I'm a foreigner, and my name is Shiori. I've heard of a several Japanese people with this name, and they write it with kanji (of course).

I know that when you are a foreigner, you are supposed to write your name in katakana, but since my name is Japanese, is it possible for me to use kanji?

According to wikipedia; the most common ways of writing Shiori are 栞, 撓 and 詩織. I know that foreigners should avoid kanji for their name because even if it sounds like your name, the meaning comes out as weird. But these kanjis for Shiori are already used for names, so the meanings don't come out as weird..?

So even if my name is Japanese, should I use シオリ or any of the kanjis?

  • 6
    That's your choice ultimately. Even some Japanese people have their names in katakana if they live overseas (Yoko Ono is known in Japan as オノ・ヨーコ, even though she was born in Japan, and her name is, in Kanji, 小野洋子). Kanji come off as more refined, and less foreign in this case too. You could just ask your parents what they thought Shiori meant (if anything), otherwise pick one of the kanji you listed. If you're a girl, though, it's perfectly okay to write your name in hiragana as しおり. Many Japanese girls write their names like this. – sqrtbottle Nov 26 '15 at 15:56
  • 1
    To add to my earlier post, if your surname is foreign (and you write it in katakana), I probably'd stray from Kanji. Writing names as Katakana-kanji does seem strange (I think I've seen it once in all my years of Japanese, and I only remember it because it was strange). Kenichi Smith (スミス健一) is technically not wrong, but it's really uncommon. Of course you could Japanize your surname (Either give it Kanji like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marutei_Tsurunen did or just use a different surname in Japanese), but if you're using a katakana surname, a katakana forename is the only natural option. – sqrtbottle Nov 26 '15 at 16:06
  • 2
    @ShenKuo Please post answers in the answer box :-) – snailboat Nov 26 '15 at 20:00
  • 1
    This question is basically identical to this question in purpose japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/21228/… – virmaior Nov 26 '15 at 22:57
  • In your question, you say "supposed to" but supposed to by whom or what? – virmaior Nov 26 '15 at 23:00

This sounds tautological, but the fact is, having a foreign-looking name in this largely homogeneous country strongly signals that you are foreign. A big question is whether you want to be broadcasting this signal.

Growing up among many haafu and other mixed-race kids, I know first-hand how annoying it can be. Of course, once in a while someone will compliment you on your cool katakana or otherwise foreign name, but in day-to-day life, it can be pretty inconvenient. People read out your name like it’s a question, you have very little anonymity since your name is so conspicuous, and in the worst case you get picked on or mildly discriminated against. Some of us have kanji versions of our names, so we use them along with the Japanese parent’s surname whenever that is possible and more convenient.

This is one reason why some foreigners here adopt a Japanese-looking common name, or settle on a kanji transliteration upon naturalization.

In your specific case, having a Japanese-sounding name like that in katakana will most likely signal that you are a nisei of some sort, or that you actually have a kanji name but are stylizing it in katakana for coolness or pseudonymity.

So really, it is up to you, whether you are going to live in Japan or are just studying in different country. Your name is your identity, and if you think a kanji version of it represents your identity better, go for it!


I'll migrate my answer from the comments and add a bit.

Overall, I do believe that it's totally down to the individual how they write their name, especially so in Japanese. On the whole, foreigners, even overseas Japanese, very often have katakana attached to their names rather than kanji, even if they do have a version of their name that uses kanji -- the two examples that come to mind are Yoko Ono (known as オノ・ヨーコ rather than 小野洋子) and Michio Kaku (ミチオ・カク rather than 加來道雄 -- he even gets his name put in the Western order)

Using a name in Kanji will help a lot to seem less foreign, if that's your intention, which is why a fair number of naturalized Japanese and foreigners doing business in Japan will give themselves Japanese names using kanji (plus the law requires a name to be hiragana, katakana, or kanji). Kanji come off as more refined, too.

There is a contradiction to this though, in that Katakana surnames with Kanji forenames are nearly unheard of. I've only ever seen this once, and the fact that I remember it for being strange is a credit to how rare it really is.

For you, you could do a few things, and pick whichever suits you best:

Firstly, you could ask your parents what they thought Shiori meant (if anything). I know a lot of parents who give children foreign names at least make an effort to check they know what it means (or what they think it means), so this could work for you, and then you can deduce which kanji your parents were referencing.

If they didn't have anything in particular in mind, you could always pick one of the kanji options for Shiori yourself. Or, if you're a girl, it's okay to write your name in hiragana as しおり, which is commonplace in Japan amongst girls, but not boys. Because of this, it's seen as a very feminine trait.

