Western (American/European) Name Conversion to Kanji Character's
This collection is being presented in the expectation of making the conversion of Western names (sounds) being translated to Japanese Katakana an easier process.This is most commonly done for the purpose of creating "seal stones" (names carved upon soft-stone seals, most commonly for validation purposes and are very popular for use upon "Martial Arts" certificates).
Though (initially) not a particularly difficult task, if/when one wants to then match similar sounding Kanji to that task, it can become very time consuming (and often with numerous options being presented). The purpose of this blog, is to (attempt to) make that process easier (though probably not any simpler, LOL).
It is our hope, that the user has the basic understanding that Japanese kana (the “katakana” in this case) have only “1” way/manner that they can each be pronounced (unlike English, which has several for each). There are certain modifier's that can be added to those kanji to produce “unusual” (at least to the Japanese) sounds.
There are 5 (basic) Japanese vowel sounds,
A , which is the “Ah” sound as in fAther
I , which produces the long “E” sound as in unIque
U , which is “U” as when used in rUde
E , which is the “A” sound in yEt
O , which is the “Oh” sound in hOpe
Just remember, “ah, ee, uo, aa, oh”. They won't change.
These sounds are then combined with the other letters (except for “L”, and “V”, the Japanese don't use them at all, or ever in Japanese).
When viewing the “Katakana Chart”, it's easy to see how their words are structured.
A, I, U, E, O.....
KA, KI, KU, KE, KO,
SA, SHI, SU, SE, SO
TA, CHI, TSU, TE, TO
NA, NI, NU, NE, NO, ...etc.
The most common difficulty everyone has, is with the fact that they don't have “CI” or “SI”, and they don't have “TU” or “HU”. “CI” is replaced with “CHI” “SI” is replaced with “Shi”, and “TU” is replaced with “TSU” and “HU” is replaced with “FU”.
There were several others that were eliminated years ago (as in many).
Hence they're not used at all today, except in foreign (to Japan) words. These were the WI, WU, WE combinations, as well as the YI and YE sounds. When speaking English, it's easy to mistakenly default to the CI, SI, TU and HU combinations, remember to not use them, and change to the Japanese CHI, SHI, TSU and FU. TSU and FU are also pronounced differently (than in English). TSU is spoken as (if) you were to place the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth (behind the teeth), then say “Sue”. FU is pronounced by using only the lips (no teeth on the lower lip) as if/when blowing air through a straw. This makes for some odd sounding translations (initially), but a Japanese speaker would recognize/understand them. Note also that “WO” is pronounced “O” (when reading Japanese). The “W” is pretty much silent.
One needs to keep in mind, that when writing someone's name in Japanese, you do so with the intention that if/when someone who is Japanese, will be able to read/translate it to sound correct to you (when that person reads it aloud).
The most common mistake, is “assuming” that everyone's name is written the same way (as in English). Depending on how the individual person prefers their name to sound/be pronounced is what will determine how it should be written (in katakana).
When sounding out the person's name (for translation purposes), Speak the name in the manner they wish it to sound. It can be a mistake to (slowly) break the name into individual vowel sounds that are slowly spoken. As example, I use my own name...”Tony”. This is a simple (enough) name to say, and translate. It consists of 2 syllables (“To”, and “NI”), Yet when written/translated into Japanese, most individual's (Japanese and American, both) commonly screw it up. They sound it out (aloud) and slowly and think “Tooo”, and “NIIIIII”. This becomes written as “ToooooNIIIIII” (this is not how I say my name! LOL). My name is written as “TooNI” (with no more elongation than necessary).
When converting a Western name to kana (katakana), there are often several ways it can be written. There are NO (absolute) Right or Wrong ways to do it. Just remember that it is based upon the “sound” of the name. You (presumably) would prefer it to sound as close to how you would say it as is possible. Naturally, for certain names that contain sounds that the Japanese language doesn't utilize, this becomes tricky (some compromises have to be accepted).
This is hardly a Life or Death issue, (but it distinguishes the professionals from the amateurs as well). I view it as if I wrote your name as “boob” (instead of “bob”). It sounds “close”, so I don't know why you would mind if I just called you “boob” all the time (would you?). And of course anyone else that was able to read the katakana, would also consider/call you “boob” as well (it's close enough, right?).
When translating a name to katakana, the sounds are usually (pretty) straight forward (to match to the corresponding kana). It's only when you encounter names that have sounds (within them) that are difficult to simulate with the kana that the task becomes difficult.
If/When converting a Western name to kanji (for use upon a name seal), the task is (usually) more time consuming.
When creating a name seal, it isn't necessary to include/utilize any of the elongation “symbols” that are being used to brush the name when writing in katakana (on the seal stone itself). This is different than when writing the name out in katakana. A name seal is usually “stamped” directly upon, or immediately following the brushed katakana that is used for the name (as “validation”).
*note, Katakana is rarely (if ever) used for making a “name” seal stone, it's considered "tacky" and amateur.
Once the subjects name is written out phonetically, you can then list (all of) the kanji that match each of those vowel sounds. Some names can have pages of options available, and some will only correspond to a few (those are the more difficult to create).
Once this is done, the “trick”, is to match the correct sounding kanji (together) to sound similar to a sentence, poem or Haiku. This can be descriptive of the individual, or even of/for their desires or interests. The creation of a name seal can be very “artistic” (or even sarcastic, LOL). There are no “set rules” (when it comes to creating a “name seal”). The more “individualistic”, the better. Some like them to be simple, and some like them to be so subtle that only a very few would even understand the translation, it's up to that person as to what it will be.
Examples can become quite elaborate, “Man who travels the world and carves Dragon bones”, it obviously takes (a Westerner, LOL) a fair amount of time to combine the correct kanji (sounds) to create something like this, but if/when one has the time, it can become quite entertaining.
Once the acceptable kanji has been determined, you then need to establish the Tensho version of the chosen kanji (Tensho is the standard style of kanji utilized for name seals). If/when the seal is for a school/dojo, the task is usually simpler (simply look up the desired Tensho version of the kanji that are utilized in the name of the school). Various Tensho dictionary's are available for just this purpose.
With this information, you can either carve the (reversed) Tensho kanji onto the seal, or have it done for you (through numerous sites on the internet that do so for a fee). The majority of sites also sell the seal stones, which you will have to choose (size/shape is only by personal preference, there is no set size. Shape, Style that is mandated for any of the types of seals). Charges, are usually made by number of kanji required (ie. long names can get very expensive, LOL).
Blank Seal stones can be purchased for varying amounts, and in (equally) varying sizes. For a “name” seal stone, the size is usually kept under 2” square (which is fairly large for a name seal). The more common (in Japan) are under ¾” (square), they also tend to have shorter names. There are varying rules depending upon the specific use, establishment and city that one will/can use a name seal. Theft of a (registered) seal is roughly equivalent to stealing a credit card, though it technically has no monetary value.
In the West (U.S.A.), the use of a seal stone is more commonly (if not “only”) seen upon “Martial Arts” certificates (in conjunction with the instructors/presenter's name, also written in katakana). It's really a matter of personal “taste”, but excessively large Name seals give the appearance of (inflated) “ego”.
If/When making a seal stone for a school or organization, this size restriction doesn't really apply. Stamps are often used as validation of a certificate and are commonly “over” sized (4” X 4” +). When used for “Martial Arts” purposes, the association/school seal provides validation that the certificate was issued by that organization/school. There are commonly 3 (or more) “official” seals that are utilized for this purpose.