Monday, March 12, 2018

Separating Katakana Words in Names, Titles & Phrases

The Japanese language loves loaning words from everywhere, and when they do it with gairaigo 外来語 they katakanize those words so they can be written with katakana. The same happens with foreign names, titles of anime in English, etc.

But there's a problem: Japanese rarely uses spaces, and it relies on having multiple alphabets to tell the words apart in a sentence. Then, how'd you separate two katakana words in Japanese, given they're all written with just one alphabet: the katakana?

There are multiple ways.

Middle Dot

The first and most common way is using a "middle dot," also called nakaguro 中黒.

It looks like this: ・

When there's a name of a "foreign person," gaikokujin 外国人, title of anime that uses English words, name of a brand, organization, machine, car, product or something like that, name of ultra-powerful weapon, name of a secret chuunibyou hisatsu "sure-kill technique" of darkness, etc. and they're written with katakana, normally you'd separate words with the middle dot.

Middle dots used in non-Japanese names in manga: Negi Springfield from Mahou Sensei Negima and Bruno Buccellati from Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken.


  • Jonii·Deppu ジョニー・デップ
    Johnny Depp.
  • Paireetsu·Obu·Karibian パイレーツ・オブ・カリビアン
    Pirates of [The] Caribbean.
  • Maikurosofuto·Waado マイクロソフト・ワード
    Microsoft Word.

In Names of Anime

  • Arudonoa·Zero アルドノア・ゼロ
    Aldnoah Zero.
  • Desu·Pareedo デス・パレード
    Death Parade.
  • Detoroito·Metaru·Shithi デトロイト・メタル・シティ
    Detroit Metal City.
  • Autobureiku·Kanpanii アウトブレイク・カンパニー
    Outbreak Company.
  • Shanguri·Ra シャングリ・ラ
  • Shutainzu·Geeto シュタインズ・ゲート

No Middle Dot

Although the middle dot may be used to separate words, that's not always the case. Sometimes the katakana words are not separated at all.


  • SuupaaMarioBurazaasu スーパーマリオブラザーズ
    Super Mario Brothers.
  • NeoAamusutoronguSaikuronJettoAamusutoronguHou ネオアームストロングサイクロンジェットアームストロング砲
    Neo Armstrong Cyclone Jet Armstrong Cannon.
  • DaakuRyunion ダークリユニオン
    Dark Reunion.

In Names of Anime

  • KoodoGiasu コードギアス
    Code Geass.
  • DesuNooto デスノート
    Death Note.
  • InferunoKoppu インフェルノコップ
    Inferno Cop.
  • MeidoInAbisu メイドインアビス
    Made in Abyss.
  • MobuSaikoHyaku モブサイコ100
    Mob Psycho 100
  • NinjaSureiyaa ニンジャスレイヤー
    Ninja Slayer.
  • SamuraiFuramenko サムライフラメンコ
    Samurai Flamenco.
  • SamaaWoozu サマーウォーズ
    Summer Wars.

Note that some names have puns in them so a middle dot would get in the way.
  • PanchiRain パンチライン
    Punch Line.
    (panchira is when you briefly see panties. Yes, really.)
  • WanPanMan ワンパンマン
    One Punch Man.
    (pan isn't "punch," but if it said WanPanchiMan it wouldn't rhyme as much. Also, the series name and the main character's design are probably inspired by Anpanman, another super-hero series.)


So in Japanese katakanized phrases may or may not separated by middle dots. But surely there is some consistency in this, right?

Well, not really.

Names of Foreign People

Normally, you can count on names of foreign people to get the middle dot everywhere there should be a space. Specially given that the separation of first name and family name is pretty important.

Loaned Phrases

When you get to loaned phrases, whether punctuation is used or not varies. Normally, common words are not punctuated. The author may use the middle dot to hint to the reader where the space would be in an unfamiliar foreign phrase, but it ultimately depends on the author caring to do it.

So a newspaper is more likely to use middle dots than some random comment on the internet.

Some examples:
  • tenisukooto テニスコート
    tenisu·kooto テニス・コート
    Tennis court.
  • spootsukaa スポーツカー
    spootsu·kaa スポーツ・カー
    Sports car.
  • toirettopeepaa トイレットペーパー
    toiretto·peepaa トイレット・ペーパー
    Toilet paper.

