually thought that there are a lot of Michael in Kyoto, Japan, then? :P

  • Mami

    Sorry, that message is mine but I posted it as a visitor. I don’t know how to change it.

  • Caleb

    Interesting article. I’ve always wondered how to pronounce my name in Japanese. Caleb is a Hebrew name and is pronounced KAY-leb normally but I can’t ever exactly figure it out I guess.

  • Mami

    It seems that we pronounce your name ‘ケイレブ ke-i-re-bu’ in Japanese.

  • Tadas

    Hey Mami, first off just wanted to say great post! This was definitely an interesting read, and brought something to light that I rarely think about. I was especially interested in the part where you picked a North-American name for job searching purposes. It’s a brilliant move that makes tons of sense, I would have never thought of something like that. I will be traveling to Japan later this year, and I was actually wondering if my name would give anyone trouble. Now, If things get too difficult, I think I’ll just find a similar sounding Japanese name and go with that! Thanks for the good advice! I hope to see more posts from you in the future :p

  • Mami no Gakusei

    THis article is good, Mami-sensei! :)

  • Tora.Silver

    Really nice post, Mami! I hope we see you writing for Tofugu often. :)

    I have a friend named まり(Mari), and her daughter’s name is のぞみ(Nozomi), but everybody here(in America) just calls her “Nozo”, because Nozomi is too difficult to pronounce. I was sort of amused/confused when I heard this.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Surely Mami sounds like “mammy”, not like “mommy”. And when I hear “mammy” I think of deep south barbershop quartets…

  • Mami

    Hello Tadas! Thank you for your comment and I’m glad that you like my article. I hope you enjoy your Japan trip and hopefully you name won’t give any Japanese trouble. Tadas seems to be pronounced ‘ta-da-su’ in Japanese, by the way.

  • Mami

    Arigatou! wanikani no hito desu ka?

  • Mami

    Arigatou Tora-san! Oh, I didn’t know that Nozomi is very difficult to be pronounced by English speakers, but shortened name would work since it’s often used as a nick name in Japan.

    common nicknames: Ayumi→Ayu, Tomoko→Tomo, Matsumoto→Mattsun, or etc.

  • Mami

    I’m afraid that I don’t know the deep south barbershop quartets….

  • トシ

    Nice article! This matter always amuses me to a level I can’t even explain lol

    I believe my name wouldn’t be a problem in Japan, as here in Brazil we say “Natasha” exactly the way I think japanese would say it… and it’s not a complicated name at all.

  • Sarah Mouradian

    Interestingly enough, my French teacher’s married last name is Mami. Bother her and her husband are originally from Algeria. When you mentioned the “mommy” thing, that reminded me of how people in my school who don’t know her pronounce her name like that with such an obnoxious American accent (of course, not on purpose — they don’t realize how they sound).

  • Mami

    Arigatou! You are right. I believe that the name Natasha is easy to catch or pronounce for Japanese people, too. Do they pronounce Natasha right at 0:58 on this video?:B4th 愛しきナターシャ

  • Choco

    My family is originally from Poland and Polish was my first language, so even though I’ve been in America most of my life and speak English 99% of the time now, I still bust out laughing whenever some poor Scandinavian guy introduces himself as Knut. Knut may be a common Scandinavian name, but it is also a common slang term for poop in Polish…

  • Phillip

    I wouldn’t think it would be hard to say nozomi. Just adding “mi” isn’t hard, those are all sounds in English… gosh, I will never understand some people. :/
    But thank you for the article, and telling us about the shortened nicknames. :)

  • トシ

    Yeah, it’s like that, we just have a slightly different intonation here, as the strongest syllable is the middle one, but it’s basically that.

  • Rachel

    In Japan, my name is pronounced レイチェル(reicheru), and I’ve gotten really used to being called that. A lot of the time when people talk about someone named Rei and use chanzuke, I always hear “rei-chan” as my name though… it gets really confusing haha. Also, Japanese people who try to pronounce my name with an american accent usually say “lei-cher,” which always amuses me :)

  • Mami

    Doitama! (The shortened Douitashimashite) :)

  • Mami

    I see. You won’t get in trouble when you introduce yourself to Japanese people then;P CoOL

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘

    Learning to read Japanese names will be the biggest challenge for me, it seems, as it’s mostly irregular outside of the few commonly used ones. As for my name, I doubt many will have a problem with it. At least I hope that 冷温 isn’t such a common word in Japanese. :P

  • Mami

    What a coincidence! Yeah, I really understand. The same thing happens to me a lot too. As you said, yes, they just don’t realize how they sound as you say because they can pronounce my name ‘Mami’ perfectly while they order ‘Edamame’. ( :D

  • Mami

    Oh no! haha. That’s funny. You know that Japanese people put ‘san’ after people’s name when they call others politely, right? I don’t know why Japanese Disney put ‘san’, but we call Winnie the Pooh ‘Pooh-san’.

  • Mami

    You should introduce yourself like, “はじめまして。私の名前はレイチェルです。レイちゃんって呼んでください。” Then it would work perfect for you!

  • simplyshiny

    Loved the article, Mami-San! Can’t wait to hear more from you! I’ve always wondered how my name (Alexandra, or Allie) would sound in Japanese. My asian studies teacher was Japanese and said it with a bit of an accent, but she had lived here for many years so it wasn’t too bad.

  • Mami

    冷温!!!笑. Nice!
    Which Japanese name is the most difficult fore you to read so far?

  • Mami

    Thank you so much, simplyshiny-san! Your name Alexandra and Allie should be pronounced A-re-ku/ki-sa-n-do-ra and A-ri-i. I tried to find a vide that a Japanese person says your name, but couldn’t find any. Gomen…

  • Name

    My name, Jordan (ジョーダン) is pronounced exactly the same as 冗談 (joke). So if I say 冗談じゃねーよ, am I lying?

    Thank God for Michael Jordan. If I can tell someone isn’t catching my name, bringing up Michael Jordan inevitably leads to an”Aha!” moment.

  • azumi

    It’s only common in Silesia, because it’s in silesian dialect. Personally, I’ve never heard it before.

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘


    There isn’t really any special one. Any name that contains kanji with unusual readings (none of their on or kun’yomi) is unreadable to me. I guess we all have to settle with brute forcing it into our memories. :P

  • Mami

    Ahaha, good point. Some Japanese sometimes say「ジョーダンはマイケルだけにしてよ」meaning ‘Don’t be kidding’.

  • Being546

    My last name, Failla, which is pronounced Fai-yell-la, would sound closer to Fire than its intended pronunciation. Since in Japan its impolite to use first name basis with someone you don’t know, I feel bad for the Japanese people trying to say my name. Although most Americans don’t pronounce my name right in the first place anyways so i guess i would get used to it.

  • Mami

    I write peoples’ names down if I get chance. That usually helps for me to memorize their names.

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘

    I sure will when my priority switches to names. Right now, kanji and vocab take precedence. :)

  • Alexandrea Owens

    I had the same question too since my name is Alexandrea/Allie I wonder if Alexandrea would still be pronounced as if it’s just Alexandra….

  • Stella

    A lot of even native English speakers have trouble with my name. I’m technically not allowed to say it online, but it’s an Italian feminine form of Alexander. I’ve been called Alice, Ally, Alexandra, and the worst: Alle-SAN-dra (Like “sand”). As I got older and tired of trying to explain how to pronounce it, I started using my full name less and less. These days I go by Alex, or on the internet, Stella. Sadly, my doctor since I was a baby stil calls me Alexandra.

  • Mami

    ‘Precedence’….it seems to be today’s my new vocab.

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘

    Glad to have helped you stumble upon/learn a new word. XD

  • AKNG

    I find it a little funny that the pronunciation of your name is likened with the English word “Mommy” only because I used to talk to a girl from Japan named Miho (which is “son” in Spanish). Thankfully she allowed me to call her Micchan pretty early on because calling her “son” all the time was odd for me.

    I’m curious to know, how would my name be pronounced in Japanese? It’s Angelique. I know how it’s pronounced in Chinese because a couple of my teachers were Chinese and one wrote it out in Mandarin for me (they always pronounced it something like “An-Jie-Lii”), but I’m curious to how I would say it in Japanese.

  • Mami

    Yeah, I couldn’t guess that it was pronounced “Fai-yell-la” by your spelling either. Hmmm…are you in Japan now? Since ‘fire’ is a common English word for Japanese people, they might get your name very quickly if you tell them: “My name is Fire+la” and just say it quickly.”

