How do you deal with Japanese names?

The title says it all. Whenever I try to read Japanese names it feels like I can’t read Kanji at all. Now I might exaggerate a bit but sometimes I find names that I can’t read—while I thought I knew the Kanji.

In the beginning, I thought maybe it’s because I don’t know all the readings. You know how a Kanji might have 5 readings but you know only 2 or maybe 3 with WaniKani. However, sometimes the reading doesn’t make any sense…an exception(for the 258788783478597853rd time in Japanese).

Example: 一男 Kazuo (Even the most basic Kanji isn’t readable haha)

I don’t haha :joy:

In all honesty I try to avoid using peoples names because I find it so hard to remember them. I usually just mumble something unintelligible and add an appropriate suffix and it usually works out okay.

If I can I also get them to write their kanji and the reading down so I can learn it and this way also gives you the opportunity to get out of pretending you don’t know their name by saying you’re not sure how to write it.

From there on though it’s just pure memorisation. It’s easier if you already know the kanji even if the readings different. And I wouldn’t worry about it to much because many Japanese people struggle when it comes to names with a lot of ways to write them. Even common names can be written with a really “creative” set of kanji which can easily throw off beginners and natives alike.

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There’s really nothing to do but ask or hope there’s furigana for it.
I’m pretty sure it’s not even a matter of a “reading exception”, but it’s just people writing any kanji they want along with the actual name in hiragana.
I guess it’s their equivalent to Catherine/Katherine or Damian/Damien

It’s not uncommon for people to ask each other how to write their names, cause no one knows lol


I can only read 田中 with utmost confidence.


Usually in manga or novels, the names, no matter how “common”, there’s a furigana on how the names are read. I’m reading a manga now, with someone named Takeuchi ( 竹内) and they even put on furigana even though it should be intuitive to many Japanese (I think?).

I don’t know in Japan itself, but in anime, you commonly encounter conversation where they explain how to read or write their names. So even native Japanese themselves experience hard time on some names, I guess


Everyone is 田中さん to me until proven otherwise…



By learning it from Tofugu


As I thought, just memorize them. Beside the 2000 Kanji that we need, we should learn 2000 readings for names. Welcome to Japanese where fluency is never achieved.

PS: Didn’t even know Tofugu had a store lol.

@jalwood1 So I should use 男さん for men and 女さん for women. Got it! :joy:

@tzukishiro I get so happy when I see Furigana in any Japanese content :smiley:

@ren_grantz Same here with 田中. It’s true that some people(in anime or dramas) ask for them but I never paid attention to it until I started struggling with names myself lol.

I have a simple method. Everyone becomes A-さん, B-さん and so on.

Most common last names are not that hard to remember. Usually two kun’yomi, sometimes two on’yomi squished together. You can try to read the names after a few movie plays, see if you can’t intuit some names. Also look up the kanji on wikipedia. If there is a famous person with that name, you’ll see the yomikata after their name. Of course readings for the same name in kanji may vary from family to family.

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I kid you not, I have a coworker named 中田 and it took me such a long time to not call him 田中.


Even Japanese struggle with names. This is why there is a furigana line above the name box on every form you have to fill out. As mentioned above, they often ask about kanji and how to say names in conversation. The most common ones become easy after seeing them a few times, but there are plenty of regional names, that if you’re not from there, you have little hope in figuring out the name. My married name is like that. As for given names, older people generally have traditional names that are easier to read (with practice and familiarity), but there are certainly exceptions. Many young people have unusual names nowadays though and no one can read them. My husband will go through my sons’ class lists and he can only read a handful of the names because of unusual kanji combinations and pronunciations.


I read it as Tanaka, oops I guess

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I just ask the kanji and readings as many times I need to (if dealing with real life people), possibly forever, and google is my friend :stuck_out_tongue:

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Names are just memorization of, “Well, it’s usually this.”

But sometimes they’re really bizarre, especially キラキラ names, like 光 being pronounced ライト

In most cases, the owner of the name just has to tell you what it is. When you fill in any form in Japan, it’ll have you write it in Kanji first, and then write the reading of it in hiragana or katakana below it. (Pro-tip: If the instructions on it are written in hiragana, write the reading in hiragana. If it’s written in Katakana, write it in Katakana.)

There are names that are purely phonetic where the parents just made up their own kanji because they can. There can be a lot of spellings for any name, even common ones.


It’s a lot easier to learn Jinmeiyō kanji if you live in Japan, because you’re exposed to them by reading various things, including station names, temple names, city names, people names, etc.

For example, just by reading the name 安倍晋三 in a newspaper, you get that 安 is sometimes read as あ and 三 is sometimes read as ぞう.


There was a Terrace House episode where they were celebrating one guy’s birthday and were really embarrassed when they realised they’d used the wrong kanji for his name on the banner. That kind of drove it home for me that everyone finds it tricky.


It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. I mean I would understand non-native people struggling with things like this but even native people do which seems ridiculous to be honest. I know Japanese people are weird because they do a lot of unusual stuff but at this point I start to wonder whether they are masochists.

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Most names have some basis in established readings. It’s just when they are nanori readings, rather than on or kun, we learners don’t have much exposure to them.

Crazy, inventive names exist, but they are the minority.

Most people could take a stab at writing most names, knowing that there could be a few options.


I really hope you are right.

I never heard of this Nanori thing. Damn, every time I learn more about Japanese I feel like I know less. I guess I will have to check those after reaching LVL 60 :joy:

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Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that, cause… yeah you might be correct, or you can call or write someones name totally wrong and look like an asshole or something.

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