Names are a special type of toki pona word. They can be any phonotactically valid sequence of sounds, but can only occur as a modifier of a content word.
Headnouns[edit | edit source]
The head word of a name is commonly called a headnoun, though it can have modifiers (or even act as a verb?). It indicates the nature of the thing being named. For example, in English, "Sydney" could refer to a city, a person, a chatbot, or many other things. In toki pona, these would be ma Sini, jan Sini, and ilo Sini respectively.
While the most common headnoun for people is jan, some people choose to use different ones for a variety of different reasons. For example, a waso might be otherkin, a furry, someone whose surname is "Finch", someone wanting to differentiate themself from someone else with the same name, currently paragliding, or just using a fancy headnoun for fun.
Writing[edit | edit source]
While names aren't specially marked in speech, potentially causing confusion when the name collides with an existing word (e.g. jan Luka), many writing systems do distinguish them in some way.
In sitelen Lasina, names are written with an initial capital letter, as is common in other Latin-written languages (such as English).
sitelen pona takes an acronym-based approach: a name is written as multiple words whose starting sounds match those of the name, wrapped in a nimi-shaped box called a cartouche. The exact choice of words is up to the person being named, or, failing that, the writer. This can be used to convey extra meaning, e.g. writing ma Inli as [ijo ni li ike]. A few people use syllable- or mora-based approaches instead, e.g. jan Misali's preferred name form is [mi sona ante li] ("Msal"); nasin sitelen kalama is an attempt to formalize such names while increasing readability.
sitelen sitelen also puts names in cartouches, but instead of reusing existing words, a separate set of syllable glyphs is used.
Tokiponization[edit | edit source]
Tokiponization is the process of converting a name to be compatible with the toki pona phonology and phonotactics. The exact method of doing so varies between people, but a common method is to follow the guidelines written by jan Sonja.
Names don't have to be tokiponized if doing so would hinder understanding.
Breaking the rules[edit | edit source]
As with all parts of toki pona, tinkerers love to exceed the boundaries of what's considered a name. Examples include:
- intentionally using disallowed sound groups
- using non-toki pona sounds in an otherwise tokiponized name
- using a nimi sin as a headnoun and/or in lieu of a name
- not using a headnoun at all (or leaving it up to the speaker)
- in sitelen pona, using a custom "name glyph" that may or may not be indicative of the pronunciation
Against names[edit | edit source]
A fair few people believe that names either don't belong in toki pona or are overused by others. They may see them as a crutch to get around the principle of describing everything, and/or feel that the hypothetical native toki pona culture would only use hard-set names for foreigners.
To some extent, even jan Sonja herself argues against the use of names in the first line of her guidelines:
It is always better to translate the "idea" of a foreign word before attempting to create a new phonetic transcription that may not be recognizable by everyone. (Example: Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada, becomes jan lawa pi ma Kanata, rather than jan Kesijen)