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How to Write Your Name in Japanese

Updated on October 2, 2015

Japanese is a language that looks beautiful when written down - calligraphy is a popular art celebrating the beauty of the Chinese-originating characters, Kanji. Written Japanese is an art form itself, and it's fun to be able to write characters and words you know. This article gives a complete guide to writing your own name in Japanese. Try it out and post in the comment section below!



There is no direct translation for each individual letter. Let's use the name JAMES as an example. To write JAMES in Japanese, you wouldn't be able to find the equivelant of "J", "A", etc. Don't make the same mistake my uncle did a couple of years ago. He wanted the first letters of his children's names, "F", "H" and "P", tattooed onto his shoulder blade. The artist obliged, and a few weeks later they were eating in a Chinese restaurant when the waiter asked him with the utmost sincerity; "Why do you have 'running water' written on your back?" Oops.


The Japanese Alphabets - Katakana VS Hiragana and Kanji

Japanese names are generally written in Kanji, the third and most complicated Japanese alphabet that originated from Chinese. Each Kanji is a pictogram with a meaning as well as one or more readings, so often Kanji with pleasant meanings are chosen for Japanese children, such as Fujiko (the child of Mt. Fuji), or Eri (precious gift).

Unless you have a Japanese name, you will most certainly be writing your name in the second Japanese alphabet, Katakana, which is used for foreign words such as "bottle" (ボトル), "locker", (ロッカー), "table" (テーブル), TV (テレビ), etc. A chart of the Katakana alphabet is below. It is laid out identically to the first alphabet, Hiragana. Hiragana is used for grammatical words and sounds accompanying Kanji to make words.

Katakana chart
Katakana chart | Source

Don't feel intimidated by the characters you see here - you don't have to learn them all to be able to write your name. There are several more rules when it comes to sound blends; for a fully detailed guide and writing practise, click here.

It's important to know how the letters sound before you choose some for your name. Let's use the five vowel sounds - A, I, U, E and O - as a base, because the vowel sounds remain the same for the rest of the letters (for example, the "A" sound in "Ka", "Sa", "Ta", etc is all the same).

A - as in "father"
I - as in "eat"
U - as in "loop"
E - as in "elephant"
O - as in "orange"

You can also watch this short clip for a native speaker's pronunciation guide, including how to position your mouth when speaking.

Elongating vowel sounds

As you saw from the video, sounds in Japanese tend to be quite short. There isn't much stress in Japanese words - all of the syllables tend to be the same length unless they are elongated. An example of this would be "u" added after "o" to create a longer sound, in words such as "sumou" (sumo wrestling) and "arigatou" (thank you). To elongate a sound in written form for your name, a hyphen-like symbol (ー) is simply added.

Here are some examples of words that have elongated vowel sounds. You may have noticed the two mentioned earlier, "table" and "locker".

  • サービス (Sa-bisu) meaning 'service'. Without the hyphen, the "sa" would be much shorter, making it sound more like "sabiss". With the elongation, it sounds more like "sah-biss", and therefore more similar to original English word.
  • テーブル (te-buru) meaning 'table'. Similarly to 'service', the hyphen turns "teburu" to "teh-buru".
  • メール (me-ru) meaning 'mail'. Again, the hyphen turns "meru" to "meh-ru". *Note: there is no "L" in Japanese, so words ending in "L" in English are replaced with "ru". More on that later.

Sounds, not spelling

When writing your name, go for the closest sound, not the closest spelling. As you heard in the video, the vowels don't change as they do in English. For example, if your name is David and you went for the closest spelling possible, it would sound more like "dabiddo". Instead, David would write "de-ibiddo" to achieve the correct vowel blend sound closest to the original sound.

What to Do When a Letter From Your Name Isn't Available

In Japanese, there is no "V", "X", "L", "TH", "Q" or consonant blends like "PL", "SL", "TR", "CR", etc. If you have a name that has any of these, writing it in Japanese may be somewhat of a challenge, but still perfectly possible.

All you have to do is work out the alternative. Here are some ideas below.