  • Mami

    Oh, have you tried to explain your doctor the pronunciation of your name? That’s too bad:(
    I was sometimes called mama and the worst: Money! haha

  • アナ

    Fun article!! My family name sounds like “くん”, and my first name is アナ so when I introduce myself in English, it sounds like I’m saying “アナくん” (indicating that I think of myself as a young boy, naturally). When I lived with 24 Japanese students as a resident assistant, and I would formally introduce myself over the phone to maintenance guys or to my students’ teachers…and my students would all look at me like I was crazy. When I introduce myself in Japanese, people are just confused. I have an incredibly funny name I guess! My closest friends have been calling me アナくん for as long as I can remember.

  • Rachel

    I’ve tried that before, but everyone tells me that I don’t seem like a レイちゃん so it doesn’t ever stick haha~

  • Mami

    Oh, I didn’t know what Miho means son in spanish. It seems that your name is pronounced a-n-je-ri-kku in Japanese!

  • Mami

    Whoa! You have a great name. That’s very interesting. I know some of my Korean friends whose family name is 張, which is pronounced ‘chan’. I called one of them ‘Chan-Kun’.

  • ZA다ルﻣ

    my name is hard for almost everyone… it comes from arabic, but it’s pronounced differently in urdu, the language of my parents. so i give people my urdu-ized name, and my abbreviated nickname if they’re american/can’t pronounce my name if their life depended on it.

    my name actually fits quite well into japanese, fortunately! but since i haven’t met many japanese people, i don’t know how well they’ll recognize what i’m trying to say.

    kudos to anyone who can guess what it is. here’s a start: this screen name here is a sort of backwards anagram-type thing. or maybe it’s forwards? it depends on where in the world you come from, i guess. (^_-)-☆

  • Phillip


  • Tokyo_Ben

    When I was teaching at a Jr. High, the kids had all kinds of ways to mispronounce my last name. Officially, the kana is ニコルス, but they often called me ニコラス(ケージ)or ニコロス(殺す). Yeah, both quite negative associations.

  • Mami

    You don’t seem like れいちゃん?! lol Alright haha.

  • Mami

    haha Arigatou. Ask me if you still remember the word precedence someday, plz! ;P

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘

    If the opportunity arises, sure will. XD

  • Mami

    > it depends on where in the world you come from, i guess. (^_-)-☆
    I agree.

    >a sort of backwards anagram-type thing

  • Mami

    Ohm that’s too bad…I think we use to ニコラス・ケイジ too much…:( I’ve never heard of ニコロス though.

  • Mami


  • Jonathan Harston

    Oh, Mammy
    How I love ya, how I love ya,
    Dear old Mammy!

    I’d give the world if I could be
    sitting on my Mammy’s knee
    With the folks down in Alabamee
    With my dear old Mammy

  • Hannah Whittingham

    I think I’m very fortunate to have the name “Hannah”. ハナ

    Since it’s one of those names that many countries all over the world already have and use.

    So no matter where I go, I shouldn’t run into many misunderstandings with my name. :]

    But unfortunately I have a really long last name that is often misspelled and mispronounced. xD Argh!

    Haha, I actually didn’t fully learn how to spell my last name till I was 10 years old! T-T;

    It also took me a while to figure out how to best pronounce it in Japanese.

    Whittingham (wit-ting-ham) = ウィティンハム

  • Mami

    Thank you for writing the lyric for me!
    I’m glad that you didn’t say Mami sounds more like mummy.

  • Mami


  • Mami

    Hannah is a nice name♪
    Wow your last name is quite long, isn’t it? I’d probably spell your name ‘ウィッティンハム’ with small ツ. :D

  • Brigette

    I have a long name in English but its quite common, although not common enough that many japanese people would come across, Brigette. In katakana however, it becomes so long (ブリジェット), that japanese people that I meet almost automatically shorten it to ブリ. My host sister said it’s because my name is too lon and hard other wise but her name is shizuka spelt with this kanji 靜

  • ZA다ルﻣ

    good try…but you forgot about the letter meem! (( ﻣ ))
    aaaand that’s カタカナの「 ル 」と韓国語の「 다 」。
    okay, now i’ve said too much! i don’t think i actually want anyone to guess correctly…

  • Mariana

    Miho sounds like mi hijo, which means my son. x)

  • Vague

    Very nice article, Mami. :) Makes me think about how horrible it’d be, if a Japanese person had to pronounce my name. My name contains a sort of “dl” sound, followed immediately by an “ur” sound, so it’s pretty much impossible to…katakana-ize (?).

  • Mariana

    I’m from Portugal, and even people from here have trouble understanding my last name (Sendim).

    Everytime someone asks me, I have to repeat it like five times, and spell it out.

    I recently spoke to my Japanese teacher to ask for help with how I should write my whole name in Japanese. It is:


  • linguarum

    Further adding to the confusion, Jordan (as in Michael Jordan) is ジョーダン, although Jordan (as in the river or the country) is ヨルダン.

    It’s funny how some people will insist that there’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to convert English names to Japanese, as if the rules were predetermined in heaven and delivered to the Buddha on golden plates. Take “John.” Some people will insist that it’s to be written ジョン in Japanese. But since there is a “jah” sound in Japanese, I would say that ジャン actually comes closer to the original, native pronunciation. Still, some people will insist that anything other than ジョン is wrong. Even when it’s your own name, your opinion about how it should be written or pronounced doesn’t seem to matter.

    But then the Apostle John is ヨハネ. Go figure. Fact is, everyone is just making up the rules as they go.

  • zoomingjapan

    I’ve never ever had any problem with Japanese names at all.
    I have a lot of students every day and I’ve come across a lot of names, not just the “usual” ones.
    I noticed that my English native speaker co-workers all pronounced the kids’ names in a weird name.
    I guess for English native speakers it’s hard to pronounce Japanese correctly in general.
    I’m German and our sound system is similar to the Japanese one.

    However, I notice that my students struggle a lot with foreign names. Most of the time they don’t even know if it’s a name for a woman or a man.

  • Jinan

    Whenever I introduce myself to anyone I’m pretty much prepared for them to pronounce my name wrong… It’s Jinan, which is an uncommon Arabic name, and I live in America, so most people who I meet say it incorrectly even after I’ve already told them. I don’t think Japanese people would have much of a problem with my name, however, because it’s easy to write in katakana as ジナン and that’s how I’d introduce myself in Japanese. I don’t mind if my name is said that way, though it’s still not correct… I guess I’m stuck like this haha.

  • S

    I haven’t gone to Japan yet, but in my Japanese language class, we have to write our name in katakana (which is natural I guess). Anyway my name is quite long, and when I write it in Katakana it becomes even longer! My four-syllable surname is 7 1/2 katakana, and my one-syllable nickname is three.

    Speaking of my nickname (Sabs/サブス), I plan not to use it when I do go to Japan. People might end up calling me busu, and I don’t want that haha. But it’s going to be an adjustment because no one ever calls me Isabel. Or I can just go by サブ.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    “def-kun”, you say…

  • Lord Fawful

    its going to be interesting to try to pronounce my last name when I go to Japan… (long time)

  • Quazza

    My last name is “Pero” in English or ペロ in japanese, which as you probably know sounds like ペロキャン(lollipop) or the onomatopoeia for licking. I’m just worried when i go over there, people will laugh and call me ぺろぺろさん or something like that

  • Francis A.

    What a fun read! Names are definitely hard for both parties to pronounce as both every language has their own limitations. Its quite humorous as names both (Japanese and non-Japanese) gets butchered but I’m sure its part of the fun of enjoying other people’s language.

  • Mami

    I c! Onaka suita (I’m hungry in Japanese) sounds like a tiny little thing in Spanish I heard before.

  • Mami

    Okay, then I will stop reading into your name:P

  • Mami

    I don’t think that your name is that long, but we sometimes call Britney Spears herブリちゃん too.
    Yet, “Bridget Jones’s Diary! ” is ブリジット・ジョーンズの日記 in Japanese.

  • Mami

    Hi Vague-san! Thank you for your comment! Oh ‘dl’ and ‘ur’ sounds….Uhg! (>o<)

  • Mami

    Do you think that the katakana sound is pretty close to your real name pronunciation? (^v^)

  • Mami

    Yeah, it takes a while to get used to foreign names. I’d say not only peoples’ names but also names on map. Once I worked at a restaurant and had to pick up phone calls for delivery. I had so much difficulty catching right name…almost always had to ask the spelling of the place. :(

  • Mami

    ジナン…so this katakanized name doesn’t sound correct???

    The word 次男(jinan) means the second brother in Japanese too.

  • Mami no Gakusei

    Hai, wanikani de anata no gakusei desuyo. Ohayou, Mami-sensei! ^^

  • Tracey

    Interesting article Mami! I don’t have much of a problem getting Japanese names anymore (probably because I’m so used to them now), but I wonder how people with Chinese names go about introducing themselves in Japanese. I generally don’t go by my Chinese name, so I introduce myself using my English name, トレーシー. But, just as an example, my name in Chinese is 何玉婷, where 何 is a perfectly normal last name in Chinese, but it would be quite an odd one in Japanese! Also, I’m quite sure my third character 婷, is not used very often at all in modern Japanese either.

