(sent to the world Tue, 24 Aug 1999)

I'm sorry to trouble people with this question (moreover interject this between the Cycletrek travelogue), but I have something I would like your input on: that of the choice of my surname in Japanese.

I know, this has intones of the "Hashimori" name game all over it, but I'm serious. I am finally filling out the mountain of forms to become a Japanese citizen, and (aside from the discomfort I feel from the silly intrusiveness--having to give my addresses since birth, having to hand-draw maps to my office and home, having to indicate whether my relatives are "for" or "against" my naturalization, having to provide a detailed income and expense statement down to our monthly expenditure on groceries) I've come to realize that an important issue I once thought was settled is far from it.

My wife and I don't see eye-to-eye on what we should call ourselves lastnamewise. And it's something we have to settle before I can proceed.

Details: If you take out Japanese citizenship, you are obligated (but not required) to take a Japanese-sounding name. Most do. It can be in kanji with Japanese readings (as in perennial upper house candidate Tsurunen Marutei), katakana (as in the last name of soccer player Ramosu Rui), roman initials (as in naturalist C.W. Nikouru), or even romaji (as in former sumo wrestler Konishiki--who has it rendered that way on TV, although I don't know how it looks on his koseki), but it should fit into kana reading paradigms.

Anyway, I've mentioned in the past that I would be choosing "Arudou Debito" (kanji 有道 出人). I like it because

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not my decision alone this time. As Japan still does not legally permit a married couple to have differing surnames (fuufu bessei), except in the case of international marriages, whatever name I choose would have to be tarred on my fellow-Japanese wife and daughters as well. And my wife does not like the sound of "Arudou" at all.

Her reasoning:

Well, I'll tell you what's wrong. Once upon a time I went by the "Sugawara Debito" moniker when I was working for a Japanese company, between 1991 and 1992, at a time in my life when I was trying to be more Japanese than the Japanese. I ended up in pretty bad shape. It's a long story, but fifteen months of hazing, humiliation, physical, mental, and alcohol abuse, along with my boss trying to get my wife into some kind of huddle, I sloughed off that evil lifestyle and became an academic, determined never to get into that that sort of situation again. To me, "Sugawara Debito" is synonymous with "Uncle Tom". It smacks of a lack of free will, a contrived degree of fitting in, and is half-assed in its approach to show things done "my way" (cue music).

My wife says get with the program--that stuff happened already over half a decade in the past. And "Arudou Debito" sounds pretty silly, anyway. That I simply cannot agree with.

But the writing is on the wall: given the intransigence of Japan's bureaucracy over issues of identity, even the Ministry of Justice was careful to caution us last time we were there that we should be in agreement over our name. Because once the plunge is taken, there's no turning back.

So that's the issue in a nutshell. I don't know if it's merely an issue of taste, but we are at an impasse. We agreed that getting more input from third parties wouldn't hurt, so here I am asking for it. Comments?

Dave Aldwinckle (for now)


(sent to the world Mon, 30 Aug 1999)


As I am loath to ask for opinions and then be selfish with what I get, I am sending you this follow-up post as means of establishing some info comity (and to try and get discussions back on track: even the name game is better than the flame game currently holding sway round here).

First off, although I have already thanked constructive posters individually, let me reiterate a thank you to you all again for all the feedback (more is welcome if you have it). I haven't seen so many responses to one of the topics I've brought up since the Gender Issues Debate of November '98. Anyway, FWIW, here are the results of a perhaps-meaningless straw poll. Narrowing the options down to a three-celled paradigm:

TOTAL NUMBER OF RESPONSES (both online and in interpersonal discussions): 41



So in terms of opinion polls, my wife either had the stronger argument, or the status quo holds greater weight than the impetus for change. If I were Bill Clinton my decision would be made.

Now, people's arguments in brief for each cell:


"This is a no-brainer, Dave", said colleague Simon. "You are not Sugawara. You are Aldwinckle. And Arudou, so you feel, is the closest to it. Don't change into what you are not." Other friends said that Arudou isn't all that unnatural (Nagano-ken apparently has some "Aruga"s), and that the name, from what they know about me as a person, suits me. The common root to this school of thought was that whatever I personally thought suited me should do.

Geoffrey had the funniest comment when he said:

"Personally I think Arudou is fine but you need do work on the Debito part,
especially if you are going to be dealing with Japanese banks...they have
enough debito already!! How about Deibu.."

Looking down at my paunch, that name might even suit me better. My students have already been using it quite liberally...


A clear majority went for this for several reasons:

Other considerations (aside from a few people thinking I was "nuts" for naturalizing in the first place) including getting kudos from the in-laws
(which is not part of the equation because my wife considers, after her retaking the name back in court, the name as hers, not the family property or decision of anyone else's) and just plain making my wife happy (I've appparently already put her through enough with traipsing off to Kobe during disasters or risking my life on errant bicycle trips).