Your name's letter
Japanese alternative
Ra ラ Ri リ Ru ル Re レ Ro ロ (Ru ル if your name ends in L)
Ku or Kua
ク or クア
Ba バ Bi ビ Bu ブ Be ベ Bo ボ
Sa サ Shi シ Su ス Se セ So ソ
Letters in your name and their alternatives

Writing your name

Now you have an idea of Japanese letters and sounds, it's time to write your name!

First, break up your name into syllables. Typically there'll be one to four. Once you've done that, figure out which Katakana sound is closest to the syllables in your name. Don't forget to elongate vowels when necessary.

Let's go back to the previous example, JAMES. James is technically one syllable in English, but it would become three in Japanese due to the many sounds in the name. The syllables would be like this:

Je - mu zu

"Je" must be elongated, as the first two letters in JAMES are stressed. "Je - mu zu" in Japanese would look like this:


JAMES is a complicated name to write in Japanese, which is why I used it as an example. Other names may not be as difficult.

Examples of easy names:
Stephanie (Su te fa ni -) ステファニー
Poppy (Po pi -) ポピー
Lisa (Ri sa) リサ
Harry (Ha ri -) ハリー
Lee (Ri -) リー
Alan (A ra n) アラン
Karen (Ka re n) カレン
Ryan (Ra i an) ライアン

And that is how you write your own name correctly in Japanese! Try it out and post in the comment section below!


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    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 2 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Was the article not helpful?

    • profile image

      Jewel Badua 2 months ago

      I would really like to know how to write my name in Japanese I love Japan,and Japanese anime shows and I always see there name in Japanese

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 11 months ago

      O thank you so much poppyr ! I had this painting for 3 years I have posted it on antique sites no reponse, so I am thrilled that now I am close to it meaning of stamp in letters.

      I will send a picure to you today thank you sweetie

      I appreciate your help.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 11 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Hi! Thank you for your lovely comment. I can read Japanese. Do you have Twitter? You could Tweet the picture to me and I'll see if I (or my boyfriend, who is native Japanese) can read it for you.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 11 months ago

      Hi poppyr. When I just seen your name pop up it reminded me of your hub about How to write your name in Japanese, very interesting hub !

      Can you read Japanese and Chinese ?

      I have a painting I have been holding on to its a family portrait dressed in ceromonial clothes with doves on chest.

      Would you know what the letters mean written ?

    • Mihnea Andreescu profile image

      Mihnea-Andrei Andreescu 23 months ago from Tilburg

      My best friend speaks japanese and korean too.Very interesting hub :)

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 2 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I appreciate the continued support.

    • Randall Guinn profile image

      Randall Guinn 2 years ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

      Thanks for the info Poppy. I don't see a place to rate the hubs anymore, but this is a really great article that you have put together. I have shared it on facebook, and will do so again tonight. After reading your hub, I inderstand now why it is hard for Asian people learning English to pronounce some words, or why they add an R sound to words. Again, a great hub.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 2 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Tom - your name would be Tomu. Thanks for your comment :D

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 2 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Hi Randall! The third alphabet, Kanji, originated in China and often have the same meaning - for example, the numbers are the same, although pronounced differently in each language.

      The first two, simpler alphabets originated in Japan. Hiragana is for grammar and words coupled with Kanji; for example, "taberu" (eat) is ta be ru, "ta" being in Kanji and beru being in Hiragana. Katakana, as mentioned in the article, is used for foreign words such as western names and words originating from other languages, such as coffee, locker, table, bed, etc.

    • Randall Guinn profile image

      Randall Guinn 2 years ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

      Poppy, is there any similarity between the Japanese alphabet and the Chinese? Are the languages completely different? I know that you must get asked this often, but I have always wondered. If I have already asked, forgive me I am old.

    • profile image

      Tom 2 years ago

      So if I'm reading this right my name in japanese would be tomo. Nifty.

      Very interesting and entertaining article

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy Reid 2 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      There are three alphabets - Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. It's in the article. :)

    • Happy Moment profile image

      James 2 years ago from The Eastern Bypass

      My question is, do they have alphabets? I guess it would be easier to understand the language if it has alphabets.