    I wonder if I would force a reading of my name on my meishi? That is, would I give 何玉婷 the furigana へ・ユティン? (Even though there is no sound in Japanese that can approximate how my last name is pronounced in Chinese very well, and it can’t take into account the tones of the language…!)

    Does anyone have any experience with this problem?

    Oh, I guess I have one more comment… With my name “Tracey”, I prefer to write it in katakana as トレーシー as I did above, but I noticed that some Japanese people have a tendency to write it as トレイシー. Is there a reason for this? Perhaps to say that the レand イ should be pronounced separately? I can’t really hear much of a difference myself :P

  • Mariana

    Yes. :)
    But, maybe, I should change the ム to ン

  • K~

    My name is Katja and I still don’t know how to correctly write it in Japanese. It isn’t even a common name in English speaking countries, that’s why I’m pretty sure a lot of people don’t know how to pronounce it. :)

  • André

    I’m ハーフ and my japanese family name is 三好 (Miyoshi). Here in Brazil, noodles are usually called “Miojo”. It has been happening since forever, I introduce myself and people say: “what? your last name is noodles (miojo)?” wtf people. Also, I always have to spell my last name since they can’t write it properly. I’ve seen “mioxe”, “myoshe”, “mioxi”, “meoxi” and so on.

  • Ankotaro

    Oh wow, I’d never thought about names being mistranscribed/misheard in Japan like that. For some reason, I’d only ever thought of names being mispronounced. Totally makes sense though, and I probably should have made the connection before now given that telemarketers call me in Spanish all the time because they think my last name “Sera” (世羅) is really just an odd spelling of “Serra” xD

  • Jasmin Rodriguez

    Nice article Mami! :D I hope to see you write more! My name is Jasmin and in Japanese it is pronounced as ジャスミン and it actually sounds closer to the way my family says it than the way it is normally said in the United States (Jazz-min)! But I don’t think my last name (Rodriguez) would be easy to pronounce in Japanese :/ Also would it be easier for Japanese people to remember Jasmin (my middle name) or Nora (my first name)?

    And in Spanish, mommy is spelled as Mami!

  • Mami

    Yeah, サブ is a common name in Japan…but guys. Yet, if you don’t mind, you can go with サブ or サブさん…I think サブさん sounds similar to サブス.

  • Mami

    Oh yeah? How do they pronounce your last name usually?

  • Mami

    Arigatou Francis. Yes, it’s part of the fun:D I agree!

  • Mami

    It seems that we write your name ‘カーチャ ka-a-cha’ in Japanese.

  • Mami

    I really understand your situation:( I hope you like your name though. :)
    When I introduce myself in English, now I spell for them from the first. ‘I’m Mami. M-A-M-I.’

  • Mami

    Oh, your real last name is “Sera” (世羅)?? And you have kanjis for it??:) Sorry if I misunderstood.

  • Mami

    Wow, it’s spelled perfectly Mami? jajajajaja
    Rodriguez would be difficult, for sure…ロドリゲス??

  • Mami

    Good point. Now there are breaking-name-rules in Japan called キラキラネーム(kirakira-name) and most people don’t like that, though there shouldn’t be any rule for giving names either.

  • Mami

    Did you make this manga??:)

  • Mami

    Ah, it’s a cute name though, I’m afraid that some people might call you ‘ぺろぺろさん’ or something like that…:( Yet, my advice is do not be upset. I like how my name can make people laugh, because they remember me right away. Stay positive!

  • Mami

    謝々, 玉婷!
    I don’t think that there is any specific reason, but トレーシー is technically pronounced to-re-e-shi-i and トレイシー is to-re-i-shi-i. I assume that the latter is closer to English sound, but it’s just preference.

    and Yeah, I bet that Japanese people would appreciate the furigana for your name!

  • Mami

    I see. (^^)

  • Mami

    Ohayou! Moshikashite, konaida ‘Oyasumi’ tte wanikani de itte kureta?? :P

  • Ankotaro

    Nope, you got it. 四世です。

    Actually, no one knew how to write all of it when I asked my grandma a few months ago (though she did keep saying that the 家紋 looked like a bunch of mochi) so we went digging around my grandma’s house until we found the wood block that she’d had our name painted on a long time ago.

  • Steve

    Technically, I can pronounce my wife’s name, Anna – but it is really, really hard for me to do so with my American pronunciation. I very rarely say it correctly – and even when I know for a fact I am saying it correctly, my wife insists I’m not (I totally am).

    On the flip side, my wife absolutely cannot pronounce my name at all – Steven. Intellectually, she knows how it should sound – she even knows exactly what she’s doing wrong in pronouncing it. But it is beyond her. She doesn’t speak much English beyond “I need this” and “It’s cancer.”

    Has anyone in the comments mentioned the name “Yudai” yet? I mean, “Mami” is an obviously difficult name to have in the English-speaking world, but “Yudai”? A “Yudai” registered at my school, and my boss took one look at his name and said, “Steve, find this boy a new name.”

    Something else I don’t know if you mentioned is that Japanese people (in Shikoku, at least) ALWAYS mumble their names. It’s weird, because almost everyone I talk to will speak slowly and clearly and then tear through their names. Like, “Hi…my…name…is…Ydaitkahshi” And I’m like, “What?”

    And of course, they panic, and are like, “Mai neimu izu…” And I’m just like, “No, show me your name in kanji. That will be easier.”

  • Steve

    I recently had a student named “政平” who explained that her name is rare and no one can read it. I still don’t know what it is, because her given name was “Sachi” and even in kanji was easy to read, and she told me to just call her that.

    The thing with names is you really just have to learn as many readings for as many kanji as you can, but one day you’ll kind of have a breaking point where you start to understand the names you see. There really are patterns,and it is easier than people make it out to be.

  • Steve

    Japanese names aren’t as hard as they seem. There are patterns to them, and you start to recognize them. With given names, though, people start to use alternate readings that go well into the realm of unreadable, even for Japanese people. There’s no shame in asking for furigana for someone’s given name. There’s a reason all forms – post office, government, electronics store – require furigana for names.

  • Steve

    Nozomi should not be confusing for Americans, and if it is, the people your friend associates with are straight-up stupid. Japanese names are not that hard once you put them in Latin script.

    Seriously. You have to be a complete moron to be unable to read a Japanese name in English.

  • Mami

    I see. That’s pretty cool that you found how to write your family name! Now I want to see your 家紋 looking like a bunch of mochi. haha

  • duncan

    I’ve always been taught to write and say my surname as マリー. I haven’t had any problems with it before, but I often wonder if Japanese people will mistake it for “Marie” – maybe a bit confusing since I’m a guy!

  • Yuuichi

    I actually decided to change my name when speaking to my JP friends and switch back with my UHMurican friends :u

    So one day, i ran into some of my meerrican friends with my JP buddies and things got wierd when i introduced them to eachother.

    Murrican Friend 1: Hey Lyon, whats up

    Me: Hey whats up, this is TOMODACHI 9001, TOMODACHI 9002, TOMODACHI 9999999999.

    JP Frendo 1: Hi, my name is Kento, how are you?

    Murrican Friend 2: IM DOING GREEAT! These your friends Lyon?

    JP Frendo 3: Lyon? I thought his name was Yuuichi?

    The end result

    Both my JP friends and my american friends call my Yuuichi xD

  • Yuuichi

    What is this monstrocity of an avatar! ಠ_ಠ

  • Leliel

    I’m really lucky with my name, it’s just アダム, so I’m sure that’s easy enough! And my last name doesn’t appear to mean anything in Japanese either. It’s Nelan, an uncommon last name. I tend to write it as ニーラン in katakana.

  • Leliel

    Although, I have had a few problems in English where some people have thought my last name is “Melon”, which would make me A. Melon :P

  • Ankotaro

    Haha well, I was totally nonplussed by that at first but then my mom chimed in that she just remembered it looking like the 鏡餅. For some reason this computed, and I pulled up the 紋 for the 毛利 clan (which I totally did not learn from a video game >.>) and asked if it looked something like that. Both of them were all like, “Meh, close but not quite. Think the bar thingy was on the bottom.”

    So I figure it probably looks like #54 on this picture here:

  • レオン ˘( O ¸o)/˘

    I’ll start by memorizing readings, though I’m looking forward to that breakthrough. XD

  • Tanya

    My name Tanya ends in ニャ. Does it sound like I’m trying to be cute?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    No, I just swiped it from the Internets. I also didn’t make Def Leppard, but I guess that goes without saying.

