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This might be a subjective question

Okay first things first, this question is more about trying to come up with a better name that doesn't disrespect or butcher the language. And I'm not really learning Nihongo, I'm writing a manga that is a very global story so I'm trying to represent different people, nations and their representatives in the world that I'm building in a believable and sound manner.

So I have a fictional team, a private contractor or a mercenary group that would be owned and operated by a group of Japanese business people, and the team would be known for being fast and effective.

So I tried to find a name for the team, and just recently I ended up with 火雷隊 among others with help from ChatGPT, also because I couldn't find native speaker willing to help in the few comic/manga community I was in, so had to give AI a try.

Anyways, I wanted the name to start with "H" when romanised, this is something that cannot be changed (if so then any other letter of the English alphabet available would be every other letter, for example B, D, F (is taken), H etc).

I wanted the name to convey the meaning that the team is fast (like lightning) and effective (like fire), so I found 火雷隊

Though, I'm still not sure about this and need to get perspective from people who are familiar with the language and who could help, and how to use it properly so that a native Japanese person understands what I want them to and not confuse them.

🤞 Hoping I'm asking in the right place, I don't think this goes against the guidelines of what to ask...

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  • I get the image of fast and effective from 隼 (hayabusa), too.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 23:39
  • ChatGPT did suggest that, I would have used it but it's sort of already out in the world, and I wanted a different word, thinking it would help me understand the language a bit better. I was most fascinated by the title Kimetsu no Yaiba because the English name is not really the actual translation, so that helped me see this as more interesting to play around with when coming up with a name! I might use it though, there are three characters for this team and I haven't created the third member, I plan to do something with that character...
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 0:13
  • The name per se looks ok, but I guess whether it is really natural depends on the broader context. In my understanding, Japanese equivalent of special command kind of thing uses acronyms such as SIT, SAT etc. Even if your 隊 is not that, in modren setting it is unlikely to use such naming scheme in the first place.
    – sundowner
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 2:16
  • Interesting, what did you have in mind or what kind of names and/or naming scheme would you have expected?
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:20
  • The name does sound a bit like the members are wearing hachimaki headbands.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 9:42

2 Answers 2

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As you said you are not someone who's learning Japanese, I will not go into details of Kanji readings in this answer. But with regards to your question, let's examine the name 火雷隊 you have.

This Kanji means fire, and is read as ka, hi, or ho when prefixing other Kanji's in some words.

This Kanji means thunder, and is read as rai or kaminari on its own, but in a name it can take on whatever readings, so it's totally fine if you want it to be read as kari. In Japanese, the convention is that ANY Kanji can have ANY reading, and it's completely arbitrary and without restrictions. You can take the Kanji 雷 and have it read as banana if you really want.

This kanji means team and is read as tai.

火雷隊

Together, the Kanji's convey the meaning the team of fire and thunder, but the thing is, MOST people would read this as karai-tai, and the reading of hikari-tai would not occur to them upon first look. However, if you make it clear to people that the Kanji is 火雷隊 and the reading is hikari-tai, then no one would have a problem with it, and it's easy to see where that name comes from. hi from 火, kari for 雷(which is already read as kaminari), tai is the default reading for 隊 meaning team.

HIKARI

The word hikari, as you may or may not be aware, actually means light in Japanese, and has the Kanji 光. This is sort of a word play, where you use fire-thunder 火雷 but install the pronunciation hikari (light) upon it to convey two meanings at the same time.

Conclusion

So, the name 火雷隊 is a word-play that means team of fire and thunder in writing but would convey the meaning the team of light when spoken. It's pretty cool to be honest, and nothing seems out of place due to the existing convention that Kanji in Japanese names can be read however they want. Just make sure that you tell people it's hikari-tai, or expect people to read it as karai-tai, or even hikaminari-tai since 火雷 actually is a (ancient) word in the dictionary with the reading hikaminari.

You said you wanted to express the quickness of the team... well whether one could associate fire/thunder/light with quickness is a subjective question.

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  • As for improvements... personally I find this name fine as-is and no improvements are needed.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 23:40
  • I'm glad that it's useable, so I thought I would encounter that issue of people reading Kanji in a different way, so I think there are phonetics used, can I make use of those and if so how? as I wish to make some cover art and want to use a totally traditional manga themed aesthetic, so probably furigana I think
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 0:06
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    Yep, furigana is definitely the way to go. A lot of manga authors use rare or archaic words in their works, and when this happens, they usually put furigana on the first appearance of the word to inform the readers of the correct reading.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 2:59
  • As a relatively extreme example, OP may want to consider how furigana are used in dialog for games in the Tales Of series. Sometimes they aren't even above kanji. Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 10:15
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What is the genre of your story, and what is that "private contractor or a mercenary group" like? The name 火雷隊 would be fine as the name of a private ninja/samurai group, so if your "very global story" is like Marvel's works or something like this from Overwtach, 火雷隊 might work. However, if it's a realistic spy story, 火雷隊 sounds funny even if the team is Japanese-owned.

In addition, Japanese people will intuitively read 火雷隊 as らいたい (ka-rai-tai) rather than ひらいたい (hi-rai-tai). Kanji have multiple readings, and people choose the on-reading of 火, "ka", here. If you really need it to start with H, a quick fix would be 飛雷隊 ("hi-rai-tai", 飛 is a kanji for "fly"), although this would still sound like a ninja squad.

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  • The genre is dystopian-cyberpunk, major governments and their military have been destroyed. So the idea is, those who were safe financially, aligned themselves with the newly formed earth government trying to regain control amidst the chaos. Since it's sci-fi, tech is involved, and in the world I'm building, there's a ban on projectile weapons for less rogue debris (Space warfare). The group consists of three members, two are close-medium range operators and work together while the third is a long-range operator who provides overwatch and real-time intel, they specialise in stealth.
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:05
  • So I was looking for a name that would give the vibe of a flexible team that is stealthy and fast. Since there won't be any guns used by them except the long-range operator, the two others will basically be equipped with katanas and other melee weapons, so they're like sci-fi samurai/ninja
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:08
  • @Zay Okay, so they're cyberpunk ninja like this, right? Then there is a clear reason to use ninja-like naming convention. But perhaps you may want to drop 隊, or replace it with 組. 隊 is basically a suffix for a modern military squads. Other popular Japanese words that are suitable for names, start with an H, and are associated with speed include 隼 (Hayabusa), 疾風 (Hayate), 飛燕 (Hien), 光 (Hikari), etc.
    – naruto
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 23:16
  • Similar is what I would say, because I'm approaching the sci-fi in a realistic manner. So for example, the main operator of the group has thrusters on his back that give him short bursts of directional thrust to be fast in a combat scenario and perform evasive manoeuvres where possible. But they are a substitute for special forces, and will be aligned with the government, so will be working as a part of the military.
    – Zay
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 6:54

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