At school, Japanese people have to choose whether they learn Japanese history, world history or geography. Among my acquaintances, the most popular is Japanese history. When I ask them why they chose it, the same answer comes almost every time : "I can't remember all those foreign names in Katakana".

What I am wondering is why the Japanese are taught foreign names (e.g. Western ones) in Katakana instead or Romaji (Latin character). They do learn romaji before the Kanji, and it should be easier for them to learn a name in romaji than an old Japanese name in kanji with readings that are not used anymore. Apart from English and French names, most western names have very regular readings, and those in Latin, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese should not be more difficult for them to pronounce than for Italiand or Spaniards to pronounce each others names or Japanese names.

When Westerners learn Western history, they also have to learn names in languages they find difficult to read or pronounce. But often there is a "translation" adapted to the language's pronunciation. For example, Julius Caesar will become "Jules Cesar" in French (pronounced something like "Jul Sayzar"), and "Giulio Cesare" in Italian (pronounced something like "Joolio Chezaray"). The Latin original is anyway Iulius Caesar (pronounced Yoolioos Ka-ayzar"). The Japanese use the Latin version as it is the original. However, when it comes to English or French names, keeping the original pronuciation in Katakana is often virtually impossible. That's when finding a nice sounding alternative instead of a strange Katakana transliteration imcomprehensible to Westerners and Japanese alike becomes useful.

But I really wonder how the Japanese choose to render some more international people's name. Take Emperor Charles V of Habsburg, the greatest ruler Europe has had after the Roman Empire and before Napoleon. His father was Austrio-French and his mother Spanish. He was born and raised in Dutch speaking Flanders with French and Latin as his educational languages. As ruler of of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor (of Germany), he spoke German fulently as well. He then became king of Spain, including about half of Italy that was then under Spanish rule. His Latin name was Carolus Quintus, but Latin was already an virtually dead language at the time, so nobody calls him like that. The French call him Charles Quint, maybe the only case of a ruler with the V (normally "cinq" in French) is read after a corruption of the Latin "Quintus". In German, he is "Karl der Fuenfte", in Dutch "Karel de vijfste" and in Spanish "Carlos primero" (Charles I) because he was in fact the first "Charles" ruling Spain. So how do the Japanese call him and why ? (or for that matters, the Koreans, Chinese, or other Asians)