Monday, March 7, 2011

What's in a Name?

Picking a baby name is never easy. Picking a name that is in line with our tastes, personally meaningful, culturally sensitive, easy to pronounce, and does not have some kind of messed-up meaning in Japan or the United States is next to impossible. After removing all of the names that have been used by close friends, siblings, and cousins as well as the names of kids we didn't like in school and all the aunts and uncles, here is the list of boys names we've tested so far along with some of the problems they present to the Japanese-speaking portion of my household:

Evan = Eban (no, no, no "v" as in violin, not "b" as in banana)

Hugh = a cat call (picture construction workers whistling at a pretty girl)

Hoyt = the sound of spitting a hocker

Isaac = spelled backward with Japanese pronunciation --> kusai (stinky). No kidding on this one. I knew a mom whose child was picked on relentlessly in Japan because of this name.

Jaden = Let's face it, just about any "newer" name that has become popular in the last 10 years or so seems too ridiculous and foreign to a Japanese speaker that it's not worth the trouble of repeating it or trying to explain it for the 10 millionth time. So that means our list needs to stick with more "traditional" names, which brings us back to the problem of trying to avoid the various family names which have already been used once or twice.

Luke = Ru-ku = rucksack = backpack (Ru-ku ru-ku wa? = Luke where's your backpack? = numerous strange looks on the subway.)

Micah = Maika, a really pretty girl's name

Nathaniel = impossible to pronounce in Japanese -- Nazaneearu anyone? (Before we go much further, I have to acknowledge that besides names with "v," any names with pivotal "l," "r," or "th" sounds also have to be removed from consideration. So, no, Mom, "Laird" is not a good suggestion, even if it is a family name.)

Thomas = most likely to elicit comments about the ever-so-popular Thomas the Tank Engine, who is even more ubiquitous in Japan than in the US. There is even a Thomasland at one of the major amusement parks in the environs of Tokyo. Tom, meanwhile, will remind everyone of their junior high school English textbook. Tom is just easy enough to pronounce that he has become a regular in this genre.

Other names to definitely avoid (they weren't on our list to begin with, but while we're on the subject):

Kendall -- this name sounds a lot like kendo, or Japanese sword fighting done these days in most elementary through high schools with a bamboo sword. In my experience, every time a Japanese person hears this name, they feel compelled to pretend they are in a kendo dual.

Gary -- "geri" means diarrhea.

Esa -- I don't suppose this is a common name in English, but in case you're considering it and happen to have ties with Japan, please think again. In Japanese "esa" means dog food.

Anyway, you get the picture...And we haven't even started thinking about middle names!


1 comment:

SunfleurSue said...

Years ago I had a friend who was (as I recall) Swedish - they had a similar issue with choosing names. I remember a favorite boy's name that was shot down was Ryan -- because in her native language it translated to Wall to Wall Carpeting (lol) Thank you for sharing your unique naming issues :)