  • Stealth

    My name is unusual, it’s Stealth it is super awesome but the constant “no, it is my real name” and “no not Steph, Stealth” is annoying. When speaking to Japanese people however I’ve never had a problem. Facebook refused to accept my name too…

  • Amélie

    Really interesting article Mami!
    I guess that in my case, it’s going to be pretty easy with my name… アメリ
    When I took a japanese class, my teacher told me that it was well known know because of the movie Amélie Poulin!

  • Fun Side of the Left

    Prob has to do with the fact that John the Apostle was introduced by the Portuguese, and well, pretty much every other instance of the name John, or Jesus, or any name of that group that begins with a J (that I know of, at least) is either pronounce either as a ‘y’ sound, or a transition between vowel i, and say e, a ‘y’ sound occurring in the transition between the sounds. Remember how in Indiana Jones: Last Crusade, how Jesus is spelled with an ‘i’ (fun fact for you: the letter ‘j’ is derived from the Latin ‘i’, which used to pull double duty pre medieval Latin as a noun and a consonant, ‘j’ just took over consonant duty), well its actually closer to the actual Hebrew, which was probably something like Yeshua (there was actually a recent History Channel special recently that referred to Jesus as Yeshua, unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the special).

    Actually, English is weird because, my understanding that is, these names were originally like the German equivalents, like Jan (pronounced Yan), but were reintroduced in a new form when the French took up holdings in Britain. Now how it went from Y to J (English J), I don’t quite know. My speculation was that in French, at least modern French, so it could’ve been different, especially since the time of the French conquest, French was very much less standardized (indeed, the conquerers of Britian were Norman French, descendants of Norsemen who settled in northern France, and they themselves might have had already been using pronunciations more akin to modern English) so I could be very wrong. So, on with the theory: The (modern) French pronunciation of John is with J more like the sound represented by ‘s’ in treasure. But see, what the modern English J represents is actually a composite sound: the letter ‘d’ + the sound of s in treasure (lets call this ‘zh’). In fact, the sound byte of French I looked up to confirm this French pronunciation seems to have a bit of a weak initial ‘d’ itself. Now, I don’t know of any words that start with ‘zh’ in modern English, so operating under the assumption that in whatever time the French rendition of John was taken into English, that the sound was very rarely used to begin words, so tacking on that initial d to make ‘zh’ into the modern English ‘j’ would’ve probably been a very natural choice for importing the French rendition of the name. Now, where the bloody hell the French ‘j’ came from will have to be saved for tomorrow. Class Dismissed.

  • Christopher Stilson

    I have five or six Japanese names that I would like to give to my second child if it’s a girl (just because I like the sound of them, as any possible Asian ancestry on either side of our family goes back at least as far as the Bering land bridge), but am hesitant to actually put any of them into practice not because it would be odd for a white Canadian girl to have a name like ‘Sakura’ or ‘Kaede’ (this is a country in which people can get away with naming their daughters ‘January’ when they’re born in April and nobody tells them that’s a terrible idea), but because all her peers and teachers would either put the emphasis on the wrong syllable (sa-KOO-ra) or assume that it was a weird spelling of whatever common name it most resembles (Katy). Which isn’t exactly fair to the kid. Even a simple one like ‘Rei’ would be problematic enough that my wife insists that we can only use it as a middle name, and only if it’s spelled ‘Raye’ (and while I have no particular difficulty in naming a child after Sailor Mars, I’d rather not use that version).

    Then again, it always seems odd to me that most Americans and Canadians wouldn’t look askance at a mostly-British child named Lola, Dorota, Yasmine or Rani, but would balk at a Megumi, Jinghua, Anh or Yoona, as if all non-Indian Asian names were somehow off limits (I know it’s a different language tree, but still…). Especially since these days Western names are less reflective of cultural or family heritage and more indicative of what the parents like the sound of, that sort of hang-up seems completely arbitrary.

  • Mami

    I see:)

  • ミシェル

    Very nice article, Mami! I always go by Michelle ミシェルwhen studying Japanese. My first name is Divine but I’m not sure how to write it in katakana nor do I know how Japanese people would pronounce it.

  • K :)

    So cool! I’m Korean American (yet I’m learning Japanese). Personally, making a name is a good idea if a language can’t make certain sounds easily, or something similar.
    Romanization also makes things weird.

    For Japanese learners, you have Romaji, but Korean has three official ways of Romanization (and many other unofficial ones).

    My name is Park Sung Chul, Baek Sung Jool, or maybe even Pak Sung Chuol.

    It’s very complicated.

    Most people go with the Romanization they are born with (Korea constantly changes them through the years).

    For me, that is Park Sung Chul.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know hangul or Sino Korean.

    How would I say my Korean name, or should I use my Western one?


  • linguarum

    That’s true – but I think it was Jehovah in the Last Crusade, not Jesus.

    But your point about /ie/ >> /i/ >> /j/ remains the same with Jehovah – another “J” word. You can kind of understand how a “y” sound can become “j” – if you make a “y” sound but close your mouth a little too far, your tongue touches the roof of your mouth, producing a “j.” You can actually see this consonant pronunciation in the process of transition in modern Spanish. Some Spanish speakers will pronounce the word “ya” as “ya,” others pronounce it “ja.” Some interchange the sounds freely without even realizing it.

    But we digress. Point is, you should be able to say how your own name should be pronounced in a foreign language, especially since the rules are far from standardized. It’s so funny when other people tell me how my name is pronounced. “Excuse me? It’s my name. I think that makes me the expert.”

  • linguarum

    Worst names for foreigners in Japan: Gary. (下痢 = diarrhea). Deb. (デブ = ugly). If you have one of those names, I’d definitely plan on changing it before visiting Japan.

  • Mami

    Yea. I understand that most Americans and Canadians balk at those Asian names though. The same things happen to us too. If parents named their kids Western name in Japan, their kids could be said ‘poor kids’. To Japanese, those Western names are count as a sort of ‘Kirakira name/DQN name’, I believe. (
    You can call your daughter Rachel and call her Rei-chan, maybe? When I think about names for my future kids, I found some names that you can use in both English and Japanese. ref: Hanna, Anna, Rei(Rachel), Meg, Maria, Sarah, Marie, Amy, Emily, Mary, Naomi, Erika, Joe, Gorge, Shown, Ricky, Ken, Kent, or blah blah blah…tons of girls name but not many guys names…:(

  • Mami

    Yeah! Actually my home-stay family’s daughter’s name was Amélie, too. Such a cute name!

  • Mami

    So I can call you Yuuichi-kun, too? Do you have kanji for it??:D

  • Mami

    Such a beautiful avatar eh?

  • Mami

    YEEEEEES WE DOOOOOOO! I have trouble with your name, for sure. My neighbors son has the same name as yours. Then their dog’s names are Marie and Molly. I can distinguish Molly but mix up Marie and your name all the time. Could you actually spell your name for me?? Marley like Bob Marley???

  • Mami

    Yudai! No, nobody hadn’t yet. That’s such an example, which I should’ve mentioned in the article, for sure.
    As for your wife’s name’s pronunciation in Japanese, I’d say An is like un for anglais: ‘Parlez-vous anglais?’, then ‘na’ really quickly. I hope it works!

  • Mami

    Awww…my father in law is Gary and when he learned that fact, he got upset…(:;) And my neighbor is actually Dave…

  • Mami

    Do you mean that you have a Western name too??
    Am I right to say (family name) Park (middle name)Sung (first name)Chul? If I do, I didn’t know that Korean people also have middle name(>o<) iina

  • Mami

    maybe ディヴァイン, but Michelle is definitely easier for Japanese, I suppose.

  • Mami

    Really? Did facebook refuse your name too? That’s too bad and it must have been annoying for you…:( I’m sorry…
    However, for me, who is not used to Western names yet, your name seems to be a common name.

  • Mami

    ♥no but yes♥

  • Mami

    Hahaha nice! A.Melon, I like it. :P

  • Mami

    CoOL! I tried to find the other 家紋 like that, but couldn’t find anything like 鏡餅. Now at least you know what kind of look it is and it’s 三角形! We made a progress.

  • Mami

    Whoa! You must be a linguist! Thank you for your interesting comment here.

  • Mami

    Tottemo benkyou ni narimasihta. arigatou.
    Thanks, I’ve learned a lot from you guys’ comments.

  • Mami

    政平 is her family name, right? It could be a boy’s first name in Japan. 政平 is usually pronounced まさひら masahira, but if she said it’s rare, I’m not sure if it’s right.

  • Christopher Stilson

    I suppose that part of the problem is that people assume foreign names are supposed to be pronounced oddly, which leads them either to make their best guess (which is almost always based on their own system of pronunciation) or they try to avoid the issue.

