the complete review Quarterly
Volume IV, Issue 3   --   August, 2003

It is 'Murakami Haruki'
Or at least: why we write it that way

       Most of the e-mail we receive -- of the tiny percentage (currently less than 1 percent) that is not spam -- generally falls into one of very few categories:        There are also the usual stray editorial comments -- "Your review of book Y is so right/wrong" -- and occasional informative communications making us aware of sites, facts, events, etc.
       There is only one thing about our site that has, however, confounded a considerable number of readers: our insistence on writing the author Murakami Haruki's name the way we do (as opposed to how it appears on the cover of his English-language publications, for example -- where it's Haruki Murakami). At least once a month, and often more frequently we receive an e-mail from a concerned or outraged or mystified user who writes: "Hey morons, it's Haruki Murakami, not Murakami Haruki !" (or some more polite variation apprising us of our apparent mistake).
       We should have a form letter by now for our reply but instead we offer this clarification/explanation, to which we can henceforth simply re-direct reades who think we are in the wrong:

       In East Asian languages -- Chinese, Korean, and Japanese -- it is standard practise to put the family name first and the given name second. Thus it is Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung) -- and 'Mr. Mao' (or simply Mao), not Mr. Zedong -- since 'Mao' is the family name.
       Chinese and Korean cause less confusion because the practise has also been carried over when speaking and writing about people from those areas in English. Japanese, however, undergoes a role-reversal in its Western incarnation -- at least as far as names go. Everybody in Japan knows them as Mishima Yukio, Abe Kobo, and Murakami Haruki, but on the covers of the English versions of their books the names appear in Westernized form (given name first, family name second).

       Since practically everybody in the English-speaking world writes Japanese names in this roundabout manner one can argue that we should too. (Interestingly, no one ever argues that Chinese and Korean names should be written in Western form -- as logic and consistency would surely dictate.) But we have decided that our policy is: however the author writes his or her name is how we'll write it too -- i.e. we'll stick to the practise of the author's native or working language. Murakami Haruki may have become quite Westernised, but not enough for us to change the order of his names.
       Hence, British writer Kazuo Ishiguro -- who would be Ishiguro Kazuo in Japan -- is the only Japanese-named author currently under review whose name is given in Western form. (The other exceptional Japanese name that appears frequently hereabouts is that of American book reviewer Michiko Kakutani -- though we're so intimidated by her we usually just refer to her as 'the Kakutani'.)

       Note that the name-game is not an exclusively East Asian phenomenon (though for some reason our readers only bring it up regarding Japanese authors). A notable example is that of Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who started his career as James Ngugi, but there are many others.

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© 2003 the complete review Quarterly
© 2003 the complete review