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Cartouches in Egyptian hieroglyphs. sitelen pona and sitelen sitelen use similar shapes to enclose names (and for the word nimi).

Names, also called proper names, proper adjectives, or proper modifiers, are a special type of content word. Traditionally, a name can be any phonotactically valid sequence of sounds, and only occurs as a modifier of a content word. Examples of names include jan Sonja and ma Kanata (Canada).

Headnouns[edit | edit source]

The head word of a name is commonly called a headnoun, though it can include earlier modifiers before the name (or maybe even act as a verb).

The philosophy of Toki Pona is describing your thoughts in simple terms. Therefore, the headnoun indicates the basic nature of the thing being named. In jan Sonja and ma Kanata, the headnouns are jan and ma, respectively. They tell us that Sonja is a jan ("person"), and that Kanata is a ma ("land"), which might be just enough information to realize it refers to Canada.

Headnouns often also distinguish between multiple beings with the same name. For example, in English, "Sydney" could refer to a city, a person, a chatbot, or something else entirely. In Toki Pona, these would be ma (tomo) Sini, jan Sini, and ilo Sini respectively.

Headnouns other than jan[edit | edit source]

While the most common headnoun for people is jan, some speakers choose to use different ones for a variety of reasons. For example, someone who self-identifies as waso could be:

  • otherkin or therian
  • a furry with an avian fursona
  • someone whose surname is Finch
  • wanting to disambiguate themself from someone else with the same Toki Pona name
  • paragliding at the time of speaking (in some styles of speech)[1]
  • using a fancy headnoun for fun

Writing[edit | edit source]

Names are not specially marked in speech, potentially causing confusion when the name collides with an existing word (such as jan Luka). Many writing systems distinguish names in some way. In the Latin script, names are the only standard words written with an initial capital letter. This reflects that names are typically capitalized in other Latin-script languages.

sitelen pona[edit | edit source]

sitelen pona takes an acronym-like 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 ma [ijo ni li ike] ("this thing is bad").

Some people use syllable- or mora-based approaches instead. For example, jan Misali's preferred name form is [mi sona ante li] (literally, "Msal").[2] nasin sitelen kalama is an attempt to formalize such names while increasing readability.

sitelen sitelen[edit | edit source]

sitelen sitelen, similar to sitelen pona, puts names in cartouches, but instead of using word glyphs, names are written using a separate set of syllable glyphs.[3][4]

Tokiponization[edit | edit source]

Tokiponization is the process of converting a name to be compatible with 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.[5] Names don't have to be tokiponized if doing so would hinder understanding.

Self-determination[edit | edit source]

Names ought to be determined by the person or group that they refer to. (This is true in any language.) For example, if Canadian tokiponists broadly agreed that Canada should be tokiponized differently, people should use that tokiponization. You can also break the rules for your name if you like.

If the referent has not determined their own name in Toki Pona, it is recommended to make an educated guess where possible, such as by using endonyms and native pronunciation. For example, Toronto could become ma Towano rather than ma Tolonto,[5] matching the local pronunciation ([tʰəˈɹɒnow]).

Breaking the rules[edit | edit source]

Caution: This subject is nonstandard and may not be understood by most speakers.

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 indicate pronunciation

Against names[edit | edit source]

A fair few people believe that names either don't belong in Toki Pona or are overused. They may see them as a dependency to get around the principle of describing everything, or feel that a hypothetical native Toki Pona culture would only apply proper names to foreigners.

To some extent, even jan Sonja herself argues against the use of names in the first line of her guidelines:[5]

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)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. lipamanka. "my weird deviations in toki pona".
  2. jan Misali [@hbmmaster]. (14 January 2023). [Message posted in the #toki-pona channel in the {{{server}}} Discord server]. Discord.
    @temmiemew: @hbmmaster what is your personal cartouche name
    @hbmmaster: mi-sona-ante-li
  3. Jonathan Gabel. Syllables Part 2: Combining Syllables and Writing Names. sitelen sitelen.
  4. Jonathan Gabel. sitelen pi kalama lili ale - syllable glyphs. sitelen sitelen.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Sonja Lang. Proper Names. lipu pi jan Ne.