    I work with a Chinese man whose surname is romanized as ‘Uong,’ and I notice that people try to avoid being put into a position where they have to use it, presumably because they know that Chinese is fiddly about tones and they don’t want to get it wrong. But because I went to school with a Vietnamese boy who had to constantly explain how ‘Nguyen’ is pronounced, I know that most people would rather you do it wrong and get corrected than to dance around the issue indefinitely and never learn the right way to say it.

    I suspect that if a person’s first exposure to a new name is through writing rather than hearing it, the problem would be exacerbated. It’s a problem for schoolkids because teachers call roll and almost invariably get someone’s name wrong (and if they’re over 40, they’ll get it wrong 3-4 times before they remember it), but once past that stage it (theoretically) ought to be easier.

  • koichi

    It sounds just like “Mommy” actually.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Are you sure? Is it “モミ” which to me sounds like “mommy”, or is it “マミ” which to me sounds like “mammy”.

  • koichi

    It’s マミ, which sounds just like “mommy” in American English.


    Then again, there are accents that would make it different from the standard pronunciation above (British especially, I think).

  • Ankotaro

    I totally wasn’t expecting you to go looking along with me xD Thanks! Progress indeed.

  • ica flanagan

    Woah, the fact that Korean has three ways of Romanization just blew my mind – they’re super different! (Especially the first and second ones). Japanese has a couple systems too, but the differences don’t seem to be that big.

  • TangSooPap

    Mine’s simple. リー for Lee. Last name not so much.

  • ica flanagan

    My first name is Jessica and I’ve always found the translation a little awkward – since the “je” sound isn’t really naturally found in Japanese. Though, I remember in my first year of Japanese, my instructor found out I go by ica as a nickname and got really excited and started calling me イカちゃん.

    As in squid.

    I’d already had a friend who knew Japanese calling me that, so I wasn’t surprised when the instructor started doing it.

  • Mami

    That’s good! :)リーちゃん。。

  • Mami

    That’s a nice nickname! イカちゃん。イカしてるぜぃ!!

  • Mami

    I didn’t even know until I read his(I supposed his, but correct me if I’m wrong) comment!

  • Dharma Mauricio

    My name is Dharma, so in Japanese I become a daruma doll. Is that too weird?

  • sora_1326

    Well, I think that if I ever go to Japan, my name will sound funny… My last name can actually be used as a male name! I guess people will ask me if my last name is my name or… Wah, it sounds confusing XXXXDD

    Mami-san, I guess “onakasuita” sounds like “una casita” (“a little house”) in Spanish, right?? XD

  • Mami

    Your comment just made me determine to learn how to pronounce my neighbor’s son’s name. His name is マーリー and their dogs names are マーリー and モーリー. They all spell differently, but I can only tell the difference between モーリー and マーリー…I tried to learn the difference between マーリー and マーリー and gave up because I couldn’t get it. I will try again!

  • Mami


  • MisterM2402

    In Britain, John is pronounced pretty much like ジョン; it’s one of the names that transliterates quite well to Japanese. You can’t say it should be close to the “original, native pronunciation” because your “native pronunciation” is different to my “native pronunciation”, and I’m sure some people would think ジャオン should be the correct pronunciation. And there’s nothing wrong with them pronouncing it differently to you – if you came to Britain, you wouldn’t expect me to put on a faux American accent and call you “Jan” because that’s not how I (or anyone else here) say it.

  • Anthony Chaulklin

    I really liked the article I never thought about how Japanese names sounded in English while I lived in Japan. I’m interested on how they would say my name since it is a odd one. I always was super informal and introduced my self as ト二.

  • Dy!

    I just realized the japanese pronunciation of my last name would sound similar to Khaleesi. . . it appears I am destined to sit upon an the iron throne of a mad king

  • Esperanza

    I’m from Spain, and my name means “Hope”, so I’ve always introduced myself as “望” (“のぞみ”). I’ve been studying Japanese for… Forever! So when I introduce myself with a name that is also used in Japan people ask me if I am half Japanese (since my pronunciation/speaking level is advanced and I have black, straight hair and dark brown eyes, and I’m fairly petite in size). I <3 Japan and can't wait to move!!

  • Mami

    Wow! Yeah, it sounds a bit odd to me. I wouldn’t say too weird though! It’s still a cool name.

  • Mami

    I’ve heard that other people confused it before too, but デブ actually means fat.

  • happyme

    Very interesting article! My first name is the same as a famous singer. I looked up how her name was written in Japanese and it’s ホイットニー.

  • Michelle Montaño

    My last name is pronounced “Montanyo” because of the Spanish “ñ”. Before I began learning Japanese, I joined a fan club based in Japan. Instead of “モンタニョ” (mon-ta-nyo), my name on my fan club ID card was “モンタロ” (mon-ta-ro). I didn’t notice until I began learning Japanese many years later.

  • legendofleo

    When I first started Japanese class at uni I picked the closest sounding transliteration of Leo, リオ. But all characters and famous people with my name seem to have it written as レオ so I changed to that.

  • Matt Bird

    Interesting article, recently I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing my self with my name in my accent, Matt rather then マット which sounds like mutt to me. I wonder how well this would go down. That or if resigned to Japanese pronunciation I could be tricky about it and use the kanji 神贈 for my name is it is direct to the name meaning, Gods gift, and just be prepared for people to assume my name is しんぞう.

  • zachary T

    wow, very interesting article. thank you for the insight! ^_^

  • Kyah

    My name is Kyah which can be written カヤ or カイヤ. I chose the first since its quicker to write, also a name in Japanese (華弥), and when said quickly they sound more or less the same. Sometimes when meeting Japanese people, it still takes them a moment to figure out my name, probably because they expect it to be more like a western name and think they are hearing it incorrectly. Then when it’s written, sometimes people will use the second spelling. It doesn’t bother me unless it’s for something important though. People misspell and mispronounce my name in English all the time too lol

  • NateFren

    I’ve not had much difficulty with Japanese names. It just takes a little bit of time to learn how to pronounce them somewhat competently. My first name, “Nathan”, can’t properly be pronounced in Japanese though, so it becomes “Nesan” (ネサン), which is unfortunately close to “姉さん”.

    I’ve had trouble with speakers of other languages too. For some reason, many Europeans have had trouble pronouncing “Nate”, which is the name I normally go by. In Thailand, many people have had trouble pronouncing Nate as well, despite the fact that all those sounds required to pronounce it correctly already exist in Thai (Nate = เนม, which would end up being “Neito” (ネート) in Japanese). I’ve also noticed that the Thai people transliterate the “th” sound differently than in Japan. If it were pronounced that same way as in Japanese, it would be “Nesan” (which I think is written เนสน) but instead it’s “Naa-thaan” with the “th” pronounced the same way as in the word “Thailand” (with the h being “silent”). That’s written as นาธาน (ナーターン).

  • naoko

    I had a friend whose name was “Mami Aso”. Whoa! Another friend’s name was “Saiko” and wonder how people would react when she introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Saiko (psycho).”

  • Paulo

    understand how difficult it is to know names, especially if it’s not in your
    native language. I guess it’s like studying the language as well.

  • Vincenza Vicky Maione


    first of all, your English is soo good! it doesn’t really sound like you’re a foreigner (I mean, a non-native English speaker).
    When I was 16 I went to my aunt’s place in Las Vegas, travelling alone with my little brother. Before even landing to the Us, we met this really nice girl in the airplane – she was sitting just close to us – and, once she introduced herself, we took a while to understand her name: it was Jennifer. A name quite heard by Italians – we watch like 95% of American movies, tv series etc. – but since in Italy we only watch dubbed things, we were used to the sound of the name like an Italian would say it: similarly to Japanese (we have the same vowels, that’s why the transcription system is called ローマ字), the sound is nice and clear: ジェンニフェル [accent on Je, “f” like an English f, and strong “r” sound more or less like Spanish r]. But she was saying it in a way I totally couldn’t figure out!
    Moreover, when I was at my aunt’s, my cousins were talking about their dad’s best friend, called Donato (quite an uncommon name for an Italian too). it took so long to catch the word, since what my bro and I could hear was “Donado”. That’s because USA English [t] and [d] are not dental sounds, like Italian and Japanese (which means, we make the sounds hitting the rear of our front teeth with our tongue), but are alveolar (it means, Americans lightly heat the rear part of their gums, just up the front teeth: the so-called alveoli or “sockets”).
    Again, my American cousin’s name is Angelo. Quite a common name for an Italian native speaker. It’s pronounced [Un-gel-o] (“E” really clearly said, like “gem”; “o” is short; accent on “A”). But in his family we heard two pronunciations: his parents called him as an Italian would; but his sister – who is an English native speaker too – called him [An-g(e)-low] (the “a” sound was like the Eng word “cat”; the “e” sound was almost deaf; and the final vowel was lenghtened, getting me to hear “o” at first and then the sound for “boot”).
    And, my name (Vincenza, it’s more or less like [veen-chan-tsuh]) was pronounced roughly [vee-chan-zuh] lol