But the communality of conversation was in the consideration of my children's future. Why give them Arudou when they are perfectly happy with Sugawara? I did, BTW, ask them which name they preferred a couple of days ago, and to my surprise both Amy and Anna said Arudou. Then I asked them the next day and Amy changed her mind to Sugawara. I just asked them an hour ago and they both now said Sugawara. Like a scene out of the movie TWELVE ANGRY MEN. Anyway, such are the sensitivities of a four and six year old.


If indecisive, punt. People suggested "Arimichi" (which sounds like "Ant Path" to me), recombinent syllabery of my name (the funniest being "Debarudo Debito"), or searching memory banks for people I admire ("Beato Takeshi" isn't dead yet, "Konishiki" is not quite the profile I want, and "Iijima Ai" just doesn't fit, somehow. Then again, there's "Fukuzawa"...).

I did sit down and go through the Sapporo phone book (since I like being at the head of the alphabet--always have been--I searched the "a"s) and did go through all the kanji there ("ai" is too mendokusai to write, "ara" sounds too rough, "atsu" too fat, "abe" too Lincoln...). I went through
combinations of my name in old English (Aldwinckle means "old bend in the river", which might be "Furukawa" or "Furufuchi"--both elicited yuks from me and yucks from my wife), and even spent the weekend fielding instantaneous inspirations (Me: "Hey, how about 'Kitamichi'?" Her: "Whatever, just hurry up and get offa me.")

After explaining all the email responses and mindsets to Aya (who did feel a tad--I repeat, a tad--vindicated), she said that she doesn't want any stranger's name. She could accept either Arudou or Sugawara but of course would vastly prefer the latter.

So our standpoints are still different but definitely not as acidulous as before. Hey, I didn't expect a magical elixir argument, but I did get a post which really was enlightening of how important this decision is:

Date: 25 and 26 Aug 1999
From: Jessica Takahashi
Dear Dave,

I was born Jessica Preczewski-a quite obviously Polish name-and even though I endured countless Pollack jokes, I was ok with the name because I had a lot of Polish pride. My father had done a good job teaching his children Polish history and a little bit of the language and customs, and my mother, to show her support of our Polish heritage, prepared a traditional Polish Christmas meal every year.

But by the time I was a high school senior, my father had reached his breaking point. He had for many years suffered job discrimination and
humiliations in social situations due to his name. When I was a senior, he changed professions from high school administrator to certified financial planner. It was at this time that he changed the family name to Westmoreland. He told us he did it for several reasons, but one was that he didn't want to lose clients due his name.

I'm from Kansas so perhaps being surrounded by "country folk" had something to do with the uneducated, unenlightened Polish jokes.

Once when my father went on a job interview to Montana for a high school principal position, the man interviewing my father took him around town to meet different business owners. It was a small college town and one of the men that my father was introduced to said to the interviewer, "Oh no! Another Pollack?!" My father didn't get asked back for the third round of interviews and he believes that man's response to his name was the reason he didn't get the job. That decided it for him. It was after that experience that he started to seriously plan changing the family name.

He made up the name Westland on his own since he and my mother had moved west to start a new life together, and he originally chose -land as the ending, but I convinced him to change it to -moreland for a bit more originality. All five of my siblings changed their surnames to Westmoreland.

The first year I was Jessica Westmoreland, it felt very strange and I felt that I was an imposter of sorts, but after time, I didn't notice it anymore. It was just a name.

When I married, I agreed to take Takahashi since it would make things easier for me and the children we were planning on having. I like that my last name is simple, and ironically, Takahashi was the name invented by husband's father who was Korean and had to pick a Japanese name when he took Japanese citizenship. My husband's father also found it amusing that both he and my father had changed their names to give themselves and their children a better life.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: choose a name that will be easy for you and the kids. Don't feel you have to prove a point. Think of your children's future. If Sugawara is disagreeable to you and Arudou is disagreeable to your wife, then you really have no choice but to invent an entirely new name.

Jessica Preczewski Westmoreland Takahashi

[all names pseudonymous]

Letters like these are precisely the reason why I field posts like these--real food for thought all around.

Thank you all again very much. You will eventually know what decisions get made.

David Christopher Aldwinckle
(also half-Polish himself)


A student in one of my debate classes eventually proposed the best of all worlds:

"Keep your official last name as SUGAWARA, for the wife and kids."

And for the first name?

"Make it ARUDOUDEBITO" (together because there cannot be two first names).

Then drop the Sugawara for all non-koseki related identification purposes.


And that is how I submitted my forms on October 23, 1999. A quick brief on that in UPDATE FOUR.

Dave Aldwinckle

Copyright 2000, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan