In my post about choosing a name for our son, I said that one reason for giving him my wife’s family name, i.e. a Japanese name, is because it would be more convenient. In this post, I’m going to write about my experiences of having a non-Japanese name in Japan.
Informally, my name Nick is pretty hard for Japanese people to pronounce. They tend to say Ni-koo, or nikku in romaji. Having been in Japan for ten years, I now introduce myself as Ni-koo, and to help people remember my name, I list a variety of meat dishes – yakiniku, nikujaga, and nikuman. Naturally, having a name similar to the Japanese word for ‘meat’ is funny enough to break the ice during an introduction.
Things get really awkward in formal situations, and I often struggle to remember what my own full name is. At least, I forget the order in which it should be written. Let me explain…
Here’s a scan from my old passport. You can see that my surname is listed first, then below are my given names, Nicholas (first) and Hannant (middle – don’t laugh!).
The problem arose right at the beginning when immigration decided, based on my passport, that my name is officially Ramsay Nicholas Hannant, and City Hall put that on my alien registration card. Can you imagine how confusing it is to be recognised as Last name, First name, Middle name?
I can’t count how many times I’ve had to rewrite forms at banks and post offices because I got the order “wrong”. When we applied for a mortgage, I had to open a completely new bank account because my existing one was opened without using my middle name, and apparently this was impossible to rectify.
Everything must match my alien registration card: my driver’s licence, health insurance, pension, even our house is owned by Mr. Hannant. It’s a bit annoying that all my neighbors think I’m Ramsay Nicholas Hannant-san, but that was the name on the list at our recent neighborhood meeting.
Having a meaty nickname and a long-winded, scrambled full name is one thing, but the problems don’t stop there. When I applied for a credit card at a shopping center years ago, the staff promoting the cards and signing people up where young, part-timers who didn’t really know how the application form should be filled in. I asked one of the girls if I should write my name in English, romaji, or katakana, and she guessed at the latter. Clearly this was a mistake because when I eventually got my card, it had been converted into romaji, reading Ramusei Nikorasu Hananto.
I was able to use that card, without getting billed, for six months before the credit card company contacted me to say the name didn’t match that of my bank account, and I would need to fill in more forms to correct it!
I could go off at a tangent and talk about how I opened another bank account with the name “Nishi”, but I’ll save that story for another time.
Anyway, I hope from these experiences you can understand why our son Rikuto, will not be given a middle name, or my foreign surname. When something as simple as a name can cause so much hassle, why complicate things for the little fella?If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!