Long troubled with my name’s spelling…

No one will imagine Japanese names can also be caught into the labyrinth of English romanization… Neither did I. But here I am.

When I stared learning English as a 4-year-old child in 1999, my teacher told us to spell our names in a system called Hepburn romanization or Hebon-shiki rōmaji. In this style, to write a long vowel, you have put a bar on top of that vowel, such as ā and ō. I have learned to spell my name as Asumi  Ōba, because my last name starts with a long O sound.

In 2004, When I learned Japanese romanization in grade 3, I was told that I have been doing things wrong. The textbook that my school used was based on a different romanization system called Kunrei-shiki romanization. The biggest difference was that in this system, the Shi sound is spelled as “si” and Chi sound is spelled as “ti.” This obviously would cause a problem to English speakers, and therefore this romanization system is rarely found even in Japanese train stations. Also, I had to use different symbol to show my long O sound; instead of putting a bar over the vowel, this romanization system recommends a mountain-like sign, such as ô. If you’re a French reader, I think you may be familiar with this as… a circumflex? I do not read French unfortunately, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

So in that class, I had to spell my name as Asumi Ôba just for a bureaucratic reason. But I knew this system is less correct than what I have been used to because I spoke some English.

AAAAnd…. because of all these mess, my secondary school English teachers simply abandoned all accent signs. So my name became Asumi Oba. I was fine with it, because none of my teachers called my name with a short O sound.

You might be wondering, why this matters so much? Well, I have always been teased for my last name; a short O sound Oba means an aunt or a middle-aged woman in Japanese. You do not want little meaners constantly calling you an old lady as young as you can remember.

Sooooo… I came to the North America in 2014, and no-one but a primarily Japanese speakers cared my name’s spelling. Then, I’ve learned that if you want to spell your long vowel without using any accent signs, you could insert “h” after your long vowel. For instance, I COULD spell my name as Asumi Ohba. And I have been using this spelling occasionally because I am tired of being asked “Wait, is this spelling of your last name correct? Your name cannot be Oba-san [Mrs or an old lady].” from Japan-born English speakers.

I made my passport under the name of Asumi Oba. This is my only legal name. If I really want to change my spelling, it would cost me some money. I have already published my MA thesis under this name. Now what?

Whatever accent signs were needed or not, my name has always been Asumi Oba, not Ohba. The latter does not resonate with me.

Well, that was my story.

Apparently, modified Hepburn romanization or a kaisei [revised] Hebon-shiki rōmaji which I first learned, is currently used as a standard romanization system if you are writing Japanese history or culture in English. According to Yamashita Yōko, at the point of 2006, there was no move to create a unified romanization system. (If you’re a researcher and reads Japanese, see 放送研究と調査 (MARCH 2006), 55.)

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