Romanising Japanese names

I understand that pronouncing Japanese names is fraught with difficulty, as one kanji can have multiple readings, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason (other than the fact that kun’yomi readings seem to predominate). Online converters give a variety of results. That said, I wonder if anyone here can help me out with the romaji for the following fellows:


Arigato gozaimasu!

Sometimes there is no standard reading and you have to ask the person. (though usually there is a standard reading). Even other Japanese people did not at first glance know how to pronounce my Japanese teacher’s surname, and she would always have to correct them.

My best guesses on a couple of these:

岩崎敬太郎 - Iwasaki Keitaro
左左木舜一 - Sasaki Shun’ichi

No kidding… :wink:

That is typical for Japan (and different from Okinawa)

Do you know they are all male? That would ever so slightly reduce the number of possibilities. :slight_smile:

Here is an incomplete list of possibilities (don’t worry, most of them - especially the more obscure ones - came out of a name dictionary and not my head :wink: ). The slash separates the family name from the given name.

In order of your list:

  • Higashikata, Higashigata, Touhou, Azumakata, Azumagata, Adzumakata, Toukata, Tougata, Toohou, Toobou, Toubou / Takayoshi, Kougi (male)
    (is this the guy who published a Taiwanese dictionary in 1931?)
  • Iwasaki, Iiwasaki, Iwagasaki, Iwagazaki, Iwasai, Iwazaki, Iwazagi, Minkizeyasu / Keitarou (male)
  • (Family name 1 kanji, given name 3 kanji) Sugi, Sugisaki, Sugizaki, Sugizagi / Fusanosuke (male)
  • Ogawa, Okawa, Ozawa, Kokawa, Koga, Kogawa / Naoyoshi, Hisayoshi, Takayoshi, Haruyoshi (if male) or Nagi (female)
    (It is likely this guy Ogawa Naoyoshi:小川尚義)
  • Umeyama / ??? (looks like a Chinese name; otherwise possibly Shizutomi)
  • Abe, Anbe, Anbai, Abai, Abeno, Yasunobu, Yasubai, Yasube, Yasumasu / Akiyoshi, Haruyoshi (if male) or Meigi (if female)
  • Sasaki / Shun’ichi (male)

There is really no way around asking those people or someone who knows those (or of those) people.
Anyway, it looks like you got some historical names there, so i will ask a history buff i know in Hualien about this…

Thanks everyone, I appreciate the help. I’m a bit taken aback by the number of possibilities. How do the Japanese cope?

To yuli - it is very likely they are all male - they are all editors of Taiwanese language books during the Japanese era, and I think for the time and place the likelihood of female writers here is slim. Also means that Ogawa Naoyoshi is spot on. I think there’s a possibility that 梅山沈富 was a Japanized Taiwanese person - the era is right (Kōminka) and it might explain the unusual given name.

The easiest thing to do, if these people are well-known, would be to do a dual-language Google with the Japanese and English candidate for the name translation together. If you get hits, that’s your answer. There are quite a few pages where the kanji and the English romanji might be found together.

Having said that, though, you need to have candidates to search – can you point me to the online name converters? That would be really useful to know. :smiley: :bravo:

In my experience, the editorial standard for representing Japanese names in English is to write the given name first and the surname last. This is in contrast to editorial standards for Chinese names in English, in which the surname is written first (unless the given name is English, like Jackie Chan).


Yukio Mishima, Akira Kurosawa, Yoko Ono, Yukio Hatoyama


Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, Chen Shui-bian, Chow Yun Fat

OK on all points… knowing the context helps in determining where to look - but since Google has very, very little (i checked last night), in this case Ironlady’s approach (with which i otherwise agree) does not work - for example, searching for Takaharu Touhou in English brings up only a few dozen pages - and they are all related to sex or sexy anime. :wink:

But here is what Mr. Katagiri from Hualien had to say (by way of my translation into English):

  • Touhou Takayoshi (Taiwanese peoples’ customs)
  • Iwasaki Keitarou
  • Sugi Fusanosuke (Taiwanese-Japanese dictionary of neologisms)
  • Ogawa Naoyoshi (Taiwanese language researcher)
  • Umeyama ???
  • Abe Akiyoshi (research into Taiwanese place names)
  • Sasaki Shunichi (plants and native fungi of Taiwan)

He also wrote 佐佐木舜一 --> 佐々木舜一 which represents the way that name would be written in Japan (i imagine that in this case the name 佐々木 appears in a Chinese text where it is written 佐佐木, to avoid the duplication character 々).

