How do you say that?

I’m used to hearing my last name mispronounced. One of my earliest memories from first grade is on the first week of school when the principal announced me as Student of the Week.[1] After she said my last name, I requested the microphone from her and pronounced it correctly for the assembled student body.

I get a lot of “Could you say your last name for me?“s or “Sorry if this is wrong,“s. To me, it’s almost become a way of classifying the kind of person I’m speaking to: it says a lot about you whether you ask for instructions or forgiveness – or whether you ask at all.

Well, how do you?

If you really care about being right, I’d refer you to the pronunciation I have on my About page. But that’s more in jest – I can’t even read IPA, why would I expect you to? At this point in time, my response to the question isn’t even the “correct” pronunciation, but one more germane to Germanic languages. Most of my family members do the same; why bother agonizing over the Japanese pronunciation of each syllable every time you meet someone new? Nowadays, I have to think for a bit when I meet someone more acquainted with Japanese to make sure I have the “real” pronunciation right.

You see me put “correct” and “real” in quotation marks because to me the pronunciation doesn’t really matter that much as long as you make an effort. Quite frankly, I find it entertaining to hear a really off-the-mark pronunciation (perhaps because I get to see others in my place[2]). Yes, there is a technically correct way to say my last name, and while I’d like to say that I’m all about pedantry (maybe because I am), I’m not about to make a big fuss about my last name. Honestly, I’m more irked when someone is not paying attention to me and hears “Paul” instead of “Cole,” which happens more often than you’d think.

If you want to get close enough to the right pronunciation, here’s how I tell others to pronunce my last name. The first bullet for each I consider more correct than the second.

  1. Kura
    • Like the pigeon sound “coo” and Egyptian sun god “Ra.”
    • Like the old-fashioned slur “cur” and exclamation “ah.”
  2. shi
    • Like the pronoun “she.”
  3. ge
    • Like the “ge” in “get.”
    • Like the word “gay.”

My dad has said, “it’s like Hiroshige, the famous Japanese woodblock artist,” but that’s not a name I recognize (although I do recognize his art). If you do, then just substitute “Kura” for “Hiro” and you’re set.

What does it mean?

I’m not asked that often, and honestly I didn’t know for a while. Here’s what the literal translation is:

  1. Kura (Kanji: 倉)
    • “Kura” means “warehouse” or “storehouse.”
  2. Shige (Kanji: 重)
    • “Shige” means “abundant” or “plentiful.”

So literally, “abundant warehouse.” Poetically, “house of plenty.” Not a very exciting translation, I admit.

Cole is less exciting. In fact, I’m named after Cole Street, the namesake for which I found at one point but have lost track of.

Footnotes

  1. If the concept of Student of the Week is foreign to you, it’s basically a per-grade selection of a student to honor that week, which really didn’t have much to do with acheivement since there were about as many weeks as students at my school. Go back.
  2. I have a condition I call “read-not-said,” where I know a lot of words that I have never heard the pronunciation of. And for whatever reason, I lack the intuition to get the pronunciation right most of the time. Unfortunately, this lack of intuition goes both ways: I thought the phrase “low-key” was in reference to the Norse trickster god until something clicked in my head around the age of 10 or 11. Go back.