How to Search for the Reading of a Japanese Name

Names. Reading them sounds easy, and something that would come instantly. Yet they take a long time to master. Not only is it hard to remember the vast amount of Japanese names, many take unique readings on common kanji, or use rarer kanji you’ve never seen, and combine in ways destined to confuse you. So you come across a name you can’t read. What next?

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The process

One day you are reading an article about 1990s wrestlers (as I’m sure you all do), and you come across a name you don’t know: 北斗晶.

You try to read it.

● For 北, きた and ほく come into mind as common readings, but you aren’t sure which one to choose.
● 斗 is a less commonly used kanji, so you don’t know it at all.
● 晶 you’ve seen before, used in 液晶 (えきしょう) or LCD display, and this was the only reading you could think of.

Enter Google

Life used to be difficult even on Google. If the person was famous, you’d get pages related to them, but without how to pronounce the name. The old solution was to type in a person’s name and add the word “wiki” after it. Wikipedia pages usually have the pronunciation following their name.

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But modern Google came around and saved the day. If the person is famous, their name comes up instantly to the right, in English usually (which is fine, because it’s just a name and isn’t a definition). All you have to do is make sure you reverse the name order for Japanese.

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Not famous

This works great for famous and notable people that Google has picked up on. But what about regular names? You’re in luck. There are so many famous names indexed that there is a good chance that at least the first or last name of a non-famous name is contained in a famous name.

For example, you come across someone with the name 福士康史. A search in Google does not bring anything up.

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Instead you split up the name into 2 searches, for first and last names.

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Then you combine the separate first and last names, and you’d get ふくしこうじ (福士康史). There is occasionally the exception where a name is written in the same way but pronounced differently. There isn’t much you can do with this, but it doesn’t happen often enough to be a concern.

Rarer names

There will be times when you get a name that doesn’t appear at all. What do you do with the last name 四十住?

Check out a last name searching website like this:

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There are a few of these types of sites, and they’ll even give you background information on the name, usage ranking, amount of people with it, etc. You could even skip the whole Google technique altogether and go directly to this. But Google is faster, it’s good for last and first names together, and it puts a picture to the person if they are famous (which helps with memory).

Don’t worry. You’ll eventually start remembering names and get better at figuring out names you haven’t seen based on the ordering of the kanji within them. This Google search technique also works just as well on place names (towns, cities, parks, restaurants, etc.)

How do you search names?

What’s your method for searching names you can’t read?



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

How to Search for the Reading of a Japanese Name — 21 Comments

  1. Most of my Japanese name searching involves drama actors or sometimes voice actors, so it’s usually pretty easy to get a Wiki page or something. Another thing as one of your pictures up there shows is people romanize their name on their Ameblo account. Lots of Japanese people have Ameblo accounts!
    You could also run a YouTube search or other video site with the name and see them pop up on a variety show or interview and hear their name pronounced. Luckily, if the person is in some kind of industry that wants people to know who they are, either they or their agency have probably gone to some lengths to ensure you can find them.

    Jisho.org is a Japanese dictionary website I’ve used for years that has a subcategory for names too. I suppose I would go to that first if I was just trying to look up a random name.

    • Oh wow I didn’t even notice the URL had the pronunciation in it. Nice job spotting it, and since ameblo is still king, this is a major tip. Using YouTube to listen to the pronunciation is also a clever idea.

  2. Well my method right now consists of two parts:
    -the game I’m currently playing is Yugioh GX tag force and basically 99% of the npc names are generic japanese names so I add them to my anki deck for readings because it provides the furigana
    -I use the Japanese proper nouns deck as recommended by Jesper which teaches both names of people and locations.

  3. Flashbacks to the time I read an entire 60+ chapter comic on comico thinking that the main character (悠)was named はるか but it was actually ゆう…

    • That has happened to me too! And it can be hard to get it out of your head especially when you’ve been with it for so many volumes.

  4. One of my favorite things about this site is that it warns me about future struggles before I get to them. I have been dreading and ruminating over the prospect of how to learn Japanese names. I don’t even have an idea of what kind of names are usually used for boys vs. girls. But I’m still just out of the starting gates on my journey so I don’t expect myself to need this for a while, but I know it will help when I do. The last bit telling me not to worry and that it will come with time is also especially encouraging right now.

  5. I use Rikaisama (addon for firefox only) Names and places dictionary……… pretty amazing. Also the built in EPWING reader is the best thing ever for browsing the web. I have the 大辞泉 (japanese-japanese dictionary) built into my browser (same one that Goo.ne uses) and from that get locally stored dictionary information at any given moment. So awesome. With a single click of the enter key I can switch between a names dictionary/kanji/EPWING (大辞泉国語)。

    Highly recommend you pick these tools up! I think it will revolutionalise your web browsing experience.

    I should really share some of these cool efficiency tips I’ve garnered over the years but I soon remember I’m super lazy haha. I guess I’ll stick to sharing tidbits through comments as time goes by!

      • For those who don’t get it, the screenshot is from Death Note and one of the readings of the kanji in the example is “Kira”.

        • Seriously? 0.0
          Which one is read “kira”? I only see a lot of Takuo (and what I assume to be shibuimaru… I haven’t read or watched death notes, sorry, so I may be wrong).
          I guess I could look them all up, but I figured it would be faster (?) to ask…

          • They mean in the example below the picture (one of the readings of 北 shows up as “Kira”), not in the picture itself :)

        • That’s amazing. Not sure if Adam is claiming it, or he did that intentionally… awesome coincidence if the former, well played if the latter haha!

        • I knew how to pronounce the surname of the first example thanks to great 北斗の拳, that got engraved in my mind many years before I started studying Japanese for real.

          So here’s something that the manga can teach you besides how to explode people’s heads with your fists.

  6. One of the guys in my class has 寮 as his given name. I spent a good four months or so thinking he was a りょう but he’s actually はるか. Turns out most of the Japanese students made the same mistake! Which makes me feel somewhat better, to know that not even natives always know. Thankfully, I use his family name+くん so I never had to embarrass myself by getting his name wrong.

      • I think this applies to other languages as well, even though it might be less common in other languages. In Denmark we have a common boys name which is “Mikkel”, we also have a less common boys name “Michel”. These are usually pronounced in different ways. However my best friend in high school was called “Michel” but pronounced as “Mikkel”. That confused a lot of people.

        And then there is the Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd whose name no non-welsh person ever pronounced correctly at first I believe. I even had to look up the spelling. I think names pronunciation will always be lots of fun ;)

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