Finally, you could Japanize your surname and pick a kanji for your name. This is probably the most Japanese option (As mentioned in the comments, Marutei Tsurunen did this, which is why I disagree strongly with the notion that Kanji isn't for foreigners), or otherwise just make up a new surname to use in Japanese. But if you're using a katakana surname, a katakana forename is the only natural option, as I mentioned earlier.

Don't feel pressurized to pick a Kanji unless it suits you. There are a lot of native Japanese with hiragana names, and lots of Korean Zainichi who even just use kana completely (even though most Koreans can write their names in 漢字). Choose what type of impression you want to give off with your name, and whether you want to feel more Japanese with your name (while being mindful that they'll be able to tell in reality if you're not ;), more feminine (if you're a girl), whether katakana's fine for your tastes and so on. I use a Kanji name as most Japanese do, except in my case it's (by virtue of my name) clearly a Chinese name.

Figure out what type of a name you think suits your personality and who you are, but don't get too caught up on an option fitting 100% perfectly. As Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.

  • 2
    It's actually impossible for many computer systems to enter a combination of a katakana surname, then a katakana bit of the 名前 and a kanji bit of a name (my wife is Japanese American and would do so if possible in some ways). – virmaior Nov 26 '15 at 22:59
  • 6
    "...Katakana surnames with Kanji forenames are nearly unheard of." I would really argue that it isn't exactly unheard of, especially now with all the cross-cultural marriages. Just a quick perusal of my friends on Facebook brings up 13 Kanji-given, Katakana-family names. Otherwise I agree with the rest of your answer. Have you ever seen a Katakana-family and Hiragana-given name before? – The Wandering Coder Nov 27 '15 at 5:25

While studying Japanese in university, we had a professor who was from Japan and he explained that, unless you are Japanese, your name should be written in Katakana. As someone already pointed out, Japanese names are often written in Kanji and they usually mean something that the parents intended. Just because your name sounds like it could mean something in Japanese does not mean that it can be translated accordingly.

Take Hannah for example.

It could be simplified into Hana, which means several things in Japanese, such as "flower", "edge", even "nose". You might be inclined to chose "flower" as the meaning and even then you have two choices of Kanji: either 花 (which is the more common) or 華 (a more archaic version, rarely used on its own). The choice of the Kanji you will use is entirely your own, but that is now how Japanese names work.

Shiori does sound like a Japanese name, but unless your parents intended it to be a Japanese name (with a designated meaning that would make selecting a Kanji easier), using Kanji to write it may seem presumptuous, especially to Japanese natives. It is therefore more appropriate to use Katakana when writing it.

As for the possibility of using Hiragana rather than Katakana, I would advise against it, as it is usually perceived as a feminine way of writing your name. Socially speaking, Hiragana was traditionally used by women when writing (obviously verb conjugations, adverbs, prepositions or other grammatical structures do not count). When Japan opened its borders to foreigners in the 19th century, Katakana began being used to write foreign words, including names. It is therefore best to write your name in Katakana, as a foreigner, as it was linguistically intended.

  • 2
    I'm one of your downvotes and thought I would explain a little bit the features in the answer that distinguish it negatively from other answers. First, "he explained that, unless you are Japanese, your name should be written in Katakana." If he did explain, you haven't given us the explanation -- just the claim. And it's not true for Chinese foreigners in Japan -- they have kanji and registered with them at 入国管理局 (the situation for Koreans is more complex). – virmaior Nov 27 '15 at 7:09
  • Second, it seems to be making a lot out of a little that Japanese parents often pick kanji for their children. I can't speak for everyone, but the pattern that seems to be most common is pick the sound, then pick the character (or kana) for the name. Moreover, there's a long tradition of 宛て字 giving kanji based on sound. Sure, it's not super popular but it's not automatically wrong. – virmaior Nov 27 '15 at 7:11
  • Finally, the last paragraph seems (at least to me) to mix the present and the past in some weird ways to make its point. Yes, hiragana was used at one point in writings by women. But in the 19th century grammar bits of sentences were written in katakana (and using a lot more kanji). Katakana was also used for foreign words, but the current pattern didn't solidify until basically post WW2. Moreover, some women's names were written not just in hiragana but also in katakana. So I'm not so sure about the "linguistically intended" part. – virmaior Nov 27 '15 at 7:14
  • 2
    Why is it presumptuous to choose a name for yourself, especially if you're a grown adult? I know many people who changed their name or took up an alias, not just in Japan. Besides, like what virmaior said, there are foreigners born with Kanji names - are you trying to discriminate against them because they aren't Japanese? – Yuu Nov 30 '15 at 13:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.