Writing English Names in Japanese Using Katakana
A brief guide to understanding how to translate English names into Japanese Katakana script.
Practitioners of traditional karate-dō usually have their names embroidered onto their gi pants, jacket, and belt. For Japanese, the name is usually written in kanji. For non-Japanese, the names are usually written using the Katakana syllabary.
Translating English names into Japanese requires using the Katakana syllabary and can be a little tricky. There are some sounds in English that do not have exact equivalents in Japanese. Thus, a close sound approximation is usually used. Glutteral stops are also denoted in Japanese, while in English they are usually just memorized or occur as natural variation of accent or inflection. Japanese uses the Katakana syllabary for foreign words primarily, though they are sometimes used for advertisements as well. The other syllabary is called Hiragana and is used for Japanese words and to denote grammatical endings. And of course, there are Kanji, which are the pictographs that were borrowed from Chinese around 1,000 years ago and have been incorporated into the Japanese language. Most, if not all, Japanese people use Kanji for their names, while foreigners usually would continue to use Katakana even after a long stay in Japan. It is possible to write English names using kanji, however that can be a bit tricky as well. Certain kanji have been traditionally used as syllables only and while kanji usually denote meaning (as opposed to merely representing a sound) kanji for this purpose only represent the sound of the syllable.
Confused yet? How about a few examples:
Tom = トム (to+mu) Since there is no single consonant except for "n", the closest available match is usually the matching letter with the "u" as the full enunciation of "u" is not usually made in Japanese when attached to a consonant.
Phillip = フィリップ (fu+small i+ri+small tsu+pu) The フィ is known as a "glide", and it represents certain combinations of sounds.
Amy = エミ (e+mi) Some names can be fairly simple.
Lawrence = ロレンツ or ロレンス Some names and words can have multiple translations, depending on the sound emphasis. In this case, Japanese does not have a true "R" or "L" sound; Rather in Japanese the sound lies somewhere in between. Thus, English names and words that have r's and l's in them will be denoted as the "r" equivalent in Japanese.
Jackson = ジャックソン (jya+small tsu+ku+so+n)