What is the acceptable procedure for writing proper names in Japanese academic papers when you don't know the official Japanese translation or the katakana for it?

Is there an expectation that all references to proper names must adhere to the official translation when mentioned in an academic conference paper presentation, journal article, and/or doctoral thesis? Or is it acceptable to create your own translation or make your own guess as to the katakana if you cannot easily find a source for the official one? Is it considered unprofessional and looked down upon to do this?

What is the customary way to deal with these questions while writing an academic paper when you don't have time to hunt down an official source, especially when the proper name may be of a historical entity that had an official Japanese translation in the past but which no longer exists?

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    If you have access to such journals and/or articles, it may work. But I am not sure if you have luck to locate ones within a reasonable time period. If you decide to write your own, you can put the original English name in parentheses to indicate what is referred to by your translation.
    – eltonjohn
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 14:02
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    I think this question would be better asked as "How to translate historical names which don't necessarily have an equivalent in Japanese?"
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 15:09
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    If it's an academic paper you want to enable whoever is reading it to be able to hunt down your specific source or person without too much difficulty. Beyond that, it's not a big deal. If you have both English and your best-guess Katakana / Japanese rendering, you should be more than fine. I would just recommend including somewhere an appendix of all the names you've adjusted so that a definite link can be made without a struggle on part of the reader. Also I really like eltonjohn's idea to talk to an embassy, they would definitely hook you up with a good rendering.
    – sova
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 4:28
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    When I have written academic papers (both in Japanese back in Australia and at university in Japan) the trend I have usually been taught is to write the Japanese Kanji (in known). Failing that then to write it in Katakana (where an official Katana name is known or failing that, how it would sound in Katakana). In both instances, if the origin source / word / institution etc. is English in origin then you always put after the Kanji / Katakana the full English name of your transliterated word. For Example: 米国水産生物学実験所 (The Biological Laboratory of the U.S. Fish Commission, Woods Hole, MA, USA). Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 0:39
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    ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/… - is this the facility you're looking for?
    – Cong Hui
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 3:03

2 Answers 2

  1. In Japanese I think the best translation would be 「米国水産委員会の臨海実験所」 because the equivalent field in Japan would be Marine Biology.
  2. 「エリザベス・キャボット・アガシーズ 」is the official Japanese spelling for her name.
  3. For example, the US lexicographer Joseph Emerson Worcester in Japanese is translated to 「ジョゼフ・エマーソン・ウースター」. So I would use 「ウースター」 rather than 「ウスター」 for names.

Because technically there are no official katakana representations of names, because of their difficulties in pronunciation, it is usually let up to the most common translation or interpretation. Different people interpret the sounds differently and therefore translate differently, if you are good at recognizing sound differences then you can try to do the translation yourself. Many names even 'Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz' can be translated by piece, [エリザベス] [カボット] [アガシー]. While the pronunciations may produce different katakana, they are all imperfect. In regards to [ウスター] and [ウォーセスター] the first is an older style and the second is a newer style, if you want the closest possible pronunciation you would go with the second but both work fine. Good luck.


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