TechJapan has a nice entry on corporate etymology:

In this article, we dive deep into the corporate names of seven of the world’s most well-known electronics companies:
* FujiFilm
* Fujitsu
* Hitachi
* Panasonic
* Mitsubishi
* Sanyo
* Toshiba
Inside, we investigate two main areas for each company: what the characters that compose their names actually mean, and how the companies actually got their names.

One of the explanations will have a drastic effect on my pronunciation habits:

“Fujitsu” is actually short for “Fuji Tsuushinki Seizou Kabushikigaisha,” or “Fuji Communication Equipment Manufacturing Corporation.” By simply taking the first three syllables of “Fuji Tsuushinki Seizou Kabushikigaisha,” Fujitsu managed to save everyone from having to write so much. The company changed its name to “Fujitsu” in 1967. “Fuji Tsuushinki Seizou Kabushikigaisha” today exists as “Fujitsu Holdings Corporation.”

And here I always pronounced it as if it were “Fu-jitsu,” like a cousin of jiu-jitsu. All together now: FU-ji-TSUU! 富士通! FU-ji-TSUU!

Thanks to Songdog for the link, and be sure to join his Oscar contest if you enjoy such things.

Addendum. Semantic Composition has an interesting entry about his time working for Sony, in the course of which he explicates the company name thus:

Sony started out as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kaisha, and was dedicated to the production of radio receivers (shades of the Walkman!) and electrical measurement equipment. Readers familiar with Sony only through their consumer electronics may not realize how huge Sony is today in the latter department. In any event, as radios and consumer electronics came to be the company’s main claim to fame, they went for a name which both reflected that fact and was easier to sell to English speakers. Sony is claimed to be derived from both “sonus”, Latin for sound, and “sonny”, because they liked the suggestion of youth that it provided. SC’s pet theory is that someone misspelled “Sonny” when silkscreening it onto a batch of parts, and the “sonus” justification was invented post hoc, to save money on having to make more.


  1. Strange that you should have assumed Fujitsu was pronounced “Fu-jitsu”; the “Fuji” part always seemed to be a clear reference to the mountain to me, and therefore belonging together as a unit.

  2. That applies to Toshiba as well. The English pronounciation seems to be something like toSHIba, but the TO is long.
    I don’t think we need to worry too much about reproducing Japanese pronounciation in English, as some of it would be a bit unnatural. For example, in Sanyo the n is a separate syllable and YO is long (さんよう = sa-n-yo-u)
    Most corporate/municipal bodies these days seem to be deciding to stick with respecting English spelling conventions even if they don’t reflect long/short distinctions.

  3. I was always taught that Japanese was unstressed, so by long, you mean tempo rather than stress? Maybe showing my ignorance here…

  4. Yes, by long I mean holding the vowel a longer time period, I don’t mean to stress it.

  5. Though Japanese does have a pitch accent independent of vowel length.
    I don’t think we need to worry too much about reproducing Japanese pronounciation in English
    Very true, and upon further reflection it would be silly to try to use “Fuji-tsuu” in English, since it would confuse whoever I was talking to. As so often, I’ll keep the original pronunciation in my head while using the anglicized version in speech.

  6. Michael Farris says

    “For example, in Sanyo the n is a separate syllable”
    When I did Japanese in a field methods class, that was simply not true, san is a phonetically a single syllable and no amount of wishful thinking could turn into two (for the native speaker we had).
    According to a book on Japanese phonology I later read (Vance, forget the year) the ‘final’ n (like the ‘second’ part of long vowels and the first part of doubled consonants is a mora, a psychologically salient feature of Japanese prosody, but Sanyo according to his analysis is two syllables (san-you) and four mora (sa-n-yo-u)long.

  7. Yup, I always rhymed it with Ju-jitsu.
    I’m eagerly looking forward to my next opportunity to say the word out loud!

  8. Oops, sorry, I was being sloppy. I meant mora, not syllable. No excuse for that.
    I’d argue that since most Japanese speakers have a strong idea of how many moras a word or phrase has, but no idea at all of how many syllables, the syllable is a very obscure concept in Japanese anyway (kind of like how the mora is a very obscure concept in English).

