Getting Names Straight

Cross-cultural sensitivity calls for heroic efforts in getting names pronounced right. Sounds and combinations, as well as the names themselves, may be unfamiliar. With a little practice, though, they will be rolling off your tongue.

Students visiting the United States may recite their names in the western fashion, but it is always good to double-check what the child's given and family name are:

Docchi ga namae desu ka.

What is your given name?

Docchi ga myooji desu ka.

What is your family name?

You may want to write out the name phonetically for better recall. Having the Japanese student write it in roomaji is fine if he or she has studied English privately or is at least nine years old:

O-namae wa doo yatte kaku-n desu ka.

How do you write your name?

Asking a few questions will help to clarify the pronunciation of a Japanese name written in Roman letters:

Chiisa-na “tsu” wa haite imasu ka.

Is there a small “tsu” character?

A small “tsu” character indicates a short stop before the following consonant, but it is not commonly found in given names. It is more likely to show up in nicknames. You may hear kids referring to each other as Ma-cchan or Te-cchan. These are shortened versions of given names like Masahiro or Tetsuya. Even small children use the polite suffixes -chan, -kun, or -san after their friends' names. Lately, it is trendy for kids to add -ppi after girls' names: Ayaka-chan becomes A-ppi, Runa-chan becomes Runa-ppi, and so on.

Students who have learned the Monbusho roomaji method will write the sound shi as “si,” chi as “ti,” zu as “du,” and tsu as “tu.” Syllables that are formed with ya, yo, or yu will be written as “sya,” “syo,” and so on.

Using the Monbusho method, a child may write his name “Syotaro,” but it should be pronounced Shootaroo. The double “oo” indicate an elongated vowel sound that can make all the difference. You may meet many boys named Yuuki and several girls named Yuki, the subtle difference being in the elongation of the “u.” If you address the boy as “Yuki,” however, he may be embarrassed and other students will most likely be amused:

O-namae wa Yuuki-san desu ka. Sore tomo Yuki-san desu ka.

Is your name Yuuki or Yuki?

The verb iu is often pronounced with a y sound in front. Iu comes out sounding like “yuu,” and itte sounding like “yutte.” Likewise, itta will often be heard as “yutta.”

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