Friday, September 28, 2007

Names and Characters

Sometimes I wonder what my husband was thinking when he named Leiya.

In Japan, parents choose a child's name because of the sound, depending on the meaning of the characters and often because of what luck the number of strokes used to write the name will bring. When we were choosing our children's names, we spent a lot of time considering the ease of pronunciation for friends and family in both America and Japan. Once we'd decided on the "sound" of the name, we started thinking about meanings that could be applied depending on which Japanese/Chinese character was used. We gave no thought at all to fortune and what were lucky or unlucky numbers.

Tetsu made the final decision in naming our children. We knew that we were having a boy when I was pregnant with Takumi so Tetsu had gone through a list of names and had decided upon one. He seemed to think that for a boy, only one character was very important. When Takumi was born however, Tetsu took one look at the baby and declared that Takumi looked nothing like the chosen name. Instead a new name was suddenly presented to me and I was happy either way and so Takumi was named thus. "Takumi" means "skillful" and the nuance is skillful as in carpentry (Jesus was a carpenter, right?). This is how we write Takumi's name in Japanese/Chinese characters. I can write Takumi's name fairly easily.

Then when Leiya was born, I pretty much decided the sound of the name for her and Tetsu started thinking of characters again. He chose two characters which mean "Beauty, lovely" and "Jesus". Wonderful. The sound is nice to the ears and it has a very nice meaning. BUT..... This is the way you write it!

Leiya's name has 28 strokes to it!!! Even by Japanese standards these are extremely difficult Chinese characters and the poor child wasn't even able to write her own name until she was in about 4th grade! Not to mention me, her American mother! She's 18 years old now and I still can't write the fool thing!

I remember when Leiya was first born and my mom was visiting. We had to take the baby for a check-up and I was asked to write her name. No way!

"I'm sorry, I can't write my child's name."

The nurse looked at my mother (remember, she's Japanese-American) and said "Oh, then Grandma can write it."

My mom backed off and said " Don't look at me!"

This is the way it's been for the last 18 years and I don't know if I'll ever be able to write it correctly.

And this by the way is our last name! Makes you wonder why I agreed to marry Tetsu in the first place!


peggy said...

I love reading your blog! I have commented in the past, telling you my son is stationed on Okinawa. Just reading your blog makes me feel I am learning some things about where he is, although I know Okinawa is very different from the rest of Japan. This posting is so interesting and also made me smile.

Quilt Pixie said...

I've always heard that English is a devilish language to learn (given all the irregularities), but looking at your names I know that Japanese is a devilish language to learn to write!

Patti said...

You are always teaching us the most fascinating things about Japan. I presume she can write her name just fine now. Don't feel badly - our kids have simple names but do you think I could call them by their right names when they were growing up? Not only did I mix up the two of them, but sometimes I called one of them by the dogs name or the dog by one of their names. And I really can tell them apart LOL!

anne bebbington said...

Tanya - yet again a fascinating post - no wonder you have that seal thingie (sorry can't remember the correct name) to sign for your mail!

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

I think Takumi won the ease of spelling your name game. Leiya's name is gorgeous, but aiyee. I love the story about spelling it. I can imagine a really fun quilt about it. the poor girl who couldn't write her name until she was in the fourth grade and her mother still can't.

meggie said...

You always have the most fascinating posts! I must be very difficult to remember the characters for names in either Chiniese or Japanese!

Anonymous said...

how interesting learning about names in Japanese ! We have a very long last name and even the italians have a hard time with it, let alone here in the Usa, they never know how to pronounce it and my husband wants it to be pronounced the right way, so when we visit a church during our home assignement, we have to teach the pastor how to say it ! When we teach children though we tell them to call us mr. and mrs. C. and sometimes pastors adopt this way of calling us....our last name is Chiaravalloti !! The ch has a k sound....that's easy once it is undestood, but it is soo long...Thank you again for the tid bits from Japan!

Shelina said...

I look forward to seeing all your Japanese names in fabric. :)

andsewitis Holly said...

I found it interesting reading how names are chosen. Do the Japanese make stamps with stamp pads to order of people's names so that they don't have to write them? I remember you wrote once about your family chop/stamp.

atet said...

Ok, I am laughing really hard here. I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing it!