I have two wonderful friends who are into the world of ‘cosplay’, which for those not in the know basically boils down to dressing up as characters from Japanese anime. I’ve never particularly become involved in the practice myself, or ever attended expos, but there were two highly popular anime shows I did get into as a child: Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. To be honest, this was mostly because they were the only things my sister and I could agree on watching. One of these afforementioned friends, Tiff, is celebrating her birthday at the beginning of the new year, so I see this as an early birthday present for her. It also gives us an oppotunity to look into Japanese names and how well they do at translating into the English speaking world – for the English version of the show many names were altered to more English ones; and also stress me out as I try to find reliable sources on name meanings for the following Japanese names.
Sakura is easily one of my favourite Japanese names, and is likely to be one of the first such names to cross my path. In a way, she reminds me of the name Saskia, or even the slightly more cutesy Suki. For the English version of the show her surname was changed to Avalon, as opposed to her Japanese surname in Kinomoto – and doesn’t Sakura Avalon sound strikingly whimsical? Her design was originally based on illustrator Mokona Apapa’s two-year-old neice Kawaji. She was almost renamed as simply Nikki for the English version, but this was cast aside for varying reasons, including the cost it would’ve incured to implement the name change, but I have heard from people that the English version does say her name slightly different to how the Japanese do. In terms of meaning, Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossom, which for the Japanese symbolises the fleeting moment of life. In 2010, 13 girls were given the name Sakura in England&Wales, compared to the 112 given the name Saskia and the further 18 given the name Suki. I’ve also read that Sakura is a name of relative popularity in Japan.
As for the relations of young Sakura, she has an older brother named Toya in the Japanese version, which is altered to Tori in the dub. Toya is a short form for Victoria, as indeed can Tori be (maybe someone did their research?) but also comes to mean door into the valley in Japanese. As an aside, there’s a male Tory in Mythbusters, whose full name is Salvatore Paul.
Her father is Fujitaka/Aiden and her deceased mother is Nadeshiko/Natasha. Yamamoto nadeshiko is a Japanese term relating to the personification of an idealised Japanese female. Nadeshiko refers to a frilled pink carnation, whilst Yamamoto is an ancient name for Japan. I must say, whilst writing this post I have been won over by the name Nadashiko in a way Natasha has never suceeded with me. Excessive research on the internet suggests that Fujitaka means tall wisteria. How on Earth they got to Aiden from Fujitaka remains a mystery to me – part of me wishes they’d gone with Fergus instead.
Another main character is called Syaoran Li, whose name is altered to Li Showron. Syaoran means little wolf, whilst Li means plum. Then there’s also Eriol Hiiragizawa, who arrives in the English version as Eli Moon. The name Eriol reminds me of another English name: Errol, as in Errol Flynn. Whilst Errol has roots as a Scottish place name, Eriol appears to mean broken chain.
Two characters get the complete works when it comes to transforming their names into English-language ones: Sakura’s best friend Tomoyo Daidouji becomes Madison Taylor (whilst mother Sonomi becomes Samantha) and substitute teacher Kaho Mizuki becomes Layla Mackenzie. Closer translations include classmate Rika Sasaki who simply becomes Rita. Personally, I would’ve preferred her to remain as the delightful Rika. I’ve found sites saying Sonomi means beautiful garden, whilst Tomoyo means wise age or intellgient making her rather like the Japanese equivalent of the name Sage.
Now as a final thought, I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember where I’d seen Kaho before recently, and of course the slightly different Kahlo was covered over at Bewitching Names at the end of September. Thanks to the joy that is differing kanji, this name has more meanings than letters, depending on how you interpret it. Some of my favourites include sail, summer and perfume.