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The Biographical Dictionary of Notable Figures with Hilarious Names

25 Comments
By Tomoyuki Akiyama

Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure once said language is a structured system of arbitrary signs. In other words, your name, when read out loud, could coincidentally mean something outrageous in one of the thousands of human languages. Who knows, your last name could mean “moron” in an Amazon tribe’s language.

"The Biographical Dictionary of Notable Figures with Hilarious Names" (Japanese: "Sekai-chinmei-ijinroku") written by Jirolle Taquai (Takai Jiroru) is a collection of foreign names that happen to sound obscene, funny or nonsense in the Japanese language.

Allow us to introduce you one of the most extreme examples from the book. Peter Mancoc, a Slovenian record-holding swimmer, must have given an extremely hard time to Japanese sportscasters, especially female. Pronounced man-ko-cchi in Japanese, the name sounds too much like a combination of the foulest way to refer to a female genital and a cute-sounding suffix -cchi. The book contains serious drawings of what many Japanese would picture when they hear such names.

It gets even worse with Ed Fella, a renowned American graphic designer. His name is adapted as Edo Fera in Japanese, which sounds to the Japanese like nothing other than a combination of Edo, what the city of Tokyo was known as until the 19th century, and the common abbreviation of the word of Latin origin ending with ­-tio. Perhaps it wasn’t only teenage Japanese boys who have pictured a little Edo-era geisha performing it like in the painting below.

The book also talks about names that sound rather positive yet slightly funny in Japanese. Most Japanese wouldn’t be able to help supporting Ibrahim Gambari, a former Nigerian Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Gambari is a nominalized form of "ganbaru" which means to make effort in the middle of a hardship. Many Japanese must have pictured an old mother wishing the best luck of her son who is working hard away from the country.

The Japanese are fully aware foreign names don’t come from their language but some names just sound too much like Japanese to them. The book mentions Saddam Hussein’s son named Qusay, which inevitably reminds any Japanese, probably including government officials, of the word "kusai" (stinky). This could have affected how much responsibility the Japanese government was willing to take about the war in Iraq.

Michael Jordan, whose last name is pronounced almost identically as "jodan" (joke), might have caused Japanese sports fans to take basket ball less seriously than they would have. The dictionary also points out Nicolas Cage’s last name sounds like "keiji" (detective). No wonder he played an excellent police officer in "It Could Happen to You" – at least many Japanese think so.

If you’ve been wondering why Japanese people giggle when you introduce yourself, just check the "Biographical Dictionary of Notable Figures with Hilarious Names" and see if your name is in it.

© Japan Today

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25 Comments
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Oh what fun. A book filled with Oyaji humor making fun of the names of foreigners.

How utterly clever.

This is about the same level of jokes about books we made in 3rd grade like, "Yellow River," by I.P. Freely.

I suppose this book will sell well in Japan.

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The quality of this book is on par with the quality of TV shows on certain channels. I turned on the TV randomly one day and came across "Pervert Ranking", listing and ranking (of course) various stories from actual police reports, dramatically acted out by various "talento". To see the story actors, "talento" audience, and hosts degrading themselves by doing this makes me sad for the entertainment industry and its audience.

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What a brilliant idea.

"Hey, if we mangle words from another language so we can pretend ours is the only language we're capable of speaking, sometimes the mangled words come out sounding rude. Hee hee hee! Now we can pretend we've got the upper hand while everyone who ever speaks to use asks 'Who the hell told these inbreeds that there is a Y and an O in the word "Cat?"'"

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In return, I can say there are some names in Japanese that sound very funny in Spanish. The funniest is Kaga Mariko, which means Faggot Sh*t

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Agree with Daisan -- you first have to Katakana-ise the names before they sound 'strange' and probably you wouldn't recognize the name at all in its foreign tongue once changed to Japanese phonetics. So really, in mose cases, there's not really anything that funny about it. Granted, in some cases... but still.

It's nothing for anyone to get offended about, really. Just a dumb book. There are of course Japanese names that sound funny in other languages, but not many I can think off offhand -- although there was that stalker who used to follow me around; her name was, no joke, Saeko.

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I wonder if it includes a name that appears in Tom Dillon's hilarious book on foreigners' bloopers in Japanese, which introduced a missionary named the Reverend Gary Benke (pron. geri benki). LOL!

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#

isthistheend at 01:06 PM JST - 18th August

When can you come to China Mr. Kan? When would be most convenient for you, Mr. Wen? Are you making fun of my name, Mr. Kan? No can do, Mr. When, I mean Mr. Wen. But will Hu-san also be there? Who do you mean Hu-san? I mean Mr. Who. Oh, so Who's on First, Kan's on second and I don't know who's on third.

Are they in the book too?

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We once had a teacher named Bader, and he insisted we refer to him as Master. Of course we obliged!

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I had a teacher called Mrs Hiscock and she had a son in the year below me called Philip. He didn`t have a good time.

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Actually, Peter Mancoc's name is kind of unfortunate in English too. At least to look at.

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Sounds like a load of schoolboy humour with idiots making fun of foriegners "funny names". How lobely!

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I think it's annoying for the same reason it annoys me when I say something in English and the kids insist I spoke Japanese (which can get me in trouble) or deliberately mishear a word that has homophone (or almost homophone) in katakana (heart, hot, hat). Most of the times these things are not so hilarious if they would bother to hear and pronounce them accurately.

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what a bad taste book. And somebody on JT has even read it and written a review.

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I'd rather watch "Soramimi" on Tamori Club. Similar concept, really. But if you know some English, you can never pick these things up.

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Sounds hilarious. I wouldn't buy it, but I wouldn't mind skimming through it. Don't know why some people are taking it personally.

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I still think that the funniest name I have ever heard has to be the name of the one time Cardinal of the Philippines. His name was "Jamie Sin" and if you put his title in front of his last name.....well, you get it. It was "Cardinal Sin." Unbelievable (but true!)

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Why don't they call the book "Funny Gaijin Names (Boy those gaijin are stupid!)"

That's the undercurrent I feel.

I once met a Japanese guy called "Seishi". That can mean "sperm" in Japanese.

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If they could pronounce the names properly without translating them into katakana there wouldn't be nothing to laugh about.

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Some people have way too much free time in their hand...

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But just think of the foreign editions that poke fun at those silly Japanese names. Who knows what Takai Jiroru means? They might be falling off their chairs laughing.

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Dewaashita. Do spend your money freely friend. I can send you a long list of other things I don't like if you would like to buy them too.

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I'd buy it just because you guys wouldn't like it. And I'd never let you peek, your virtue would be safe. :)

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Silly, trivial and reeking of highschool humor. One more thing NOT to spend money on.

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I second that sk4ek.

Was it written by an 8 year old?

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What an utterly pointless idea for a book.

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