Even wasei-eigo 和製英語 like sararii-man サラリーマン, "salary man," meaning an office worker, can get the middle dot: sararii man サラリー・マン.

Titles & Names of Brands

The official spelling of a title or brand name may be in a way, chosen with or without the middle dot deliberately, in which case when it's written officially the spelling is probably consistent, but then when people go write it they spell it however they want.

In other words: when whoever did it decided Detroit Metal City was to be spelled with middle dots, they put middle dots in the official logo, those middle dots became part of the design, so any idiot so long as they aren't blind can just look at the damn thing and see "oh, look, it has middle dots."

But just because McDonald's is spelled McDonald's that doesn't mean people are gonna waste their time spelling McDonald's McDonald's. People are just gonna spell it mcdonalds. Like... there is more than one? It's a possessive, damnit!

Furthermore, how they officially decide which words get separated by middle dots is also a mystery wrapped in an enigma. You'd think that maybe words with two-three syllables don't get the middle dot, but that varies.

The most obvious case here is that DesuNooto デスノート, "Death Note," has no middle dot, but Desu·Pareedo デス・パレード, "Death Parade," does have a middle dot.

Another example is No Game No Life, which is this mess:
  • NooGeemu·NooRaifu ノーゲーム・ノーライフ
    No Game No Life.


Although unlikely, there are cases where the katakanized words are written with hiragana instead. For example, the title of the anime Flying Witch is written with hiragana because it's cuter, I assume.
  • FurainguWicchi ふらいんぐうぃっち
    Flying Witch.


Although rare, an actual space may also be used to separate katakana words. Remember: the Japanese language uses spaces sparingly, so this doesn't really happen often. For example:
  • Gacchaman Kurauzu ガッチャマン クラウズ
    GATCHAMAN Crowds.

Did you see the space? Did you see it? It's up there, did you see it? No? Try looking harder. Seeing it now? Not yet? Well, I'm pretty sure I put the space there. I guess. Did I put it there? Damn, now I don't know anymore. I think I put it there. It's really hard to miss it, you know, the space. Spaces. They're... hard to see. Because, you know, they're, like, nothing. Invisible. Nothingness. Space.

Anyway, the point is that if for some reason some lunatic of a producer decided the title of something should have a literal space to separate katakana words, chances are everybody is going to miss it and write the thing without spaces anyway.

= Equal Sign

Sometimes, an "equal" sign, =, ikooru イコール, is used to separate katakana words in Japanese. This is more unusual, happens less often than the common middle dots, but it's a practice you may come across some time.

Note Japanese can be written in multiple directions. When it's written horizontally, the equal signs look, well, normal, horizontal. But when it's written vertically, that has the kind of unexpected effect of having the equal sign become vertical too!

So it looks like two vertical lines and you might think it's not an equal sign at first glance, but it is.

Mikhail von Alt Oppenbauer Zon ミハイル=フォン=アルト=オッペンバウアー一号, 4 years old, police dog from manga Deka Wanko デカワンコ


The basic rule is that while the middle dot represents a space, the equal sign represents an hyphen. So if somebody has an hyphenated name or hyphenated surname, the equal sign is used in place of the hyphen.

Sometimes, a middle dot is used to separate first name and last name. So if someone has a middle name or multiple middle names, they're separated by the equal sign instead.
  • Baadhii·Shifon=Aruthira バーディー・シフォン=アルティラ
    Birdy Cephon Altera

In some cases, the equal signs are simply used instead of middle dots, or used in ways that you can't ever make sense of. Better not to worry about it. Also, there are cases of a name being spelled with equal signs in one instance but middle dots in another. It's an inconsistent mess.

Stylized Symbols

In some cases, other symbols, unusual symbols, are used for the sake of aesthetics instead of the middle dot or anything like that. Such symbols are normally the star symbol, or the heart shape symbol, because they're actually displayable in computer text.

For example:
  • Burakku☆Sutaa ブラック☆スター
    Black☆Star. (character of Soul Eater.)
  • Supeesu☆Dandhi スペース☆ダンディ
  • Ekuseru♥Saaga エクセル♥サーガ

Non-Text Middle Dot in Logotypes

There are also cases of a title being officially spelled with a middle dot but stylized on covers and promotion material using other graphics.

For example: Black Bullet is spelled with a middle dot, but the logotype has a bullet hole. Like:
  • Black <insert bullet hole here> Bullet.

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