2010-04-08

How to write your name: Is capitalized family name recognized?

When I want to write my name in English/German document, there are several ways to do that, and it is confusing. For example, 村上春樹 can be written as

1. Murakami Haruki
2. Haruki Murakami
3. Haruki MURAKAMI
4. Murakami, Haruki.

For me, when I wrote my name in Latin characters, it has already been not quite my name (my mother can not read it) and the pronunciation has already been altered. (Usually people call me man-cow or something in Japanese. But, that's ok. I cannot pronounce others.) Therefore, I consider that it is just an approximation of my name, and I don't think further. Maybe one reason is that my name has different writing way, but the same pronunciation. (E.g., Japanese name Hiroshi is written in 宏,浩,弘, 洋.... These are all Hiroshi, but all have different meaning. When I wrote my name in Latin character, then it already lost some meanings. Maybe this is related I am not so eager to think how to write my name. A movie title 'Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi' (English title 'Sprited away') exploited that Japanese reading altered in a context. (Japanese reads the character '千' as 'Sen' or 'Chi'.) This kind of subtlety is unfortunately hard to translate.

Despite of these difficulty, I need to write my name in Latin character. In this case, I try to make one point clear, which is my family name. In default, case 2 is the common way, but this is actually not explicit.

2. Haruki Murakami

In European countries, the following writing can express which is the family name.

3. Haruki MURAKAMI
4. Murakami, Haruki.

However, case 3 is not always recognised. I recall a book from Honda, Katuichi who recommended this family name capitalisation. (Unfortunately, I don't have the book now and I could not verify it.) I followed the recommendation for a few years. However, as some of you know, this doesn't work in US. One day, at a computer graphics conference, I was asked why I capitalise a part of my name. On another conference, a professor made a joke on that, "Aha, your name is such an important as written in full CAPITAL letters!" It was a kind of bad timing and I was shamed. After that, I stoped to use this method 3. This writing can be recognised at least in France, Germany, and England.

The writing 4. is used in German official document. This is not valid only in European, but also valid in US. So, I use this writing time to time. However, one of my friend recommended to use 1. notation. Because this is a proper noun, then let's just try to write it as close as possible to the original. We usually need to explain this and this is a good clue to start a conversation. In any cases, this is just an approximation for some people who don't know the Japanese, so there is no exact answer.

In the German official documents, it is specified as

first name
family name,

then we can just follow the instruction.

I wrote this article, because I was surprised that this type 3. "Capitalising family name" is the most minor one, yet this is famous in Japan. I hope this was told more often in the school.


Acknowledgements

I had a long time question on this issue. Finally I got the
answer from native professional writers. Thanks to Mike, Rachael, and Kelly.

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