    in Japan, I had big trouble in remembering people’s names. Since I had studied Japanese for years – and since Italian sound system is very similar to Japanese one – I had few problems in understanding names once people introduced themselves (the only thing is, Japanese tend to say the last mora as deaf sound: so, if they want to say Takagi, you’ll hear Taka[gi]-desu). But, I came into a bunch of misunderstandings or unpolite attitudes. For example, let’s take this Takagi-san. He is a guy I was working with when I was in Japan, and at first I felt comfortable with him since I knew he was slightly older than me. He introduced himself as Takagi, but unfortunately I had immediately forgotten his name and felt ashamed to ask him again. So, one day he looked really tired and I decided to make him some ice tea to cheer him up. When I gave him the glass, he tought it was for someone else having asked for it. Because he didn’t get it was for him, I yelled “オマエのためだよ!” I realized it was not the best thing to say, but still, I didn’t know how to say “you”… in Kyoto I called an old man with “anata”, and he scolded me for saying that word. But, I didn’t know I could use words like oniisan, ojiisan and so on lol

    In Japan I rarely used my native name. Since Vincenzo is translated into English also as Vincent (but it’s only a masculine name), I often use the nickname Vicky (which normally stands for “Victoria” /Vittoria in Italian/). It was the best option since I was at TUFS and lots of students either were native English speakers or could speak English really well;
    but it was not for the Japanese, who took some effort to catch my name. Eventually, my name changed from ヴィッキー [vikkii] into ビッキー [bikkii], and I sometimes sign myself with the kanji 美貴, so that people often end up calling me “Miki”.
    The weird thing is, they sometimes call me “miki” even if I say “bikkii”, without showing them the kanji!
    So, from Vincenza to Veechanzuh, from Vicky to Bikkii to Miki!

    Last thing: since Italians have the same character [z] for the sounds [ts] and [z], it can happen that names are badly spelt so that Japanese don’t get the right reading: As a beginner, I used to write ヴィンチェンザ instead of ヴィンチェンツァ!!

    It was long, but I hope you enjoyed my experience with names abroad!

  • Carthegian

    I’m pretty lucky that my name is quite easy to pronounce in Japanese. It’s Reza, and always written as レザ easily.

    The only downside is that if my name is written (and pronounced) as レーザ, I’ll be a laser beam.. hahaha

  • Vincenza Vicky Maione

    I agree with you. My bachelor thesis was about loanwords into Japanese, and it actually depends on when the foreign word was borrowed and on who brought it to Japan.
    Take the Portuguese, they were the very first Westeners to come to Japan in 1549. They brought the main vocabulary concerning christianity, since their aim was to christianize the Country: that’s why we have イエズス会 ([Iezusu kai, “Company of Jesus”])、キリスト (“Kirisuto”, Christ)、マリア様 (“Maria-sama”, the holy Mary、デウス(“deusu”, one of the words for God). But it doesn’t stop to that: the word パン is as old as the late 1500s in Japan, since it came with the portuguese and their corresponding “pao”. That’s why it doesn’t sound like “bureddo” from bread.

    In short, Yohane came with the Potuguese > John comes from the Latin Ioannes, Iohannes; in Portugues it’s João. The reason for the “i” sound can be due either to their pronunciation of the Portuguese word (which I don’t know), or to the fact the monks stuck to the Latin version while preaching in Japan.
    But when the Americans came in 1854 (Am I right?), the majority of loanwords shifted from portuguese-dutch (in Japan since 1600) to English, and now the largest majority of loanwords comes from English: modern names included.

    Actually there are some rules to determine the realization of the loanword in Japanese. Many of them concern the way Japanese perceive sounds. it’s not a thing of Japanese language alone, but of almost all students learning a second language. Each language has its own “phonetic inventory”, which is, among the many phones in the world, each language picks just some of them. The native speakers are not used to phones that are not included in their phonetic inventory, so the brain tries to “fix” the unknown sound into a sound from the native language. Ex: Germans can’t say “j” or “d” sounds, and they eventually end up saying “ch” or “t”; Italians can’t say “th” or “dh” or “flap r”, and they substitute those sounds with “t”, “d”, “italian r”. As for Japanese:
    – Sounds like “er” are perceived as the long vowel “aa” in Japanese: japanese don’t have this kind of r – which is very light – so if you say “player” they’d hear “pureeyaa”.
    – in Japanese there are NO consonants alone. there is no way a consonant is pronunced without a vowel. That’s why japanese try to stick a vowel to each consonant, like this –> they put [o] to sounds like t/d (trainer becomes “toreenaa”); they put [u] to sounds like k/g (credit becomes “kurejitto”); they put [i] to sounds like chi/ji (frange becomes “furenji”, challenge “charenji”)
    – The sound w is perceived as “u” –> switch turns into “suicchi”
    – the sound “f” doesn’t exist in japanese, it is replaced with the sound フ [fu] where the f is a bilabial (different symbol in IPA): so, as for the other consonants, it has the vowel “u” if there are no other vowels –> flat is pronounced “furatto”
    – the sounds [th] and [dh] are perceived as [s] and [z]: “Ruth” can easily become [Ruusu]. “The” is often written as [za] (deaf sound “e” doesn’t exist in Japanese, so they try to replace it with “a”). “Brother” becomes [buraazaa] (since the IPA sound is /ˈbrʌðər/, you’ll soon understand that “o” [ʌ] is pronunced as an open Japanese “a”)
    look at this link and try and click the [ʌ] and [ɑ] –>
    We Italians don’t have [ʌ] sound either: same problem! But I guess we like to say things the way we read them, so you could hear “Br-o-de-R” from an Italian, because we read there is a “o” in the word lol

    It is useful to look up the dictionary either in English and in Japanese to get an idea of how the mind of the Japanese works when hearing unknown sounds. English speakers get puzzled because they probably look at the spelling (which also Italians do), but actually one should compare the IPA transcription of an English word with its Japanese resultant.

    Then there are rules about shortening (Japanese words can hardly be longer as 4 moras, so words are shortened): te-re-bi-jo-n becomes terebi (television, 3 moras); air conditioner becomes e-a-ko-n (4 moras).
    In italian, accented syllabe gets lenghtening into Japanese: /a.’ (love) becomes “amoore”.

    Lastly, there are some cases of distinction between words: the word “pizza” is the same either for English speakers and Italians (btw, WE invented pizza! u.u). But, in Italian is pronounced as [pitts-uh], in English as [pee-zuh]. The Japanese which way should adopt?
    The first to introduce pizza into Japan were the Americans, not the Italians. So Japanese adopted the English pronunciation (ピザ). But, since the 80’s, Japanese people discovered the different taste of Neapolitan pizza, and to distinguish it from the American type, they call it pittsa –> ピッツァ! So, we have Domino Piza (ドミノピザ)and Napori pittsa (ナポリピッツァ).

    Linguarum, you can’t control the way others will phonetically perceive your own language. Even if an Italian said your name, you’d feel something’s wrong. Because we just don’t have your phones in our language system, so sorry! :)

  • Jonathan Harston

    “Mommy” in American and British English is pronounced “moh me”, “モミ”, ike “money” but with an “m”.

    “Mammy” in American and British English is pronounced “mah me”, “マミ”, like “marry” but with an “m”.

  • Afoofoo


  • Shan

    I wonder how my name, “Shannon” would be pronounced in Japan?

  • Lưu Vĩnh Phúc

    In fact there’s no restriction on the pronunciation of a Kanji, so you can give your child a name such as 地球 and apply your own preferable pronunciation like アース Āsu which also means Earth

    Even Japanese don’t know which is the most correct way for pronouncing a name. For example a very common name 田中 can have many other pronunciations such as 【でんちゅう】 Denchuu (s,g) 【たなた】 Tanata (s) 【たんか】 Tanka (s) 【だなか】 Danaka (s) 【なたか】 Nataka (s) 【ぬなか】 Nunaka (s) 【のなか】 Nonaka (s) 【ひろか】 Hiroka (s) 【やなか】 Yanaka (s) beside 【たなか】 Tanaka (p,s,f). You can check this with a name dictionary (I suggest wwwjdic).