  9. I believe I’ve heard agency-recorded Fujitsu ads on the radio pronounce it “Fu-JIT-su.”

  10. xiaolongnu says

    In response to Charles, I think that’s because most Asian companies have learned to Anglicize the pronunciation of their names for American consumers: think about the Korean car company Hyundai, pronounced (in their ads) “Hunn-day” when it should be something more like “Hyun-day.” Someone seems to have decided, possibly rightly, that Americans couldn’t cope with that glide. Mazda took a different approach: the American pronunciation “Mozz-da” is much closer to the Japanese “Mo-ts-da” than the “Mat-SOO-da” they’d probably get using the more conventional romanization, Matsuda.
    It’s all relative: where I live everyone can say Kalaniana’ole and (my favorite local place name) Ka’a’ala, but, as we found out at Auntie Pasto’s recently, nobody knows how to say bruschetta or gnocchi.

  11. It doesn’t make any difference whether English speakers place the stress on Fu, ji or tsu considering that Japanese doesn’t use stress.

  12. Canon has an interesting story: here or here.

  13. Huh — so Canon was originally Kwanon (named for the Goddess of Mercy, the Japanese equivalent of Chinese Gwan-yin, which in turn is the Chinese equivalent of Avalokitesvara) — the syllable written kwa is pronounced /ka/ in modern Japanese anyway, so it’s a clever renaming.

  14. I can see why it’s pronounced FU-ji-TSUU. The first two characters go together, and the last character is a long “u” sound; to pronounce the “u” short is wrong.
    Japanese has various vowel sounds that are long or short, and you have to learn them that way. In fact, if you say a word without properly pronouncing the long vowel sound, Japanese people may not know what you’re saying.
    I think we pronounce it the “ju-jitsu” way because there are many three-syllable English words with the stress on the second syllable.

  15. “think about the Korean car company Hyundai, pronounced (in their ads) “Hunn-day” when it should be something more like “Hyun-day.””
    That’s interesting. Here in Australia we get the “Hyun-day” version.

  16. Justin Neville says

    Yes, in the UK too, it’s definitely not “HUNN-day” as it is the States (and which very surprised me when I discovered that).
    Most people here pronounce it “High-OON-day” or HYOON-day”. I’d have to see an ad for one of their models to be sure how the company pronounces it here, but it’s one of these two for sure.
    (On a side issue, I noted recently that the Hyundai Lantra here is the Hyundai Elantra in N. America. I wonder what the thought process behind that difference is….)

  17. I had always heard the story that “Sony” was derived from “Sound” and “Nippon”, i.e. “So-Ni” with a friendlier spelling.

  18. When Hyundai first came to Australia they had an awful advertising campaign with the slogan “Say ‘hi’ to a Hyundai” and the pronunciation was /’haI.Un.’daI/ with a short “oo” sound in the middle and stress on both first and last syllables.
    After a few months or so the campaign and the pronunciation disappeared and they now pronounce it /’hjVn.deI/ as Jeremiah points out.

  19. I’ve seen the goddess’s name spelled “Kannon” in museum labels.

  20. Yes, that’s the modern spelling, since the -w- isn’t pronounced any more. Similarly, the former name of Tokyo used to be spelled Yedo but is now Edo.

  21. Hmmm…How were syllables like “kwa” and “ye” written using hiragana and katakana? Were there extra characters that have fallen into disuse or was it using combinations of characters like modern Japanese does for syllables like “kya” etc.?
    In the former case, if anyone’s got a link showing the extinct kana characters, I would really appreciate it!

  22. I apologise for the reduntant phrase “kana characters” 🙂

  23. There was no symbol for ye, which had fallen together with e before the kanas were developed (see here for discussion). I believe kwa is written as ku followed by wa, but I can’t swear to it; I welcome correction by anyone whose kana skills are more up to date. (Sorry about the long delay in answering; fortunately a spam comment reminded me of your question!)

  24. Hyundai UK has just launched a TV spot advising a pronunciation change from /ˈhaiʌndai/ to /ˈhjʊndei/

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