And the country that likes its names the least…

So one of the Wii’s many random features is the “Everybody Votes Channel”. Basically, this is a polling system where you register 6 voters. There are a few polls at a time and each voter can pick one of the two options offered (and predict the majority response). After a poll is finished and results are in, they can be viewed by anyone – you can view percentage of each answer by gender or region.

One of the international polls recently was “Do you like your name?”. The response was “Yes” by a large majority, but of interest – the country that, in general, disliked their names the most was Japan.

Yeah, yeah, the fact that everyone had to have access to a Wii to vote might’ve skewed things and all that. Statistics and their verifiability aren’t my area of expertise.

But this is interesting, partly because of the way Japanese names are generally chosen.

Some parents pick kanji and then choose the pronunciation based on those characters. Others pick a pronunciation and then try to find characters that fit the pronunciation. Some even pick a pronunciation and then whatever characters they like. As a result, knowing how to write a person’s name doesn’t mean you know how to pronounce it. Further, knowing how a person’s name is pronounced gives you very little idea of how it’s written.

Let’s take an example: Hayao Musou, from the game Jesus. His characters are 武麻速雄.

速雄- Hayao, his given name. Considering only the kun-readings, there are 4 other possible pronunciations for those characters.

武麻– Musou, his family name. “Mu” is an on-reading for the first character. The second character is none of several dozen characters with the pronunciation “sou”. There’s no way to tell this is how “Musou” is pronounced, and there’s no easy way to look it up from the pronunciation either.

If you’ve ever seen Death Note, you can see why the Japanese came up with that nifty idea of having to write a person’s name. And also why one character had to right 20+ different spellings of the same name to ensure he got it right.

Characters also have attributed meanings. Hayao Musou is probably the most outrageous set I’ve seen: “Masculine, Quick Warrior” (with “Hemp” thrown in for good measure).

Names have attributed meanings in Western countries too; although there’s the rather common English last names of “Baker”, “Smith”, etc, there is a meaning behind almost any name (IIRC, biblical names have no direct meanings). For example, my own family name could mean “Descendants of the guardians”. How ’bout that. The difference, though, is that most meanings in English names are hidden. Those in kanji are more direct. What relevance does this have? Probably none at all.

Leave a Comment