    In my company as well as partner companies there’s many Chinese and Koreans and most of them use their original names transliterated to Japanese. For example a colleague of mine whose name is 虹逸 gives a furigana as ほんい on her credit card which is most close to the romanized name “Hongyi”. Another Korean I know whose name in Kanji is 在訓 reads his name as ジェフン. Some of them still use the Japanese onyomi for their name. It’s all depends on your preference

  • Applesauce 21

    My name has, like, 8 possible katakana combinations XD

  • Lưu Vĩnh Phúc

    FYI: Shannon would be transliterated as シャノン (Shanon)

  • Lưu Vĩnh Phúc

    Japanese have many Romanization systems too. The one you’re most familiar with is called Hepburn romanization. This system is most widely used abroad as well as at Japan stations because it can help a person with no Japanese language knowledge can read as close to the original sound as possible

    But Japanese people usually use the Kunrei-shiki system because it reflects exactly the Japanese alphabet and grammar. You may seem strange with words such as Huzi but in fact it’s another way to transliterate Fuji. Likewise, Japanese people often type tuuti, tyuugoku, zinzya, zyuusyo… instead of tsuuchi, chuugoku, jinja, juusho. This often makes me confused too.

    And with the name problem above, you can always use the furigana solution. One of my friend whose name in Kanji is 在訓 (maybe Jae Hoon or something like that) writes the furigana as ジェフン

  • Mami

    Wooooooow! Thank you for very fascinating post!!! I’ll take time to read your post soon, but now will quickly answer your question: ‘ when the Americans came in 1854 (Am I right?)’. The first American who arrived in Japan was John Manjiro and it was in 1841. Not many people know, but actually 3 Japanese people (started at 14 people) already landed America in 1834. The arrival of the black ship from America was 1853.

  • Mami

    Saiko, raelly? I’ve never heard of that name, though I know some girls named Saeko…it’s close enough to psycho pronunciation…how did you actually react when you hear her name ‘Saiko’?? :D

  • Mami

    8!?!? That’s quite a lot…

  • Mami

    I agree.

  • Mami

    A laser beam is cool though!

  • Mami

    Arigatou Vincenza san. Koichi actually fixed my English mistakes:P hehe
    Your post is always very interesting.

  • Mami

    Oh no! It’s tricky if you don’t know how to pronounce the letters, is it?

  • Mami


  • Mami

    soudesu una casita!! :D isn’t sora your last name, is it?

  • Mami

    arigatou! Though Japanese people have difficulty pronouncing th sounds, アンソニー isn’t difficult name in Japan, I suppose. :)

  • Mami

    Game of Thrones!

  • Mami

    Wow, you must be a very serious learner! Sugooooooi, nozomi-chan.

  • Mami

    Right! We sometimes katakanized from ‘what’ to ホワっと or from ‘when’ to ‘ホエン’ too.

  • sora_1326

    I had to repeat “onakasuita” quickly to get it XDDD

    Oh, no no, I pick Sora as my nickname~ I’ll be risky and say that my last name is a God in Greek mythology~ And no, it’s not Zeus ww

  • Mami

    Ah, that’s a cool name. レオ indicates a white lion because of an anime called ジャングル大帝レオ. Does that your name Leo actually mean? Lion.

  • Mami

    Sounds like a plan!

  • Mami

    Ah, I think カヤ was a better choice, actually. We have a little bad impression for the name カイヤ because of 恐妻家カイヤ. ((

  • Mami

    It’s a little strange to me that many Europeans and Thailand people have had trouble pronouncing “Nate”. It’s pretty quick and simple pronunciation….

  • Mami

    Yeah, for sure!!!

  • Ginger

    Butting in. Leo is latin for Lion.

  • Vincenza Vicky Maione

    didn’t know it! Thank you so much!

  • ZA다ルﻣ

    bwahaha! close. but because transliterations are often very arbitrary, it would be hard, almost impossible to guess the exact name if you haven’t already heard of someone with it before.

    it would’ve been more impressive had i not already given half of the mystery away…

  • Bob Storey

    Konnichiwa Mami, I enjoyed reading your article, it was very interesting.

  • Caen13

    My last name is Nsonwu (N (like nap) sohnwu) and so when I started my Japanese class my sensei had a hard time figuring out what my name would be but eventually decided on ンソンウ(nsonu). Many people had a hard time saying my name and even I could not say it correctly, so I used the original pronunciation. I also had a problem with writing. Because it was my first Japanese class my katakana was not the best so when I would spell my name for my friends they saw ソリソウ(sorisou) because it was so gosh darn similar. My Japanese friend latter explained to me that usually names don’t start with ン(n) hence the confusion, which made me so glad because I thought it was because my handwriting would never get better.


    Woah! This post has so many comments (over 200 at the moment)!!! A testament to its quality.

  • Carthegian

    Oh, I’ll definitely zap everyone out.. =D

  • Mami

    t…testament!?!? 遺言!?!?!?!(will)–it was a new word for me, so I looked up online dictionary and it says that testament means will…

  • Mami

    ソ,リ,ン look very similar, don’t they? Yeah, I’ve actually never seen words start with ン before:)

  • Mami

    arigatou, Bob-san!

  • Mami

    hahaha, you are a live-lethal-weapon!

  • Mami

    Ah! cool. (What does ‘Butting in’ mean by the way??)

  • Mami

    Oh, so you said ‘onakasuita’ repeatedly and quickly. nice!
    Another spanish i know is ‘pika pika’.

  • Mami

    Really!?!? I didn’t even know that we have many Romanization systems…where do you you guys learn such things???? Our teacher didn’t teach me…or am I a bad student at school?? lol

  • Mami

    Actually, now my mother-in-law register my name on her cellphone ‘mommy’ because it’s the closest pronunciation when her phone tells her that she got a mail or a calling from me. We tried Mami first and it was pronounced ‘mama’ in English. Then tried ‘mammy’ and it was okay, but ‘mommy’ was the closest!

  • Lưu Vĩnh Phúc

    just fount out while doing some research on Japanese language. But I think this is not only the problem of Korean or Japanese but all languages which don’t use Latin characters

  • Tora.Silver

    It’s meaning is closer to 表彰状.

  • Mechazawa

    I think what makes it even harder is that English pronunciation is different for every country. ジョン for “John” would sound right for British/Australian/New Zealand pronunciation, but as you’ve said, Americans and Canadians say it more like じゃん.

  • Shan

    Well that seems easy enough

  • Shan

    and THANKS!!!

  • johnts1975ii

    foad please.

  • Mami

    Oh, thank you for letting me know!

  • Mami

    Ah! Really? Damn online dictionarY!!

  • Mami


  • Mami

    I see!

  • sora_1326

    Yup! I’m a native Spanish speaker but I got used to Japanese so it’s hard to relate homophones unless they’re really obvious… Just like “pika pika”! XD Do you know Spanish??

  • Mami

    No…but I will learn one by one from you:P

  • sora_1326

    Heh, then~ I’ll act as a teacher (?) and I’ll tell you that in Spanish “pica” means “(It) itches”, like “My arm itches” =D If you’re interested in languages, Spanish would definitely be a good challenge. Since it’s a language spoken in a lot of countries… It’s hard knowing the lingo of each country, but is definitely worth it.

    It’s not obvious that I like languages, right? wwwww

  • Kaminix

    It’s to interrupt a discussion by jumping into it, or in this case to simply answer a question directed towards someone else. I just looked it up in wwwjdic to find the Japanese equivalent, and I think 横槍を入れる seems quite close (though it only seems to mean the interruption part, which isn’t really applicable in Internet discussion I guess).

  • Lilo

    When I moved to Australia, nobody could pronounce my name Liselotte. So everybody called me Lilo. Even on official school documents they didn’t write my first and last name, because it was too difficult!

  • Mami

    Awww. that’s too bad, but it seems to be a very cool name! Liselotte (^^)kakkoii

  • Mami

    OH! I see. Thank you so much. We may say: ‘ちょっとお邪魔します’ chotto ojama shimasu

  • Mami

    I think you like languages!! wwww arigatou sensei!

  • sora_1326

    It’s only your impression! ww いいえいいえ、どういたしまして!
    It’s a bit weird to read you saying “sensei”… I’m sure I’m younger than you, it feels weird xDD I’m not a cocky sensei, am I?? 。・゚・(ノω`)

  • Mami

    c…cocky sensei!?!? What!?!?!? how old are you? I’m….内緒….❤www

  • sora_1326

    Like… Do I sound arrogant or something like that?? Hahahahaha, it’s okay. We shouldn’t ask a lady’s age, right? I have less than 20 but more than 15… Is that okay? w

  • セルマ

    My name is Selma (Pronounced セルマ). It’s not at all common in Japan(except for big Simpson fans who know that Marge’s sister is called Selma…). But it’s easy to pronounce and easy to remember as well.

