I'm trying to write the name of a Chinese friend, Ying. I know that the sounds "yi" and "ye" don't exist any more except for the deprecated hiragana characters, and katakana doesn't have either of them. The question, how should I write it?

A Japanese friend suggested イン, but this misses out two kinda important consonants from the word. Is there no better way of representing this name in katakana?


5 Answers 5


イン is pretty much the standard way to transliterate Chinese "ying" to kana. Here are some examples:

  • 陶晶瑩 - Taiwanese celebrity
    • Pinyin: Táo Jīngyíng
    • Kana: タオ・チンイン
  • 劉若英 - Taiwanese celebrity
    • Pinyin: Liú RuòYīng
    • Kana: リウ・ルオイン
  • 馬英九 - President of Taiwan
    • Pinyin: Mǎ Yīngjiǔ
    • Kana: either ばえいきゅう (on'yomi of each kanji) or マー・インチウ (direct transcription of what it sounds in Chinese)

but this misses out two kinda important consonants from the word

A little on this. When a word ends in ん, that ん can take on the sound of [ŋ]. For example, if you listen to yuu0equal0u's recording of わんわん or panna's recording of たくさん on Forvo.

Often, the transliteration doesn't reproduce exactly the original pronunciation of the word. For example, スティーブ・ジョブズ sounds a bit different from how "Steve Jobs" is pronounced in English.

As to "yi", い・イ is definitely one way (although not the only way) of transliterating this sound. We can see this in the kun'yomi of some kanjis:

  • 意 e.g. 意思
  • 医 e.g. 医者
  • 以 e.g. 以上
  • 衣 e.g. 衣服
  • I wonder if it's "transcribe" or "transliterate". Hmm.... Also I hope I'm not mishearing the [ŋ] out of wishful thinking. Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 21:47
  • 1
    You've surpassed your name, that was far less than a day! Nice answer. I understand that Japanese transliteration doesn't work perfectly, I was just hoping there was some solution similar to how the Japanese might write "fo" as フォ or "we" as ウェ.
    – Lou
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 22:01

Yi (and other characters) existed in Japanese a long time ago and I found an old katakana sheet that has the missing characters. This image is from 1873: Old katakana worksheet

More on this at this Japanese wikipedia page for: ヤ行イ. Also, note that this page has the respective hiragana characters too.

In reality, most native Japanese will not be able to read the "classical yi" or other classical characters.

There are contexts where the classical characters are still used, most notably Yebisu Beer; look at the katakana character after 琥珀:

Kohaku Yebisu from www.moippai.com

It looks like the katakana for "we"... which actually has me confused at the moment because I always thought it was "ye"...

Anyways! Although the beer is "Yebisu" in romaji and "Yebisu" (or "Webisu"?) in katakana, it is pronounced エビス.

To answer your question though you should probably go with イン as the others have suggested but if you really want to use the character for yi, it does it exist; just understand that most people will not be able to read it and, even if they can read it, they will still pronounce it イ.

  • 1
    Nice catch! This is really interesting.
    – Lou
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:58
  • That kana for "yi" really looks like レ to my beginner eyes. Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:51
  • 3
    If I remember the story correctly, the "ye" in Yebisu has nothing to do with the ヤ行, it's just that "we" from the ワ行 used to be pronounced [je], which probably causes some confusion. I am still slightly tantalized by the "e" from the ア行, though...
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 21:26
  • @3to5businessdays: If you read the Wikipedia page, the "yi" in that image is the left side of the kanji , which can be seen in words such as 以前, 以降, 以来, etc.
    – istrasci
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 22:46
  • 4
    You should check this line in wiki ヤ行イ、ヤ行エ、ワ行ウが存在しないためそれを当てはめるため無理やり掲載された "since 'yi', 'ye' and 'wu' do not exist, they were forcibly assigned", apart from the fact that current い・え were once pronunced as 'yi' and 'ye'.
    – user4092
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 6:01

I agree that イン is probably the best fit for the limitations of Japanese. Of course, being Chinese, your friend already has a kanji for his/her name, so you could always just use that and write イン as furigana for it.

Alternatively -- and I don't know how much this would happen in real life -- you could just use a Japanese pronunciation for the name's kanji. If you've ever seen the movie Ip Man, the main character is the titular Chinese man. His name "Ip Man" (sometimes written "Yip Man") has the Chinese characters 葉問. In the movie, he is taken prisoner by Japanese military, and the Chinese/Japanese intermediary calls him ヨウ・モン, which you can see is the Japanese 音読み of those characters. So you could possibly do that, although I don't know if that's somehow disrespectful to change the pronunciation of the name.

  • 3
    +1 for the recommendation to use your native Kanji with furigana. This is what we do on business cards for employees of Chinese descent at my current job and I've seen other companies (particularly global ones) do this as well.
    – Ninj0r
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:12

If you look at the Hiragana chart below, you notice that there are no corresponding letters for "yi" and "ye". Those letters do not exist in Japanese (not that we can't pronounce it).

enter image description here (From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiragana)

When we need to write foreign words containing "yi" and "ye", we use イ, and イエ (or sometimes イェ) respectively.

A good example is probably "yes". We write it イエス。Another one is "yay". This becomes イエイ。

  • 1
    It's not that they don't exist; they do exist. They just don't exist in modern Japanese. This chart shows all the 'missing' kana by their development, the only one that is probably actually missing is 'wu' because the 'w' should is already has a sound similar to single /u/ sound 'う'. Although there is some history of a kana being used that looks like this kanji 于 being used for 'wu'. So, it probably was a thing at one point but what probably eliminated early from usage because of its redundancy.
    – Hush
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 5:38
  • It's like the old English form of 'the'. It was spelled with the English thorn (Þþ) but was mistranslated as a 'y' due to the similarities of English Blacklettering. That is why there is a misconception that it's 'ye olde...' which is incorrect; should be 'Þe olde'. But we don't use that anymore since English evolved, much like Japanese evolved.
    – Hush
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 5:38

𛀁 is the hiragana foe ye but is HUGELY obsolete and its katakana was the same for the katakana for the letter e (back then the e katakana was different think of the katakana ne ネ and it was similar to this expect it didn't have the 3rd and 4th stroke (the bottom and bottom right strokes))

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