Writing your name in Japanese

Writing a foreign name in Japanese does not imply to translate it but to transcribe it. Indeed, the Japanese language is not based on an alphabet but on a syllabary grid (called the kana) organized around 5 vowels: A-I-U-E-O. Since only 30% of Latin sounds can be found in Miyazaki's language, it is not possible to exactly translate most of the Western names.

Transcribing your name in Japanese involves to simplify it in order to adapt it to its phonemes. This means that for the biggest majority, the initial sounding will be modified because:

  • "r" and "l" do not exist separately, but rather as a hybrid sound
  • there are not "see" but only "shee"
  • nasal sounds can be only transcribed with approximate sounds.
  • etc.

In order to write a foreign name in Japanese, it is unavoidable to base the transcription on the katakana, the dedicated syllabary for foreign words. For this, we will lead you towards our learning methodology which contains the phonetic tables.

We will therefore divide each name per syllables in order to transcribe it the most logically possible with katakana. As there is no official rule, each person can use the katakana in order to make them corresponding the best way possible to each name. For example, we translated the 10 most given English names between 1917 and 2016.


Name In Japanese Transcription
Mary マリ ma-ri
Patricia パトリシア pa-to-ri-shi-a
Jennifer ジェニファー je-ni-fa
Elizabeth エリザベス e-ri-za-be-su
Linda リンダ ri-n-da
Barbara バーバラ ba-ba-ra
Susan スーザン su-za-n
Jessica ジェシカ je-shi-ka
Margaret マーガレット ma-ga-re-tto
Sarah サラ sa-ra


Name In Japanese Transcription
James ジェムズ je-mu-zu
John ジョーン jo-n
Robert ロバート ro-ba-to
Michael マイカル ma-i-ka-ru
William ウイリアム u-i-ri-a-mu
David デイビド de-i-vi-do
Richard リチャード ri-cha-do
Joseph ジョゼフ jo-ze-fu
Thomas トマス to-ma-su
Charles チャールズ cha-ru-zu

We can find from time to time some "ー" longer sounds but, once again, it does not seem to have precise rules framing it.

To be noticed, it is possible to transcribe a name in kanji, for a more poetical approach (however there is no administrative value attached to it). It is just necessary to use a kanji dictionary and to pick the homophone symbol whose meaning pleases you the most. Japanese people function this way with their own names, in a more natural manner.

In Japanese, name is 名前 namae.

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Posted by Gael
Editor in chief
Gael is founder and responsible for Kanpai's publication. In love with Japanese culture, he travels to Japan regularly since 2003 and shares his information and tips.
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