Localisation of names in Japanese

Published 6th June 2013
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localisation of names

Like many language students, I spent my year abroad in a German university. The great thing about the Erasmus study programme was that as long as you got the required number of credits at the end of the year, you could pretty much choose whatever courses you wanted while you were abroad. Most of my choices were fairly conservative German language related ones, but I also took Beginners’ Japanese, which ended up being one of my favourite courses. One of the highlights involved learning about the localisation of names in Japanese.

Japanese is based on a particular system of sounds, each being a syllable containing a vowel sound (except for ‘n’). The phonetic alphabets, hiragana and katakana, assign a symbol to each syllable, and foreign words and names are generally written phonetically in katakana. Because of this specific phonetic structure, some sounds in English (and other languages) cannot be reflected easily in Japanese, and so localisation of names and foreign loan words is vital to ensure that Japanese speakers can understand and use them.

For example, ‘Chloë’ while pretty easy for native English speakers to say (if not spell) correctly, is a bit of a phonetic challenge in Japanese. In English, it comprises two syllables, pronounced ‘klowee’. However, Japanese does not have a pure ‘kl’ sound, nor does it have a pure ‘wee’ sound (well, the table in the above image says otherwise, but I’m going to continue with my anecdote regardless!). This not only makes it difficult for native Japanese speakers to understand, but also to say. So the approximation my lecturer came up with was “Kuroui” (koo-lo-oo-ee). It’s a bit of a mouthful, but when I tested it out on a Japanese native in one of my other classes, there were no comprehension issues and everyone was happy.

Of course, the same principal applies to the localisation of names of businesses and individuals in texts being translated into and from Japanese. In order for a brand to be successful, it needs to be pronounceable, and this may require a bit of creative thinking on the part of the localiser. It might also be the case that there are slightly different ways of transliterating certain sounds, so it is important to make sure that, once the name has been localised, its localised form remains consistent across all translated documentation to avoid confusing the target audience.

At Lingua Translations we understand that the localisation of names can have a significant impact on the reception of the translated document, no matter how good the rest of the translation is. We only work with professionals who have extensive localisation experience and understand the target audience, so our clients can be sure that their brand is being presented in the best possible way to customers overseas.
So if you need anything localised into any language, be it a website, a brochure or a business card, request a quote for our professional language services and we will ensure that your name doesn’t get lost in localisation!

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