Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

So in Code Geass, Emperor Charles zi Britannia is obviously British because Britannia is a glorified, alternate-universe Britain. Thus he has an English name. Makes sense. Since it’s a Japanese show though, they have to transliterate the English name into Japanese, and Charles becomes シャルル (Sharuru). This has always bothered me. I just don’t see the connection between “Charles” and “Sharuru.” Of course I understand that many foreign words translated into Japanese sound strange because of their limited phonetic alphabet, and most of the time, I’d say they do pretty okay. But in this case, I’m thoroughly convinced that they could have picked a better transliteration with the sounds that they have. チャルズ (Charuzu), for example — not worlds different, but different enough to be closer, right?

Further, “Sharuru” seems to be some kind of universally accepted Japanese version of “Charles” because Code Geass was not the only series where I heard the transliteration. Who decided that “Charles” should be “Sharuru”? If someone else decided that they wanted to transliterate it as “Charuzu,” would they be wrong? Are there multiple ways to import a name into another language?

For the reverse case, Japanese names into English, the answer seems to be yes. For FUNimatioin’s recent license, Spice and Wolf, they’ve decided to transliterate ホロ as “Holo” rather than the fan-preferred “Horo.” Since the Japanese use the same sound where Westerners distinguish between L’s and R’s, either version can technically be correct. Nevertheless, the らりるれろ sounds are more often seen as R sounds (ra, ri, ru, re, ro) than L sounds (la, li, lu, le, lo). And for Horo’s case in particular, I can’t shake the idea that “Holo” will invoke “holographic” first and “awesome wolf deity” second. Meanwhile, “Horo” is kindasorta similar to “Horus” an Egyptian falcon god.

And then there is the fun thing they do when they have English names transliterated into Japanese only to be transliterated back into English. Except that the two English versions don’t match. The best example of this is probably Simon from Gurren Lagann. The Japanese have no character for “si,” only し/シ (“shi”), and so, Simon was pronounced シモン (“Shimon”). When Gurren Lagann was dubbed by Bandai, they kept that pronunciation, presumably because of perceived fan pressure. The same can be said for Viral, which retained the “vee-rall” pronunciation instead of “fixing” it back to “vhai-rul.”

In Horo’s case, fan preference may be more legitimate since the name isn’t English to begin with, but in Simon and Viral’s cases, should Bandai have given in? Would it really have been that weird to hear the names pronounced “correctly”? I don’t really think so. And if they were going to play it the Japanese way, why didn’t they go all the way with Viral and leave it as “V/Biraru”? That’d be pushing it too far with the lip movements, I guess? It can be debated whether or not Simon and Viral were intended to be English names to begin with — even though they’re obviously not Japanese, it’s possible that they could be fantasy names instead. But they seem kind of plain for fantasy names, don’t you think? After all, Japanese fantasy has come up with names such as Zelgadis Greywords, Filia Ul Copt, and Yozak Gurrier, and even those are Western-based. I wonder if there really is a “right” or “wrong” way to pronounce Simon and Viral since it’s been passed through languages the way it has. I’m sure fanboys will swear to “Shimon” and “Vee-rall,” but are they just subscribing to the Japanese’s limited phonetics?

Still, as far as natively Japanese names go, I’m glad for the shift towards preservation of pronunciation. The Sakura in Card Captor Sakura was dubbed as “Sa-kuur-ah” with a long “u” sound. The more recent Sakura of Naruto has been dubbed more correctly as “Sah-kuu-rah” with a short “u.” And yet, Akira was dubbed years ago correctly (with a soft “i” sound), and most people I know still pronounce it with a hard “i”?

One last thing… who the hell decided that they could name their child “Light” — an obviously English word — and then assign it the kanji for “moon”? (月 “tsuki”) How does that even work?? Obviously, no one will intrinsically understand that “tsuki” should be read as “Light” (or ライト”Raito” since they can’t actually pronounce “Light”) because Misa didn’t know offhand. So did Light just spend his life ‘”correcting” teachers saying, “No, ma’am, you’re wrong, it’s not ‘tsuki’ like it is in the dictionary, it’s ‘Raito’!”? Says who?? Your crazy parents?

Why do they get to decide that “Light” can be represented by 月 “tsuki”? Why didn’t they just use 光 “hikari” which actually means “light”? Because Hikari is actually a legitimate name? (A female name, but a name nonetheless!) I guess they didn’t want Light to go through life being mistaken as a girl during rolecall, so instead, they made him special by giving him the wrong character for the translation? Maybe that’s why he turned into such a megalomaniac.

The mystery of Light Yagami, solved!

Then again, the forcing of kanji for an English word has happened for things other than names.

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  1. Authoritaters on June 4, 2009 7:32 pm

    Oh dear oh dear, I guess English speaking countries will never fully respect any foreign pronounciation simply because they find it too hard to get out of their tongue's comfort zone.

    Ever tried pronouncing Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japanese?



  2. Kiriska on June 4, 2009 7:55 pm

    Mayhaps, though that example seems to illustrate the Japanese's inability to "respect" English pronunciations rather than the opposite. Though to be fair, with the limited phonetics of their language, they probably couldn't pronounce it correctly no matter how much they want to. XD

  3. kuromitsu on June 4, 2009 8:03 pm

    "Sharuru" is "Charles" because that's how Charles is pronounced in French. Just look it up. It's not an English name. (Yes, the French spell it "Charles" as well.) And as for Simon and Viral, nobody said they had to conform to English pronunciation. It's a fantasy, they can think up whatever pronunciation they want to.