  • Jacinda

    Jacinda (ジャシンダ) was always getting spelt (ジェシンダ) and since Jacinda usually gets spelt wrong in English (Jacinta) I thought phonetically it’d be easy … Alas I was wrong

    My host family called me ジェシー which really is Jessie …. but was *meant* to be J.C. – one of my nicknames – the other being Jac (a not entirely extreme nickname for a chick to have) – but explaining ジャック (Jack) not being a guys name in Japan was too much of a hassle ….

    Also in Australia we pronounce John – ジョン Americans speak funny :P

  • Jacinda

    Agree – I said the same in my comment – Australians say John as it’s pronounced in Japanese – ジョン

  • Jacinda

    Ok and Mami – when I studied in Japan there was a Thai girl who came with me from my uni – her real name was really long so she went by her middle name – Kha … pronounced カー she was カーさん – the same as your name in English ^_^

  • Jacinda

    I’d guess シャナン or シャノン? probably the latter ….

    I just realised I say Shannon differently depending on it its for a boys name or a girls name … huh …. weird!

  • Mami

    not arrogant at all! It is okay for sure, sora-sensei!

  • sora_1326

    A-Aaah, I feel relieved… It’s normal that I end up writing a lot because I really like learning languages, ne? And some people thinks that I’m being cocky or arrogant because of that (;ω;)
    Please, just Sora. I don’t have any certificate that say I’m a teacher… (////// ;;)

  • Elonkareon

    Wut. I’m not familiar with any dialect of English in which pizza is pronounced like ピザ. Are you sure this isn’t a spelling pronunciation?

  • ajseguin

    I wonder if many people have gotten into legal problems due to translation of their name and the order of name. Name/family name ect…

    Great Article, are you enjoying Canada Mami?

  • Mami


  • Vincenza Vicky Maione

    sorry for replying late.

    As prof. Calvetti says, the word “piza” was introduced from English, and “pittsa” from Italian in the 80s (ref. –> CALVETTI, <>, in: TAMBURELLO A., Italia-Giappone: 450 anni, Napoli: Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”, 2003, pag. 795-809).
    I honestly don’t know, it may be either for a case of misreading the word (which would get the “piza” pronunciation while reading the “z” character) or a case of changing of the word’s pronunciation. it’s also true that our [ts] sound is slightly louder than the American one, at least as much as I can hear.
    Wikipedia says: US eng –> /ˈpiːtsə/ and ITA –>/ˈpit.tsa/
    in effect, you guys have a lenghtened vowel, we have a geminate consonant. This difference may have led the japanese to perceive your [ts] as voiced and ours as a deaf sound (it’s just my hypotheses though!)
    But as I said, pronunciation can change. Like the “spaghetti” word: according to prof. Calvetti, in Japanese it was at first pronunced supagechi, then supageti and now is supagetti. lol

  • Mami

    Thank you! Yes I do. I wouldn’t be a problem, but when I made documents for immigration, I actually wondered about the order of name and called to ask for some of the documents.

  • Mami

    Wow! That’s interesting(-^^-) Thank you for sharing the info!

  • Mami

    Really eh???
    Do Jac and Jack sound exactly the same?

  • Mami

    Yeah, I’d say so!!! (^^)

  • Jacob Hansen

    My japanese name is ジェイキ、which most japanese people will pronounce it as ジーキ、which can have some odd meaning’s if misheard.

  • Tiffany Harvey

    Oh no! I can see how “Mami” would be awkward. I always hated how exchange students in the US were told to choose an English name to fit in better, even though most places have tons of experience with foreign names. But a small change might be good if the name would be embarrassing in the language.

    Have you ever thought about using the name Mimi? It’s a common name and very close to yours!

  • Stellaire

    I remember a geiko called Fukuyu. Americans couldn’t cover their laugh, because they thought it was basically “Fuck You”… Not a great name for a glorious geisha. Another example is maiko Fukuho… Poor girls!

  • My Theory

    Quite interesting that you write an article about names because Mami is the Japanese given name that intrigues me the most.

    Yes, mami (can also be written mamie, mamy or mammy but still pronounced まみ anyway) is how we affectionately call our grand-mother in France.More generally we also call an old lady “une mamie”.

    So when I met a japanese Mami a few years ago, I couldn’t help but smile, it was quite an awkward situation,talking to and looking at this young lady and having the feelings ,emotions or attitude you usually have towards your own grand-mother (tenderness, etc..).There was kind of an internal fight going on in my body and brain…

    So if you meet someone who acts or behaves strangely in front of you, please be tolerant as she or he might be French…

    By the way, when I think of that word (Mami), one of the first thing that comes to my mind is old popular french song.

    And since you live in Canada, here it is performed by a Canadian artist you might have heard of… :

  • Spekko

    I had no idea I had an account! And he I was going to post as a guest, but anyways… While I’ve been learning Japanese, I’ve realized that I really dislike the way my name, “Alexander” is translated. Partly the spelling, and partly just the slightly different pronunciation, so instead

  • confusedann

    My name is Ann Cheska , but I prefer using Cheska over Ann since it’s way cooler than plain Ann. Americans have a weird way of considering a person’s second first name , the middle name , so my American BF’s grandmother calls me “Annie”. LOL I always get confused but I’m too shy to correct her. XD

  • Enidちゃん

    I’m not a dog lover but Inu’s are just soo cute!! :3 They might change my mind about dogs. >^__^<

  • linguarum

    It’s not that the Japanese don’t have the phones in their language system. It’s that when they do, they pick the “wrong” one. :-) Japanese does have the sound /ja/, as well as the sound /jo/. So when it comes to the name “John,” why choose /jo/? On the other hand, if I choose to use katakana that more closely resembles the way I pronounce it as a native speaker, am I wrong? Especially as your “pizza” example shows, everybody is just making up katakana as they go, so it’s not like anyone can really insist that one way is Right and the other is Wrong. BTW, funny, but as a native speaker of American English. I’ve always pronounced it PEET-za.

  • Vincenza Vicky Maione

    Look, Italians say Jo-n… I think it’s because the “o” an American Native speaker pronounces is slightly different, close to an /a/ but still a /o/ (maybe an allophone..) To us you sound as /ɔ/,so we say /dʒɔn/.
    I’ve looked it up, according to English dictionaries the IPA transcription is /jon/, but according to Us English dictionary it is /ˈdʒɑn/ ( It may be due to a misreading (i mean, the non-native reads the word according to their personal way to perceive the sounds, reading /o/ instead of /ɑ/ in the case of “John”: this happens a lot with Italians saying English names). But, /ɑ/ is really in-between our /o/ and /a/ – I’m talking as an Italian, but it’s the same for Japanese too since the 2 phonetic inventories are similar. So we do not perceive your /ɑ/ unless some teacher taught us the difference. Take a foreigner (also a Spanish native would be fine I guess) and try and teach him the “john” thing: I think they’ll come up either with /a/ or /o/, because they have not been trained to recognize the phone.
    This is at the base of the very bad accent of the majority of foreigners when they perform in English (or in any other foreign language).
    Starting from the perception, it may be that the Japanese came out with that katakana: the katakana became socially accepted, and it is now the standard to design American Pizza. As I said, American pizza was imported to Japan first, then the Italian one came to be known. But as Prof. Calvetti claims in his studio, in the 50s the Japanese didn’t pay much attention to the accuracy of the phonetic traslitteration of words, reproducing words more closely familiar to their phonetic inventory. That’s why spaghetti was first pronounced as supagechi, then gradually corrected to supagetti. The word became popular through the decades and the Japanese probably felt the need to correct their way to say it. It may be – I’m just guessing – that the introduction of the Italian pizza gave the Japanese the need to correct their pronunciation according to a more “Italian” performance of the world, but this did not eliminate the “old” word which was used only for the Us variety.
    No doubt something is different from the Italian pronunciation –> /’pits:a/ and the Us English /ˈpit·sə/. So, since the word is Italian, why don’t you Americans say it right? may I say. lol
    I think the Japanese perceived a /z/ instead of a geminate /ts/, and I myself perceive a difference in the strenght of the geminate and in the vowels (though it also depends on the speaker I think). It’s a much deeper issue, and I don’t think they just make up the new pronunciations, besides, as a non-native speaker of English I also think that you don’t realize how hard it is to cope with a new phonetic inventory, especially a hard one like Chinese or English, if you are a native speaker…
    Anyways, I am not a researcher and make mistakes myself, so I am happy to hear from others and eventually to learn something new ^^

    *Just realized I repeated myself with the spaghetti thing, sorry*

  • Gabi Swangstue

    I’m currently in Japan and my given name is Gabrielle. That right there, Gabrielle, is a hard name for anyone here to pronounce! The l’s and the r get jumbled and thrown through a loop! I decided it was best to go by nickname from back home of Gabi. Just my luck, it’s translates perfectly into Katakana without a fuss. It’s still pronounced weirdly but it’s much better than what it would have been with Gabrielle!