steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

And a Small Bird in a Pear Tree

I just learned something rather cool about kanji surnames. One of the main characters in the anime I recently watched has the family name "Takanashi." The "natural" way to write this might be something like 高梨, where the first kanji (taka) means tall, and the second (nashi) pear tree. However, in the case of the anime the name is written "小鳥遊": three kanji (meaning, respectively, "small", "bird" and "play") that have various readings, but none corresponding to the sounds in Takanashi.

Of course, I come from a country where "Featherstonhaugh" is pronounced "Fanshaw" and "Cholmondeley" is "Chumley", so I'm hardly in a position to take umbrage at such heterographic extravagance, but I was still curious as to what was going on.

Someone on Facebook just supplied the answer. Another way to read the sounds in "takanashi" is as "鷹無し" where 鷹 (taka) = "hawk" and 無し (nashi) = "without." The idea is that, if there is no hawk then small birds can play safely - hence, 小鳥遊. Ingenious, huh?

Whether it's a modern innovation or not, I'm not sure (I'd like to know); but I also wonder whether there are any other examples of this type? I can't think of any equivalent in English, although some of the puns in heraldic devices may come close.
Tags: language, nippon notes
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