JOK Notebook

Crazy Names

We've arrived at the 100th JOK Notebook post! Coincidentally, I reached another milestone this week; I completed the 114th essay. That may sound like a random number, but it's actually significant. There are 1,140 kanji in the junior high school set (numbers 997 through 2,136), and I've now written 10 percent of those essays!

Though this puts me in a good mood, I remain as tuned in as ever to the darker side of life. To that end, it amused me to come upon two passive-aggressive terms this week:

敬遠 (けいえん: (1) pretending to respect someone while in fact staying distant from him; (2) keeping at a distance; (3) giving a batter an "intentional walk")     respect + distance

遺恨十年 (いこんじゅうねん: grudge of 10 years' standing; harboring a grudge for many years)     grudge (1st 2 kanji) + 10 + years

Ten years, huh? That's child's play compared with some of my grudges!

Take 10 and square it to arrive at a more cheerful topic. A woman in Japan turned 100, and Japan Today had a hilarious, short article about the impossibility of reading the kanji in her name.

On that note, I asked one of my proofreaders to recommend a good dictionary for name kanji. He said there really isn't one to recommend and that Google is the best way to go. Reading kanji for names is a chaotic state of affairs, he said: "It's entirely up to the parents how to read each kanji. For example, you could read 白 (white) as くろ (黒: black), which is strange but legally okay."

To illustrate the liberties some Japanese have taken with this, he cited several bizarre naming situations:

• The well-known writer Ogai Mori (森鴎外, 1862–1922) had children with these names: 

於菟(おと: Otto)
茉莉(まり: Mary)
不律(ふりつ: Fritz)
杏奴(あんぬ: Anne)
類(るい: Louis)

Don't think too hard about how the kanji correspond to the yomi; it's just odd that he chose such Western names and then rendered them in kanji.

• A famous manga artist named her four kids (her actual kids, not manga characters!) as follows:

在波 (あるは)
紅多 (べえた)
紅甘 (ぐあま)
出誕 (でるた)

These names come from "alpha," "beta," "gamma," and "delta" respectively!

• My proofreader's high school classmate had parents who were into communism—or at least they were in 1964, when he was born. They named their son 礼仁 (れいにん: Lenin). As if high school weren't hard enough socially!

In the spirit of all this playfulness, I invite you to take a crack at the quiz in the newly posted Radical Note 72 on 日, the "sun" radical. Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky, coauthors of The Kanji Dictionary, devised this quiz and produced its answers.

And while you're at it, be sure to check out the latest essay, which is on 更 (furthermore; to renew; change; grow late; brand-new; night watch):

Have a great weekend!




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