Are foreign personal names usually written in katakana, or is this dependent on the type or writing, and the target audience? For example, this Japanese Wikipedia entry on Steven Bradbury uses katakana, while this Wikipedia entry on JRuby uses romaji for the contributors.


As you guessed, it depends on the type of writing and the target audience, and also on the style. In text written for general public, such as newspaper articles, foreign personal names are usually written in katakana. In academic books and papers, it is more common to see names in the Latin script (at least in mathematics and computer science).

As for Wikipedia, a guideline of the Japanese Wikipedia states that foreign names other than Korean and Chinese names should be usually written in katakana. I do not know how strongly this guideline is enforced.

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  • +1 on academic writing often (but not always) using romaji. I have yet to see a popular magazine or news website using anything but kana for Western names. – Dave Sep 4 '11 at 3:25
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    Just anecdotes for consideration: I was recently involved in a law suit. On all legal documents pertaining to the court case, my name was written in romaji. I think however, this was because that was how my lawyer originally submitted my name. I believe that for a court of civil law, they don't impose a rule on how your name is presented, they just insist on consistency. On the other hand, I've started a few companies, and in each case, I was required to provide an official katakana spelling of my name, along with a registered seal using that name. – Questioner Sep 4 '11 at 11:42
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    As for Korean, it should be written in katakana rather than kanji, and Chinese names should be written in kanji rather than katakana and read by the Japanese pronounciation. For example, 金大中 is キムデジュン, not きんだいちゅう, but 毛沢東 is もうたくとう, not マオジードン. This is due to a policy called mutalism. You treat back the way the other country treats you. In Korean, Japanese proper nouns are read close to the Japanese pronounciation, whereas in Chinese, they are read according to the Chinese reading of the character. – user458 Sep 4 '11 at 13:18
  • @sawa: Is your comment meant to be a comment to me? If so, I know it. – Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 4 '11 at 13:45
  • @TsuyoshiIto It's an addition to complement your answer for others to see since you have written something about other than these two langauges. I thought you may know. – user458 Sep 4 '11 at 16:41

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