In five years of studying Japanese, I have always written my name in katakana, the phonetic syllabary used to write foreign words. Sean was ショーン (shoun) and Holland was ホーランド (hourando). In college, I never thought much of this. Outside of Japanese class and a few visits to Japan, I never wrote my name in Japanese. When I moved to Japan for the first time, my supervisor in Murakami had a personal seal made for me. She was rather clueless in many matters, and made the seal for my first name rather than my last. Whenever I used this stamp, I felt a little childish, especially when next to the stamps of the stylized Chinese characters, or kanji, of other co-workers.
A few times, I gave thought to choosing phonetically similar kanji for the sounds in my name. Both a friend in Gifu and a Japanese professor chose matching characters, or ateji, for my name. I thought it was neat, but found no particular interest in using it or making it my own. The meanings never particularly struck me as myself. Sean is my name. Its biblical meaning, as a variant of “John”, is “god is gracious,” but it’s more the sound and spelling of the name that I’ve wrapped my personality in. Phonetic character matches gave meanings such as “the sound of history,” or “one who has received a benefit from the sun.” Whatever, I thought. Nice, but no thanks.
I never felt particularly deserving of a real kanji name. Living in Japan, one feels so foreign, and, actively or passively, is treated almost constantly as an outsider. I felt that assuming characters for my name, shedding its obvious katakana foreignness, would be a ruse without meaning as long as I felt like an outsider more often than I did not.
Last month I found out that I passed level 2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). While I didn’t and still don’t put much faith in the test’s ability to measure my actual proficiency, I realized that I had reached a milestone in terms of what I am able to do with my language ability, and how I have managed to assert my own identity here in Saroma using Japanese as a primary medium of communication. Suddenly the idea of a kanji name seemed appropriate. Plus, the BOE and my eikaiwa (english conversation class) students and some other friends threw me a “goukaku iwai” or test passing celebration. That was last night.
A few weeks ago, I opened up my copy of the Compact New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary, and wrote down every character that fit the sounds of my name. I narrowed it down to a few I liked and asked my friends. All of the women in my eikaiwa liked either 緒温, 翔音 or 初音, “the “beginning of warmth,” “soaring sound,” or “first sound,” respectively. However, all of the younger Japanese I talked to (especially the women, and young Japanese women tend to have my ear) liked 勝運 or 将雲 the best. The first means “winning luck,” and the second, something along the lines of “commanding clouds” or “commander of clouds.”
I spent a lot of time thinking about these. My first feeling was to go with the ones that were softer, warmer, more kind and general. But the more I thought about 将雲, “commanding clouds,” the more I liked it. As a friend told me, “it sounds like a tycoon’s name.” It’s also a little over the top, and fun. I may not have the leadership skills necessary to command clouds, but I usually have my head in them. I decided this was the one.
After choosing the kanji for my first name, those for my last name came rather easily. I had originally thought I would use 豊蘭土, “bountiful land of orchids,” partly because my last name is the same as the country, and in Japanese the name of Holland was traditionally written with the middle character for orchid, ran. But after choosing “commander of clouds,” it didn’t seem to match “bountiful land of orchids.” Apparently, there were a great many more kanji for ho and ran than I had originally found in my compact character dictionary. They were somewhat obscure readings, but were much much cooler. I decided on 峰嵐土, “land of stormy peaks.”
So, my new name, as it is written in Japanese with phonetically equivalent Chinese characters is:
Land of Stormy Peaks, Commander of Clouds