Last week, I wrote about two of the most common challenges we face as editors of content translated from Japanese into English: names and phrases unique to Japanese. Looking over what I wrote, I realized that there is one more challenge with translating names I failed to mention–readings! I’d like to briefly touch on this additional challenge in this blog.
Often the same kanji are used to write names with totally different readings. For example, take the girls’ name 知香. I actually encountered this name in a series I’ve been working on. A quick search of the kanji online brings up websites with baby names. 知香 is listed with three readings: Chika, Satoka, and Tomoka. How do we know which one is the “correct” reading?
In Japanese, when a character is first introduced, there will be furigana (smaller hiragana written above or to the right of the kanji), so we know the “correct” reading.
However, sometimes there are no furigana given, so we don’t know exactly how to read their name. How do we resolve this?
Well, we have two options.
The first is to wait for a character to stutter the name in question. When stuttering in Japanese, the kanji fail to show that they’re only pronouncing a part of the name, so they will write out the stuttered part in hiragana as something like:
ちっ 知香！(Chi-chika!) / さっ 知香！ (Sa-satoka!) / とっ 知香！ (To-tomoka!)
If we are lucky to encounter such an instance, we can safely assume the correct reading for their name.
If this never happens (as it did in my case), we search the name online and check a series of celebrities’ or authors’ names to see which is the most common reading and go with that one. Of course, later the readings can randomly appear and be actually a reading we didn’t choose or even expect. Even so, we would continue to translate her name as it was initially translated in order to keep consistency.
So far our Chika has remained 知香 in the Japanese with no furigana or stuttering characters, but who knows–someone may stutter さっ (Sa-) or とっ (To-) in one of the chapters and solve our mystery. We’ve already gone with Chika, so she would forever remain Chika to English readers, but at least our mystery would be solved.