I am learning the word for Christ, キリスト. According to the dictionary I make use of, it can be written in kanji as 基督, but the entry indicates that it is an ateji 当て字 spelling. I did some extra research and the word appears as ateji in other sources too, for example in this wikipedia entry . However, I think that the meanings of both kanji are far from random and instead they actually suit the meaning of the word Christ:

  • 基 fundamental, radical
  • 督 coach, command, supervise

From a believer's standpoint, Christ (or God) is the fundamental actor that supervises our lives, so it kind of makes sense meaning-wise. Why is 基督 marked as an ateji then?

  • This Q seems to assume that ateji are not allowed to make sense, but I don’t see where that assumption comes from... in fact I would say in the majority of cases the characters are picked so they make some sense. Jun 17, 2020 at 21:12
  • It comes from my wrong idea of what an ateji is...
    – jarmanso7
    Jun 17, 2020 at 21:51
  • 1
    FYI 基督 is a Chinese ateji in the first place. Jun 18, 2020 at 4:52

1 Answer 1


The use of ateji does not always disregard the semantic content of the characters.

It's true that many ateji use the phonetic content of individual characters to represent words, ignoring the meaning of those characters. But sometimes the characters are chosen so that the meaning is also relevant. This is known as phono-semantic matching. Wikipedia gives the well-known examples of 倶楽部 (くらぶ) and 合羽 (かっぱ), where both the semantic and phonetic content are matched. I haven't done a detailed search of the etymology of 基督, but if the semantic content of the characters is related to the overall meaning of the word, this does not preclude it from being assigned as ateji.

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