    Fan-preferred spellings are influenced by lots of things that may very well be flawed – just look at "Haine" which is supposed to be "Heine" as it's a German name, yet some fans threw a fit when VIZ dared to use the correct spelling (that even the mangaka uses). Or there's the romanization of "rakurima" in Noein – the correct romanization should be "lacrima" ("tear" in Latin), yet fansubs romanized it as La'Cryma which is a JRock band La'Cryma Christi. (This was also used in the official translation as well which is simply ridiculous.) So no, fan-preferred spellings are not always correct.

    Also, what Authoritaters said.

  4. kuromitsu on June 4, 2009 8:04 pm

    Eh, and I fail at English yet again. orz To my defense it's 2 AM here.

  5. Kiriska on June 4, 2009 8:55 pm

    Incidentally, I did look up the French pronunciation of "Charles," which sounded something like "Sha-leh" which still isn't close enough to "Sharuru" for me. "Share" maybe, but not "Sharuru."

    For Simon and Viral, yes, it's fantasy, but that doesn't mean that the names aren't based in English — most Japanese fantasy names seem to be based in either English, French or German, and they attempt to pronounce them as such. Should translators indulge in the fact that the Japanese just can't pronounce them?

    As far as spelling goes, I completely agree with you for all words involving non-Japanese names or Japanese-conceived Western/fantasy names with an official Roman spelling that's appeared in magazines and the ilk. For example, Stellar from Gundam SEED Destiny might sound nicer translated as "Stella," an actual Western name, but that doesn't erase all of the official Japanese publications that have already romanized it as "Stellar."

    For a character like Horo/Holo, who's name only ever appears in katakana, the debate is more legitimate, in my opinion.

  6. kuromitsu on June 5, 2009 11:05 am

    The French pronunciation of Charles is something like "sharl" (with that guttural r). "Sharuru" is pretty much the only way it can be romanized and pronounced in Japanese. That's how their language works, they can't really do anything about it. (By the way, "Share" doesn't sound anything like "Charles"…)

    As for Simon and the rest – thing is, these shows are not made for an English-speaking, western audience. They're not made with foreign languages in mind, period (and I don't see why they should be, just because foreigners watch the shows as well). The names may look like they're English/German/etc. but they not necessarily are English/German/etc. It may be confusing for English speakers who take it granted that if it's written as "Simon" then it's pronounced as "sai-mon" but that's just a mostly baseless assumption, really. (By the way, "Simon" is pronounced as "si-mon" in French, "zi-mon" in German and "shi-mon" in Hungarian, my first language. No default pronunciation. How do you know it was meant to be pronounced as "sai-mon"?)

    When the writers do find it important that the names are English/German/etc. and do want then they usually make an effort to romanize and pronounce them correctly within the confines of their language, of course. But most of the time they don't because it's just not important and they don't tihnk of these names as English (or German or whatever). I mean, really, look at Gundam Seed – there are names like Cagalli Yula Athha, Mu La Flaga and Murrue Ramius, what does it matter that a name is spelled Stellat instead of the "correct" (but to whom?) Stella? :D

    By the way, as for Light – he's named 月 because 夜神月 is cool and goes well with his surname (his that means "god of the night"), plus it has all sorts of ambiguous connotations and implications especially since the reading is "light." On the other hand, 光 (which could be read as "hikaru," mind you, which is a male name) is not a cool name for an antihero because it has positive connotations, no contrasts, no ambiguity, nothing.

    The way Japanese works, it's easy to play with names, meanings and implications and mangaka love to exploit this. Of course such names would never ever fly IRL, but this is manga, and in manga world people can have all sorts of weird names and nobody bats an eyelash. (Look at Ichigo of Bleach. Cool kanji, yes, but ouch. Of course is's meant to be a funny pun, but still.) And Light probably just uses furigana. It's not unusual, even normal Japanese names can be difficult to figure out.

  7. Kiriska on June 5, 2009 2:35 pm

    Hahaha, see, now I just feel like an ignorant American dumbass. European pronunciation is obviously not more forte (<<– perhaps an ironic word choice; damn Americans, taking everybody else's words). I'm still not entirely convinced that "Sharuru" is the best way to transliterate Charles, but I guess there's no point in fighting about it. Clearly, the Japanese have already decided that that's how it should be.

    I agree that these shows shouldn't be made with Westerners in mind — that's fine, and even if Simon is pronounced a variety of ways in other Western languages, when the series is dubbed in English, the spelling of "Simon" implies a pronunciation of "sai-mon." But yes, since it's a fantasy character and no nationality is ever specified or implied, I guess it's presumptuous to say that it should be pronounced "sai-mon."

    Go me for forgetting the name Hikaru. Regardless, I guess you're right. Mangaka do love to play around their puns, whether it's in character names or anything else. I'm just kind of iffy on the general practice of assigning kanji to non-Japanese words, especially when there already exists kanji for word's meaning. (Then again, I guess it isn't all that different from English's rampant adoptions of words from other languages; we just don't have a complex kanji system.)

  8. dotdash on June 8, 2009 4:15 am

    Just to reiterate the Charles/Simon thing that other people have said above, the katakana is proper in both cases for the French pronunciation.

    There are often numerous acceptable ways to render English words in katakana, and which way you choose can send all kinds of messages. I'm involved in a music event called "Switched On" with a bunch of Japanese people and when we were trying to work out the katakana, they spent ages debating the best way. The most accurate for pronunciation is something like スイッチュドン but スイッチド・オン looks better on paper and they felt it had a sort of cheesy, more retro feel that they liked.

    And yeah, a lot of Japanese people go through life with pretty odd kanji/kana match-ups. My friend Futoshi's name has a kanji that's usually read as "Dai", and my wife Kaname narrowly avoided getting the furigana "Kamome" for the kanji 要, which would have really been horrible.