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