Yes, that is common if the target audience is native English speakers (but it is usually not done if the target audience is, for example, academics in Japan/China/Korea - the translator needs to check). It is also common in the English world that spellings are changed, such that, for example, “Touhou Takayoshi” becomes “Takayoshi Toho”. :frowning: And a person called 大川 (Oogawa - “big river”) invariably ends up being called 小川 (Ogawa - small river)…

When translators don’t know the target audience or the editorial policy that applies, they can avoid related problems by presenting the data as

 (Family name first, given name last, as is Japanese usage)
 Touhou Takayoshi, Iwasaki Keitarou, etc.

and leave it to the editor(s) to make the desired changes…

By the way, i definitely recommend avoiding expressions like “first name” and “last name” when translating Chinese/ Japanese/ Korean texts, since there is a collision between the common English meaning of those terms and what one sees before one’s eyes, and thus there is a good chance someone will end up confused. :slight_smile:

That’s brilliant, thanks yuli. Do you think I should go with Umeyama Shizutomi for 梅山沈富 then? Or list under Méishān Shěnfù instead?

Chris - my target audience is East Asian/Taiwan Studies academics, so I’m sticking with familyname givenname. It’s a bibliography, which helps, because all writers are listed with their family name first, including western writers.

A sample:

Touhou Takayoshi 東方孝義 (1931). Tái–Rì xīn cídiǎn 台日新辭典 [New Taiwanese–Japanese dictionary]. Táiběi.
Van Nest Talmage, John 打馬字 (1894). Ē-mn̂g im ê jī-tián / A Dictionary of Amoy [廈門音的字典]. Xiàmén.
Wáng Huánán 王華南 (1992). Shíyòng Táiyǔ cíhuì 實用台語詞彙 [A practical Taiwanese glossary]. Táiběi: Tái Yuán Chūbǎnshè 台原出版社.

Ironlady - Google is powerless when it comes to most of these names, unfortunately. I’m labouring in a forgotten corner of an ignored field.

Ah yes. Important information to know. Always know your audience!

I would write “Méishān Shěnfù” and add a translator’s note that the name could conceivably have to be read Umeyama Shizutomi or even something else - after all, 梅山, if it is Japanese, could even be read Baizan or Geizan, so i’m not going to put my hand in the fire here. :wink:

By the way, it is interesting that one can find a few references to a book called “彙音寶鑑” in connection with a person named 梅山沈富進 and also referred to as 梅山人沈富進 and 梅山的沈富進. For example, here:鄉土/鄉土網站資料/教學資源/彙音寶鑑入門/彙音寶鑑入門.ppt
All stuff from not long after WWII - any connection?

Mr. Méishān Shěnfùjìn? Are there Chinese people with 5 kanji in their name? Perhaps, more likely, Mr. Shěn Fùjìn from Méishān? I’d love to see some context for the name 梅山沈富 to rule out that it is this 梅山沈富進 charater… :slight_smile:

Of course! That’s great detective work. The only reference I had to it was the four-character name, so I assumed the author was Japanese, but I’ve just been to the library to check other sources, and you’re spot on. It’s a Shen Fujin from Meishan. Gold star!

Happy to know we were able to contribute to the solution of that riddle - i’ll tell my friend in Hualien about it, as well… :slight_smile:

Sorry, just read through the thread and that’s pretty neat :slight_smile: You guys did a lot of pretty cool detective work!!

Thought I’d add in a little bit of info for reference - according to my literature teacher (OK, I haven’t researched this, but I haven’t needed to yet) Taiwanese people in the Japanese era were forced to adopt Japanese-style surnames (i.e. two-character names) without being allowed to adopt an actual Japanese surname (i.e. one in common use in Japan).

People sometimes just changed one character: 松下 is a common Japanese surname, many Taiwanese people adopted 松上.

Given names, however, could be either Taiwanese names with a Japanese reading or Japanese names. So the surname is probably more of a clue to the person’s nationality than the first name.

That’s my interesting, useful info for the week. :discodance:

One more for the crowd:


The characters here are traditional Chinese, so I can’t run them through a converter. I’d appreciate it if someone could help me out with the correct kanji and romaji versions. Thanks!

[quote=“Taffy”]One more for the crowd:


The characters here are traditional Chinese, so I can’t run them through a converter. I’d appreciate it if someone could help me out with the correct kanji and romaji versions. Thanks![/quote]
Not sure whether i qualify for “crowd”, :astonished: and not sure what you mean by “correct” kanji. :s But…


An odd name, and i think it is more likely 日本物產合資會社, of which the 台北支店 is the topic…

would be written as follows in today’s Japanese kanji:
and read in Japanese romaji (modified Hebpurn)
nihon bussan goushigaisha
or (kunrei/nihonshiki)
nihon bussan gousigaisya

To make it look pretty you could capitalize it as Nihon Bussan Goushigaisha. :wink:

Assuming this is a company name from 100 years ago, the English meaning could be along these lines:
Japan Products Joint Stock Partnership (in today’s legal environment “goushigaisha” means “limited partnership”, which is a fairly new company structure that did not exist until recently)

Sorry, I completely missed this response - thanks so much for helping me out.

You’re welcome! :slight_smile: