kanji interpretation, or other character?
December 31, 2013 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I would like to translate the name 'sophia' using kanji characters. Perhaps there is another Japanese writing character more appropriate for these sounds? or for a name?
posted by ebesan to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Names from languages that do not use Chinese characters cannot be "translated" into kanji. Such names are rendered in kana, usually katakana, or Roman letters. In the case of Sophia, the katakana writing would be ソフィア. This is what you should use to write "Sophia" in Japanese.

In Mandarin, Sophia would be rendered as 索菲亚 ("Suofeiya"), but this would not work in Japanese.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Katakana is the traditional script used for transcribing foreign words and names.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you use the term "kanji" I'm assuming you intend for the name to be read in Japanese. Katakana is the writing system used to transcribe foreign words. Is the name pronounced with a short "i" or a long "i"?
posted by trunk muffins at 7:26 AM on December 31, 2013

Response by poster: Katakana. Thanks all. Sounds like SO.FEE.A
posted by ebesan at 7:30 AM on December 31, 2013

Response by poster: and where can I find the characters; how they are rendered?
posted by ebesan at 7:34 AM on December 31, 2013

Disclaimer: I am not an expert. This is one way the name might be rendered in katakana:


The Wikipedia article linked above is a pretty thorough introduction.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:50 AM on December 31, 2013

Tanizaki has given you the transliteration (the sounds writen phonetically) in katakana. If you wanted a translation of the meaning to kanji, I'm not even sure the Gnostic concept of Sophia would translate well to Buddhism. It would make more sense to write it in Greek.

If you just find katakana ugly, since it's a girl's name you could have the option to transliterate to hiragana (which is considered "cuter"). It would then be そふぃあ but, really, the "fi" sound just looks better in katakana since it's not a native Japanese sound. In fact, it's a kludge with a tiny "i", the third kana, modifying a "fu" sound, the second kana, in order to represent "fi".

Please be careful that the third kana is smaller than the others, since if they were all the same size it'd read "so-foo-i-a".
posted by sukeban at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tanizaki gave you the correct katakana: ソフィア

Depending on what you're using it for, you could use "上智" (Johchi or "higher wisdom") as a bit of a joke. (上智大学, Jōchi Daigaku is the Japanese name for Sophia University in Tokyo)
posted by chocotaco at 7:54 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: thank you all. this is why I love this site.
posted by ebesan at 8:02 AM on December 31, 2013

Although not mentioned in your question, since sukeban mentioned tattoos, I would be remiss if I didn't warn you not to make any of the suggestions here (including mine) a tattoo. Don't tattoo yourself with a language you don't read. I see bad Chinese/Japanese tattoos all the time and they are, with only the rarest of exceptions, horrible both in terms of meanings and the calligraphy.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:08 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: no, just I want the characters; to produce on a card
posted by ebesan at 8:11 AM on December 31, 2013

^That was a brain fart of mine, I'm afraid.
posted by sukeban at 9:54 AM on December 31, 2013

How do you pronounce this name? With a soft or a sharp 's'? With a long 'i'? Depending on that, the spelling in Japanese, be it Katakana or Hiragana, changes:

Sharp s, short i: ソフィア、 そふぃあ
Sharp s, long i: ソフィーア、 そふぃいあ
Soft s, short i: ゾフィア、 ぞふぃあ
Soft s, long i: ゾフィーア、 ぞふぃいあ
(first katakana, then hiragana)

I also like chocotaco's suggestions, but I guess few people would be able to read that without being told how and it would probably count as a DQN name (names Japanese people give their kids that use really weird kanji readings - I guess giving you examples won't do much here since you don't appear to be able to read Japanese?)

If you have a name that can exist in Japanese as well, i.e. which conforms to the Japanese syllable system like Naomi or Maria, you can write it in Kanji as well, but the syllable 'fi' does not usually exist in traditional Japanese (hence when you look at the katakana and hiragana, you see a 'fu' with a little 'i' following, like sukeban explained), you cannot properly transcribe Sophia into kanji.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2013

The book Write Your Name in Kanji by Nobuo Sato discusses in its introduction how there are (at least) six categories of transcriptions when it comes to names:
  • kana transciption — name represented phonetically using katakana
  • purely phonetic transcription — combines characters whose sounds approximate the sound of the original name; completely ignores characters' meanings
  • purely denotative transcription — disregards original pronunciation of name and focuses instead on preserving the name's original meaning
  • phonetic and denotative transcription — "as you might imagine, few (and occasionally no) appropriate choices are left by the narrow constraints imposed by using both sound and meaning as criteria for picking kanji"
  • phonetic and eulogistic transcription — retain the phonetic aspect of the original name while using kanji that speak pleasantly of the person him- or herself; "while generally irrelevant to the original meaning of an English name, they may on the other hand convey a measure of elan that the original name lacks"
  • phonetic and attention-getting transcription — similar to the previous, but rather than using characters with good meanings, they tend to be comical or even negative; "they are calculated to attract people's attention and to make sharp impressions on business clients and partners"
Based on only one or two data points, the transcriptions given in the book seem to be reasonably accurate; when I showed a chop carver in SF Chinatown the characters the book claimed mean "eternally beautiful and elegant", he glanced at it and said "hm…forever beauty and elegance… nice."

Also, check your MeMail.
posted by Lexica at 6:32 PM on December 31, 2013

I've memailed you in case you're no longer reading this thread, but I'm posting the same content here for anyone else who might stumble across this thread later:

Katakana is a fairly simple script, but there are two pairs of characters which are extremely similar, and which you need to be extremely careful when writing:

ソ and ン ("so" and "n")
シ and ツ ("shi" and "tsu")

The angles of each part are critical, so if you're writing one of them, it would probably be best to do a Google image search on it (cut and paste it from this thread), get a nice big, clear image, blow it up to the right size, and print and trace it.
posted by Bugbread at 11:29 AM on January 4, 2014

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