My Name: Ken, ケン, 剣, 劍, or 劍󠄁?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: continue to read.

From time to time I am asked about my name when expressed in Japanese, so I might as well set the record straight once and for all.

Before I begin, however, I feel compelled to point out that while 99% of those in the US who address themselves as “Ken” actually have “Kenneth” or “Kendall” as their given name that is reflected on their birth certificate, my parents named me “Ken,” which is reflected on my birth certification. Little did they know at the time that I would start studying Japanese almost exactly 20 years later, and that the given name “Ken” works extraordinarily well for Japanese.

Family Name

I started my undergraduate studies at UW-Madison in January of 1985, immediately after completing the 47-week Russian Basic Course at DLI-FLC in Monterey, California. Contrary to my initial plan of declaring Russian as my major, I ended up going with linguistics. One of the graduation requirements was to take one year of a non–Indo-European language. I narrowed my choices down to Arabic and Japanese, and obviously decided to study the latter. It was sometime during the latter half of 1985 that I decided to use 小林 (Kobayashi) as my family name, when expressed in Japanese. For those who are unaware, the surname “Lunde” is of Viking origin, and means “small woods” or “grove.” I also considered 小森 (Komori), but opted for 小林.

In retrospect, I am glad that I chose 小林, for two reasons: 1) the number of strokes of 小林 is the same as when expressing “Lunde” using katakana, as ランディ, which is also 11 strokes; and 2) 小林丸 (Kobayashi-maru).

Given Name

I have been fond of weapons from an early age. Knives, firearms, grenade launchers, whatever. Related to this interest, I founded the Adobe Shooters League at the end of 2000, and we had our first event in October of that year. We held our 196th event earlier this week, and our 200th event will take place in May. Did I mention that I like weapons?

Anyway, while searching for an appropriate ideograph to use as my given name in Japanese, I found that “Ken” had a remarkably large number of choices. Given my fondness for weapons, to include ones with sharp edges, I decided to use 剣 (U+5263). At some point, I started to use the traditional form, 劍 (U+528D). The lower-left strokes can be difficult to discern at low resolution, which helps to explain why my wife coined 劍󠄁 (<U+528D,U+E0101>) sometime in 1999, which I also use. This glyph was included in Adobe-Japan1-4 as CID+14106 in early 2000, and its Adobe-Japan1 IVS was registered in 2007. JIS X 0208 also includes a relatively rich set of variants, such as 剱 (U+5271), 劒 (U+5292), 劔 (U+5294), and 釼 (U+91FC), though I have never used them to express my given name. In order to have a bit of fun, I also sprinkled the PRC simplified form, 剑 (U+5251), throughout CJKV Information Processing Second Edition, and quite prominently in Figure 7-1 on page 517.

In other words, I express my given name as Ken, ケン, 剣, 劍, or 劍󠄁, depending on the circumstance, and sometimes based on my mood. My current Adobe business card uses “Ken” (English) and 剣 (Japanese).

Also in retrospect, 剣 was an excellent choice, mainly because it is an ideograph with a large number of variants, which is what my job is all about. I also serve as Unicode’s IVD Registrar.

Middle Name

In closing, my middle name is “Roger,” which can be expressed as 了解, but let’s not go there.


9 Responses to My Name: Ken, ケン, 剣, 劍, or 劍󠄁?

  1. Leroy Vargas says:

    From Jim Breen’s JMDict dictionary:
    了解, 諒解, 領解, 領会 [りょうかい]: (P, n, vs) comprehension, consent, understanding, agreement, (P, int) OK, roger (on two-way radio)

    From Google Translate (JA→EN):
    了解 ⇒ Roger that

    Has the doctor ever had experience with two-way radio? Or, better leave it there…

    • I served nine years in the US Army Reserve, so I do, um, have experience with two-way radios…

      • Leroy Vargas says:

        And I thought your avatar was a blowfish, but I see you are using instead a patriotic snake (as if you were asking us to not “tread on” you).

        • On the contrary, I am asking people to not “Ten” (as in “Ten Mincho”) on me. The snake image is the Black&White U+1F40D 🐍 SNAKE glyph from Ten Mincho, put on a yellow background, and reversed so that it points to the left.

  2. Explorare Nota Seniorious says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    I had presumed this whole time 小林 was simply your wife’s maiden name…

    • Leroy Vargas says:

      Her maiden name is in his CJKV book’s preface, page xxxiv.

    • Leroy Vargas says:

      Or, at least, that’s what I think. If she married before, then divorced before joining forces with Ken, then perhaps the four-letter (two-kanji) surname on the preface is not even her maiden name at all.

  4. Marcus says:

    For you choosing 劍, it definitely applies in Traditional Chinese context as well. Most (if not all) 舊字體 forms are the Traditional Chinese form, which was basically China way before simplification. It’s a great wonder that all the ideographs have a common origin, which is in China.

    Speaking of which by the start of the 21st century, all Chinese regions slowly switched to handwriting forms, even in sans-serif and serif fonts, probably to standardize and make sure people don’t write them wrong. I am amazed why Japan and Korea decide to keep some orthodox forms (example 糹vs 糸, and a drop vs a vertical stroke in some glyphs) even in their simplified 新字体 forms (for the former), while most Chinese fonts all have to use handwriting-style glyphs as standards, which a few people think are “ugly”.