KANJI TATTOO SYMBOL PRIMER – Writing Your Name as an Example
The first thing to note when choosing kanji symbols is that they are only one of three writing systems used in Japan — which is where kanji is used (not China). Kanji is the oldest and most complicated of the three writing systems. The other systems are hiragana and katakana, with katakana being the most familiar to westerners. Why the most familiar? Because katakana is used specifically to write foreign words (and science words and a few other things) and foreign names.
The main thing that sets kanji apart from these other two systems of writing is that kanji are ideograms — a lot like Egyptain heiroglyphs. One symbol can stand for a whole concept or idea. Hiragana and katakana are much like our own alphabet and they literally spell things in a phonetic manner.
To use the name Pamela as an example, below we have the hiragana symbols that literally spell the sounds pah-may-lah or pah-may-rah (since the Japanese language has neither an “l” or an “r” but instead it has a ‘liquid r’ that we find hard to pronounce). Reading top to bottom, as is normal for Japanese, the top symbol is pronounced ‘pah,’ the second symbol is pronounced ‘may,’ and the bottom symbol is pronounced ‘lah.’ Without a doubt, these Japanese symbols spell out the name Pamela–or pretty darn close.
But let’s say you really want your name spelled in kanji. Your choices here are many. That’s because there are many different kanji, which each represent a different concept, that sound alike. For the sound ‘pah’, there are at least three different kanji symbols pronounced that way. However, they have radically different meanings. In the first row of the table below, the sound ‘pah’ can be expressed by three different kanji, the first of which means “feather”, the second of which means “to break”, and the third of which means “leaf”. It’s up to you which one you choose.
The decision of which meaning you choose (feather, to break, or leaf) makes using kanji interesting because you can give the name Pamela a second meaning, in addition to just the phonetic spelling. Let’s say we make the following choice, highlighted in orange.
Below are our three kanji choices for the three sounds in the name Pamela. These kanji characters would be pronounced (approximately) Pamela and could be interpreted as “Sprouting Leaf of Ivy.”
As another example, let’s say we choose three different kanji symbols, highlighted in green.
Below are our three kanji choices for the three sounds in the name Pamela. These kanji characters would be pronounced (approximately) Pamela and could be interpreted as “Break Good Jade.”
For more conventional kanji tattoo symbols, follow the links in the Kanji menu. For something a little different, consider a tattoo design of your own name in kanji symbols.