Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Wright Search for the Right Baby Name

My wife and I are struggling to find a name for our baby, due in January. Boys names are particularly difficult if you're looking for a name that works in both Japanese and English. We don't know the sex of our baby yet but if it's a boy, we may struggle.

My wife really liked the name "Sky" because it sounds nice in Japanese - スカイ - and you can choose some beautiful kanji for it:

澄 meaning "clear" or "translucent" and

海 meaning "the sea"

So 澄海 could be a way to write the name Sky, meaning a clear sea, which is a lovely image for the sky.

Very poetic. However, I've never heard of the name in English and I'd rather not imitate the Hollywood couples that give their kids very strange names.

But then I remembered the Isle of Skye, a beautiful island off the coast of Scotland. I thought that if we spelled the name "Skye", then I might be willing to concede the weirdness point in order to insert some Scottish influence. Ridiculous, I know.

But then it dawned on me. For the Japanese, the L sound and the R sound are indistinguishable. A "light" is pronounced in exactly the same way as my surname, "Wright". Indeed, lights are often called ライト (raito) and this is exactly the same as my surname. A source of much amusement for our friends and the butt of many a joke at our wedding.

If we named our child Sky Wright, it would inevitably be pronounced Sky Light in Japanese.

Back to drawing board.


  1. Nice to hear from you again! And congratulations on the incoming bundle of joy :p. Will be interesting to hear what you decide to name your child.

  2. Thanks! Will be sure to let you know when we figure it out.

  3. Congratulations both! :)

    To chip in on this name subject my family have also had this same ongoing issue where the names need to be ok in a few languages (German, English/Irish, Japanese) as we are now three generations of Japanese-European and we all spend time and live both here and there so the names need to suit everywhere. No one has yet tried to have a name that actually means something in both languages like Skye, that is a lovely idea!

    My family just seem to have gone for names that can be pronounced ok in both languages and we all have both a Japanese name (mine's Mayumi) and a European name. A European name with clear syllables seems to be easier to pronounce in Japan even if it has Ls and Rs? Like my name comes out as Ah-Riss or Ah-Riss-Su but no one has a problem attempting it, I should think something like Niamh would be much harder to tackle! (My Japanese surname however seems to be completely unpronounceable to non-Japanese but one can't help that.) Good luck to you both with making your decision, I'm sure that you will come up with something lovely.

  4. Thanks for the lovely comment Alice. It's hard enough trying to juggle two languages so if your family has been working with three or more, it must be very difficult!

    One problem is that middle names aren't recognised in Japan. I think that one way to get around this is to register a kind of double-barreled first name. Not sure if you have a Japanese passport but if you do, I'd imagine it says (surname) AliceMayumi where AliceMayumi is the first name.

    Since our baby will be born in Japan, Japanese nationality will come by default. British nationality will be much more difficult because I wasn't born in Britain, I was born in Kenya. (My father worked there for five years and I happened to be born during that period). Inheritance of British nationality only works over one generation, and I am British by descent, which means I can't give my kids British nationality if they're not born in the UK. We can apply but it's not guaranteed. Not sure what happens to a middle name in these circumstances.

    Basically, it's all very complicated! I'm sure we'll work it out though!

  5. Wow I see how complex it is for you! My sister and I are both Brits (and actually the only British people in our family) so we are ok with a middle name plus a first name in our passports etc. Next time I speak to my dad I'll ask him what he does with his middle name as he is Japanese but definitely was given a German name too. We were even discussing it the other day as apparently on his birth cert his first names are the other way around than on his other documents. Maybe they are glued together like you say. Interesting.

  6. Name that works in English and Japanese perfectly? For a girl, lots. Oh a boy.

    Uh, "Ken" and "Ben". You're welcome.

    Sorry for the lack of variety.

  7. Had an image of a sky writer too...(-:
    Sky Light is actually not so bad (if it weren't a corruption of your actual name) But, you're right, you don't want to go the Hollywood route for sure lol omedetto and Ganbatte

  8. We don't know the sex of the baby yet, but you're right, I think we're going to have to be a bit more flexible if it's a boy. We should be finding out pretty soon so that's when the real thinking will begin!

    Thanks for the suggestions and I like Erika, it's a lovely name.

  9. Thanks for the nice comment. I've recently found out that Sky is apparently a girl's name, so that's another reason!

  10. One word of caution regarding "popular" Japanese girl's names: when we named our kid, my wife (and other Japanese girl-friends that I've discussed JP child naming with) swore they'd never name a girl with something that ends in "-mi" or "-ko" (all the J-girls I dated fit that pattern) because everybody had those names and they were cliché and too common and boring.

    Now, in 2010, if you go to a school and look at a class roster, it very few of the girls have names that end in "-mi" or "-ko." All "-ka", "-sa", "-yu", "-ri" etc.

    Now I hear that parent's are tired of all these prefixes that are trying to be different:

    Having a "-ko" or a "-mi" is cool again.

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  12. This is five months too late, but I just thought I'd chip in regarding nationality. My parents were in a similar situation to you, having both been born in Zimbabwe, so that when they had me and my sister in Spain we weren't eligible for British nationality being third generation. This was further complicated by the fact that we were also not eligible for Spanish passports (my parents hadn't been in Spain very long when they had us and neither had Spanish nationality) nor Zimbabwean passports (my parents had British nationality, not Zimbabwean).

    After many years of frustration my father met someone who worked for the British passport authority, and he recommended that we appeal for British nationality on the grounds that we were stateless -- we legally had no nationality -- and our ancestors were British. He helped us with the wording of the appropriate letters, and finally my sister and I were granted British nationality. This was about two or three years after I was born.

    Since then, we moved to England and I lived there for seventeen years before coming to Japan. I had hoped that all that time living there would have rendered me a "proper" British person and that my children would be entitled to British passports. I am guessing from what you've said that this is not the case?

    If you do pursue the path of trying to get a British passport for your children, I would very much like to hear if you have any luck, as there is every chance I will find myself in a similar position a few years down the road!

  13. I'm glad that you and your family are ok! Hope the aftershocks lessen soon and that your baby isn't too disturbed by them. My family are mainly based in Tokyo too and are fine also.

    This might seem very trivial in the light of things that are going on recently but your most recent post reminded me that I had finally remembered to ask my dad what he and his sister do with their non-Japanese 'middle name'. My father has a Swiss birth certificate from 1945 and a Japanese passport. The Swiss birth certificate has room for a first name and a middle name so that's ok, on his passport however he just has his Japanese first name. My aunt however was born in Japan so (like you suggested) in her birth certificate and passport they have glued together the Japanese name and western name into one new double-barrelled name. Not sure how interesting that all is as it completely confirms what you said but eh. I guess it shows this problem has existed for families for a long time including in the 1940s!