Name Transliteration and Soul Eater’s #%ona

Recently Rumbel Subs made the decision to switch the rendering of one of the characters in Soul Eater from Chrona to Crona. Already in October Omni over at Random Curiosity had made the same change, and for the same reason, which is the new ED for the anime, i.e.:

The spelling is crystal clear here. And still, I wouldn’t put much trust in graffiti, even if it is by Japanese artists using the Latin alphabet (I’m being sarcastic). I wonder there’s need to switch to Crona just because of this.

In transliterating an anime character’s name when it’s clearly not a Japanese name, I can distinguish five factors:

1) the phonology of the name, or how it sounds. This is transliteration, not translation, so ideally the resulting word is as close to the original as possible. Ex. If the original Japanese is ブレア (phonetically “burea”), we aren’t justified in transliterating it as “Cute Magical Cat”.

2) the connotation of the name in the original language and culture. Ex. In the case of the cat “Burea” these sounds don’t have any particular connotation in Japanese, so we can skip this point.

3) the connotation of the sounds in other languages and cultures. This can get tricky. Should we pursue connections even when it’s unlikely that the character’s creator was aware of them?? There are thousands of languages, after all!
Ideally we will work only with connotations widely known in Japan and/or around the world. The less obscure, the better. Ex. “Burea” being a witch-like being (though definitely not a witch, which fact is the starting point of the show), we can immediately think of “Blair Witch Project”. The word “Blair” does come out transliterated as “Burea”, and as we know that Soul Eater revels in references to pop culture, this is the way to go.

4) Harmony between the character’s name and others in the same “world”: characters, places, etc. Ex. In Code Geass, the names of Britannian royalty reek of Western European high culture: Clovis, Cornelia, Guinevere, Odysseus. Thus, the main character’s Japanese name ルルーシュ (phonetically Ruruushu) is transliterated “Lelouch” (which looks French), rather than Rurushu, or Lurush.

5) Authority, or the officially sanctioned transliteration. Many would say this trumps all..

Going back to the character I will provisionally name #%ona, we see that the original name in Japanese is クロナ (phonetically “kurona”). Compared to your typical Western language, Japanese is phonologically very poor. Couple this with a highly phonetic writing system (one letter for each sound in the kana alphabet, and no more), and we find that all of these Western “names” (or strings of sound) must be transliterated as クロナ in Japanese and read “kurona”:

Factor #1 above gives us this list (I imagine there are even more names to add on the left). All of these renderings are valid from a phonological standpoint. The “k” sound can be represented by “k” or “c”, and in words of Greek origin, “ch”. Japanese cannot tolerate consonant clusters, so it must insert an “u” sound between “c/k” and “r”. There is, of course, no “l” sound in Japanese and so both “r” and “l” are transformed into the Japanese equivalent of “r”. On to Factor # 2.

“Kurona” in Japanese actually means “black”. Now, the usual word for “black” is “kuroi”, but “kuroi” can be used as a predicate, whereas “kurona” cannot. In other words, if I want to say “The black cat is scaring me” , where “black” is directly modifying “cat”, both “kurona” and “kuroi” are acceptable. But if I say “The cat is black” then I must use “kuroi”. The “-na” in “kurona” tells me that a noun is coming up. So the effect of “kurona” is more than just “black”, but a “black…”, a black X, a black something.

#%ona is “Black…” and if we’ve been watching we can complete this: “blood.” Very clever, but of course in English this play on words is totally lost, so “Kurona” as a transliteration isn’t that appealing.

As for Factor # 3, the reason, I think, why everyone settled on “Chrona” initially was because of its resemblance to “Chronos”, the Greek God. It has a “daughter of Father Time” ring to it, even though the gender of #%rona is still shrouded in mystery 🙂 Even though there isn’t an obvious connection between #%rona and Time, the name sounds right, especially when considering Factor # 4, as two of the witches in the show (with which #%ona is intimately connected) are named Medusa and Arachne, both Greek mythological names.

Another possibility with an outside shot is “Clona”, since #%rona has been genetically engineered to be who he/she is. Clona=clone. Incidentally “Culona” in Spanish means “big-assed female”, which does not apply to #%ona’s physique, but if it did, then perhaps…

As to Factor # 5, if references in the sources start to come up consistently with “Crona” then I guess Crona it will be, and this whole post will be irrelevant. But Chrona sounds better, and as long as “Crona” remains graffiti on a brick wall, I’ll stick with my choice.

~ by Haloed Bane on November 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “Name Transliteration and Soul Eater’s #%ona”

  1. hmmm, interesting!
    I just came across and having only read this post, am not sure weather you read “one piece” too….but “one piece” have characters named in various ways which require you to apply all 1,2,3,4 and 5 methods to figure out. I don’t think the writer. Eichiro Oda, is very picky when it comes to choosing names and that is the reason why the manga includes so many different kinds of names. Like the main characters; Rufy is cleary a non-Japanese, western sounding name but gives you no idea which country it’s from but we feel secure to realize, “yes, a very name like the main character of a manga might have”, Zoro has a perfect matching image of the solitary warrior, Nami, a very common Japanese name BUT written in Katakana, which probably never happens in real life, so that we can still be in the manga world, Usoppu, a metaphoric name that suits the character, and Sanji. Now this Sanji is a perfect example in this manga because this name is very unique in a different way from others above. As you probably know, this name sounds perfectly Japanese, and it’s even structured like a Japanese name (male name with “–ji” is very common like “Junji”, “Yo-ji”, “Ikuji”, etc.) you can almost come up with suitable kanji but it is obviously NOT a Japanese name. Ok, it’s not possible to prove no Japanese has this name but at least, I’ve never heard of it, and there’s something in it makes any Japanese believe so.

    • I never read One Piece no. Today I think Rufy is a little bit of an unfortunate choice because we have this:

      which has the nickname “roofie” when it’s used to drug women!

      But what you say is very interesting. Sanji does sound very Japanese. Is this written in kana or kanji? 三時 would be a funny name.

      Anyway, this possibility of many names is one of the strong points of Japanese in manga…

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