What’s my name?

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.

Nikuman - a meaty dumpling thing.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…

Last, First, Middle names - confusing to Japanese.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?

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11 thoughts on “What’s my name?

  1. Its kind of funny that when most people name their kids, they try not to give the kid a strange name for fear of beating given by other kids… However when you are in Japan, its the government that is more of a concern! haha! Im sure Rikuto will appreciate your concern later in life!

  2. I have the exact same problem. I am listed as “HAMILTON ANDREW WILLIAM” in my driving license, so that’s also how I have to fill out forms (usually in the katakana transliteration). Unfortunately, this is far too many characters for some forms. Add to that the fact that it often gets me called “William-san” (I never use that name). Actually, the only thing that people never seem to call me is “Hamilton-san” which is annoying since it’s the only thing that I consider acceptable for strangers to call me.

    My second bank account, opened for me by a company I worked for who wanted to direct-deposit into it, was actually named “ANDREW WILLIAM HAMILTON”, but somehow the furigana of that was in the order “WILLIAM HAMILTON ANDREW”, which caused 3 hours of form-filling-in to rectify.

    I think I should just register the name SUZUKI TARO and be done with it.

    1. The question, “What’s your name?”, has become so problematic (especially since any explanation why I can’t give a simple answer is lost on the person asking) that I’ve decided I WILL get citizenship and WILL change my name to an easy Japanese one…. eventually.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one with this problem, not that I wish it upon anyone else!

  3. I know there are problems with names in Japan, but Ricky should really have had Hannant Caithness in his name or the family names will both die out. That will be a shame. Failing that perhaps you should have a couple more little fellas to carry on the tradition.

    1. You’ll have to encourage Mark to make some babies, one child is all we can afford I’m afraid. I’ll tell you what we can do, we can still give Rikuto those middle names, but keep them unofficial. Putting them on paper would make his life a misery. Just to emphasize my point, I can do banking in England with the name Nick Ramsay, but in Japan, it has to be Ramsay Nicholas Hannant or they won’t believe I am me! 🙄

      1. Great Nick, so Ricky is now unofficially Rikuto Caithness Hannant [Hidden] Ramsay. That should be enough of a mouthful for him. Ha ha!

  4. your problems with Nick is the same problem I have when Japanese friends try to call me Kirk. They end up shortening my real name and trying to call me Kelly…which ends up sounding like Kerry! thats a female name!

  5. Meh. Why should you be confused? *You* know what your name is, you just can’t explain it to them. Okay, so let *them* be confused. When Japanese people ask what your name is, just rattle off something lengthy and vaguely European-sounding with a lot of blends and non-Japanese phonemes in it, along the lines of Niklaus Thurvelsgrolder
    Eisenshietzerschtern III, Earl of Glouchestershire, Worchestershire, and West Central Transylvania.

    Then, when the look of panic crosses their face, say “but you can just call me Nick”.

  6. It worked out well for because I go by my middle name (using it as my first name)! But I imagine for most other people it’s a great inconvenience.

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