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According to this question titled "How do we choose the correct characters for a westerner name?", the accepted answer says the following:

It's your name and you can arbitrarily pick characters to be your name.

Other answers also say that they can choose whatever they like, by its original meaning and/or its sound.

However, Japanese people already have names written in kanji. In fact I find that any name of Japanese people are simply mapped to its equivalent Chinese characters, and it seems to be that the sound never plays a role here.

Is it true that the name of Japanese people in Chinese must follow its Japanese kanji, or is it just a convention?

Also, if that is not the rule, is there anyone who breaks this convention, say among famous people in China?

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Yes, if a Japanese name can be written in kanji, it is customary to read these kanji in its Chinese character pinyin, the Japanese pronunciation play no part.

The Japanese pronunciation of "田中" is "Tanaka", But 田中 in Mandarin is read as / tian2 zhong1/ using Mandarin Pinyin and /tin4 zung1/ in Cantonese using Cantonese Jyuping

If you are a Japanese named 田中 (Tanaka), your Chinese name should always be 田中 (tin4 zung1) also. Picking a different Chinese name, for example 田 (tin4) so your name can sound more Chinese, is considered insulting to your heritage.

Some Japanese first names do not have fixed corresponding Kanji, for example あかね (Akane). In this case, we have to choose among all the Kanji that is pronounced あかね, and 茜 is the most common one.

  • Thanks. "it is customary to read these kanji" - so even if you are Japanese can you still use a different name, such as 塔纳咖? – Blaszard Sep 25 '17 at 21:13
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    The 田中(Tanaka) family would think 塔纳咖先生 is insulting their family name. The Chinese would think 塔纳咖先生 hasn't been properly educated in Japanese language and presume he was raised in European country and learned limited Chinese words from there. – Tang Ho Sep 25 '17 at 22:07
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I'm the one who answered the question mentioned in your question. I think I have to make a clarification fist. I think you misunderstand that question. The poster is asking how to choose Chinese characters for a Chinese name if a foreigner wants one, not how to "translate" a foreign name into Chinese. They are different.

As for your specific interst in how Japanese names are mapped into Chinese. Here is my two cents.

Due to historical reasons, Chinese language and culture deeply affect east Asia, more specifically, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Among them, Japan still perserves many Chinese characters (Japanese, 漢字{かんじ}) in Janpanese language. In many cases, a Japanese name fully consists of Chinese characters, so it's would be straightforward to keep the name the same when "translated" into Chinese. In few cases, when the name consists of some hiragara/katakana (Japanese,平仮名/片仮名; Chinese, 平假名/片假名), a character commonly used in names would be chosen to "translate" the Japanese name into Chinese character, as Tangho pointed out. Some exapmples:

安室 奈美恵{あむろなみえ Amuro Namie} (a female Japanese singer) in Japanese = 安室 奈美恵 in Chinese

初音ミク{はつね ミク Hatsune Miku} (a virtual figure famous for "her" singing) in Japanese = 初音未来 in Chinese, since ミク is the nanori (Japanese:名乗り, a special pronunciation used in Japanese names) of Chinese characters 未来.

長渕 剛 {ながぶち つよし Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi}(a male Japanese singer) in Japanese = 长渊 刚 in Chinese. Here, Standard Chinese characters in Simplified Chinse are adopted after the "translation".

Of course, in case you just want a Chinese style name even when you are a Japanese, you can "arbitrarily" choose your Chinese name.

By the way, for Korean and Vitamnese, they have their name of the "version" in Chinese characters, so their name always looks like an original Chinese name. No "translation" is needed.

  • Thanks but I didn't misunderstand the question! – Blaszard Sep 25 '17 at 21:15
  • Of course, in case you just want a Chinese style name even when you are a Japanese, you can "arbitrarily" choose your Chinese name. -- A Japanese can pick a Chinese name as an alias (别名) but his official Chinese name is till the one written in kanji. – Tang Ho Sep 25 '17 at 22:23
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A person can have an English name, a Chinese name, a Japanese name or whatever other names, which are totally unrelated and picked only by himself.

There is a famous actor in China with a Chinese name 大山, who is actually a Canadian with the name Mark Henry Rowswell. Some ambassadors in China also have their own Chinese name.

But except for that, there is a guideline for translating a non-Chinese name into Chinese in China (I cannot find a reference now). It is mainly based on reading, or transliteration, except names from certain countries. Japanese names will use their original characters if possible.

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As you said above, it is a tradition that Chinese would find the equivalent for the Japanese names more by forms than by sounds. But there are exceptions, like a famous brand name "Yamaha", which could be written as “山下" if by the above rule, but it has been translated as "雅马哈” in Chinese mainland and "跃马” in Hong Kong. Another brand name "Nissan" is either “日产” or "尼桑".

  • No, yahama is named after the surname of its founder, 山叶寅楠 (in Japanese, 山葉 寅楠(やまは とらくす), Yamaha Torakusu). – Huang Sep 25 '17 at 13:34
  • It's interesting "跃马" is Ferrari in mainland. – dan Sep 25 '17 at 23:45

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