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In Death Note when Light introduces himself to Naomi Misora, he gives his full name and tells her how to spell it in Japanese. When she gives her name, she also tells him how to spell it.

The audience knows he is doing this because

Light Yagami is Kira and needs to know how to spell her name correctly so he can kill her with the Death Note.

In English names like Steven (Stephen) Jon (John) and Robert (Bob) have multiple spellings. Sometimes people will say stuff like "I'm Steven with a ph" when introducing themselves, but the only time your spell out your name is when someone needs to look it up in a list or registry like a restaurant reservation.

When introducing yourself in Japan is it normal to also tell people how to spell your name?

P.S. A few characters spelled their name in High-Rise Invasion as well.

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    @Wondercricket - yes, when someone needs to look it up. In the anime, it was part of the "Hi, my name is" introduction Mar 13 at 22:19
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    I think I see it regularly in situations (in manga) where you introduce yourself to people who might need to write your name (new student in class, new hire at workplace, etc.) given how many different ways there are to write a name. E.G. the common name "Yuki" can be written out: 雪, 幸, 由紀, 由貴, 由岐, 由樹, 友紀, 夕希 and 有希 in kanji. The first means snow, the second lucky, the rest are purely names as far as I can tell and when you introduce yourself you might say "Hi I'm Yuki, written with the character for snow" or "Hi I'm Yuki, written Yu like in reason and Ki the one with the mountain radical"
    – Gatchwar
    Mar 14 at 1:52
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    Adding to Gatchwar's comment, I believe it's also quite common even with informal introduction since they may want to write the name to the address/contact book later and they certainly don't want to write it wrongly.
    – Aki Tanaka
    Mar 14 at 4:34
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    An additional quirk, "Yagami" is a moderately common Japanese surname but is generally written in kanji as 八神 while Light's surname is written 夜神 the first character meaning "8" is replaced with one meaning "night, god". This might mean he'd often mention how his name is written given its uncommon spelling. Similar in English speaking places where you probably wouldn't spell out your name if it uses the only/obvious spelling ("Hi I'm Max") but might when it doesn't ("Hi I'm Macks spelled with a ck")
    – Gatchwar
    Mar 14 at 17:35
  • Why is that a spoiler?
    – BCLC
    Mar 28 at 6:41

1 Answer 1

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Telling someone how to spell your name is probably pretty common in Japan, especially if your name has an uncommon spelling. Even just from watching anime, you see it happen pretty often. For instance, new students often write their name on the board (or the teacher does it for them), or during an introduction a character will say, "It's spelled with the Kanji for this and that." This prevalence in media leads me to believe it's a normal thing that happens.

If you know anything about Kanji, you know that you can't really tell how to pronounce a person's name just from reading the Kanji (of which there are thousands in common use, and even more than that not in common use). That's because Kanji have different readings, and there are even special readings for names. The reverse is also true. Just from the pronunciation, you can't necessarily tell how to spell it in Kanji, because multiple Kanji could be used. Unless you're using a pretty common spelling, you'd need to tell everyone that information.

In addition to just telling people, it seems business cards might also serve the purpose of conveying spelling and pronunciation. As per this article on Tofugu, the Japanese sometimes even carry around personal cards:

Business cards in Japan are called meishi 名刺, and are an important part of Japanese culture. Even outside of the business world, Japanese people sometimes have personal meishi made (meishi means "name card" after all).

In contrast, if the name is spelled in Katakana or Hiragana, you would likely know exactly how to spell/pronounce it just from hearing/reading it. That's because these two sets of symbols are a phonetic syllabary, as compared to the English language which has multiple pronunciations for the same letters.

Additional reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_name#Difficulty_of_reading_names

https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/your-name-in-japanese/

https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/jikoshoukai/

https://www.quora.com/Why-in-Japanese-culture-whenever-two-new-people-meet-they-exchange-their-names-spelling-in-written-Is-it-just-a-tradition-or-are-there-a-lot-of-ways-to-write-ones-name-in-Japanese

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  • Wikipedia says "Despite these difficulties, there are enough patterns and recurring names that most native Japanese will be able to read virtually all family names they encounter and the majority of personal names. " It doesn't seem to be sourced, though I did read elsewhere while trying to research this just now the problem is mainly in personal names, so this is probably true. I'm guessing having weird name spellings is more common in anime than in real life as well. Mar 14 at 19:26
  • Regarding "weird name", to the extreme in real-life is "kira kira name" which the reading is almost impossible to be guessed if based only on the kanji ^^;
    – Aki Tanaka
    Mar 15 at 4:04

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