Many people migrated from Ireland to America in the late 1800s, and the Casey family name is common among Irish Americans.
When I decided to order a Japanese name stamp (hanko) during one of my business trips to Japan, I wanted to choose Kanji characters that would be pronounced like Casey.
Japanese colleagues introduced me as Mr. Casey — or Casey-san, which would be represented as ケーシーさん in the phonetic characters that represent standard Japanese syllables. To me, this sounded like Keishi-san. So I wanted to select a suitable kanji character for Kei, and a character for Shi.
How to choose? Each kanji character has a conceptual meaning, so the choice of characters could suggest some family history or personal interests, in addition to the approximate pronunciation. The Japanese language offers many choices, since many kanji characters can be pronounced Kei, and ditto for Shi. Some of the possible character combinations for Kei-Shi seemed silly, and others seemed strange. But I searched my dictionary for possibilities, and then consulted a couple of Japanese colleagues. They both thought this project would be fun, and offered their own suggestions.
Making the choice. In the end, for KEI, we settled on the character 敬, which signifies the concept of Respect. For SHI, we chose 史, which represents the concept of History. The combination, 敬史, suggests the phrase Respect History. This is actually a real name in Japan. It does not seem to be a registered family name, but it appears as a personal name in some families with traditional viewpoints.
What did it mean? 敬史 also seemed appropriate for my role as a technology analyst and market opportunity consultant:
To forecast the future opportunities and risks, we must first understand and respect the key historical factors and competitive trends. With that foundation, we could consider the potential impacts of disruptive innovations.
The rest is history.
What does a gaijin do with a hanko?
When the conversation turned to Japanese language skills — perhaps over coffee or at a karaoke bar — I could bring out my hanko, and stamp 敬史 on a paper napkin. Or I could just write out the letters. That was easy enough to do, once I had chosen the characters and practiced writing them with proper stroke order. The hanko seemed a bit of overkill, really. But it was fun to have, just in case.
In conversation, I would admit that I could speak a little Japanese (少し, 挨拶だけ)*, and I could write a few characters. At least the days of the week …
Thirty years later, I would have to limit myself to even more modest claims.
But I still enjoy having that hanko! Sometimes I even use it, when signing a birthday card for one of the grandkids. :)
“Hanko” and “Inkan”:
Japanese Stamps and Personal Seals
Here is the entry for Kei-Go, which also begins with the kanji character Kei …