lesson 9 - names


󱤱 mama

parent, ancestor; creator, originator; caretaker, sustainer

A mama is a parent, ancestor, caretaker, or creator. My great-great-great grandparent can be a mama to me, even if I never even met them. Just the same, an uncle or an aunt or a cousin could all be mama, but if I'm an adult and I'm talking about my baby cousin, I'm probably not going to call them mama. mama is somewhat about hierarchy, but it isn't about power. It's about caretaking. This doesn't always have to do with age. A worker at a nursing home could be a mama. Another fun example of mama is a tree that bares fruit. If all of the seeds are its children, then the tree could be mama! Thinking about mama like this can be fun and allows a lot of freedom in exploring its semantic space.

󱤰 ma

earth, land; outdoors, world; country, territory; soil

ma is a place or location. This can be a physical one, like a country or spot on the ground. It's far more common to see ma used to talk about grounded locations, but it's also used to talk about anything from a treebranch something's on or even an airplane miles or kilomiters above the ground. ma can sometimes be the ground itself, like dirt or rocks, or even an entire planet with a hard surface. don't confuse ma with kiwen though, because ma has connotations of location and ground that kiwen doesn't.

󱥂 nimi

name, word

nimi are words and names. "lipamanka" is a nimi. "paralelepípedo" is a nimi. "cupcake" is a nimi. This description of nimi's semantic space is nimi.

󱤦 lete

cold, cool; uncooked, raw

lete is the quality of coldness. If anything is cold, it is lete. lete is also occasionally used to describe raw food or unprocessed ore.

󱥗 seli

fire; cooking element, chemical reaction, heat source

seli's that heat. If something's hot or giving off heat, it's seli. the heat itself is also seli. this word can also be used to talk about spicy food through metaphor because spicy food literally makes your mouth feel warmer, but be careful not to calque english by explaining that if you use seli like that. Household appliences used to heat food can be seli, like a stovetop. seli can be used as a verb to mean "cook," if in english you see cooking as always some sort of application of heat. Chopping up vegetables to put in a raw salad isn't a good example of seli.

󱤥 len

cloth, clothing, fabric, textile; cover, layer of privacy

The semantic space of len contains both cloth and the act of hiding something. Any fabric or clothing can be len, for example a shirt or a blanket. The pivot between "cloth" and "to hide something" is similar to covering something with a blanket. This meaning comes from the idea of applying a cloth to something to hide it. Both a hidden bird and a clothed bird could be a "waso len." len can also refer to secrecy or privacy, and other qualities of being hidden.



in toki pona, proper names are treated as modifiers, with a capitalized first letter. this means that you have to pick a word which describes what the thing is, and then modify that word with the tokiponized name.

jan Lisa
~ a jan named lisa

ma Mewika
~ a country named Mewika (the united states)

in sitelen pona, you write names by putting sitelen pona characters inside a cartouche, and read the name by reading the first letter of each word in the cartouche.

~ jan Lisa

the words in the cartouche are 󱤦 lete, 󱤎 ilo, 󱥗 seli, and 󱤄 ale, which spells Lisa.

some put special meaning in the words they choose to spell their names with, others choose the first ones that come to mind. either way is fine!


names in toki pona are "tokiponized," which means fitting the name into toki pona phonotactics. the general guidelines to tokiponization are the following:

  • use the local name and pronunciation
  • syllables consist of a consonant, then a vowel, then an optional letter n.
  • the consonant of the first syllable may be omitted.
  • wu, wo, ji, and ti are illegal
    • wu becomes u, wo becomes o, ji becomes i, and ti becomes si
  • you can't follow up a syllable-final n with an m or another n
  • d->t, b->p, v->w, f->p, r->w/l/k
    • english r turns to w
    • tapped or trilled r becomes l
    • french/german r turns to k
  • preserving syllable count is more important than preserving consonants
  • if you're tokiponizing your own name - don't be scared to break a rule or two if the resulting name makes you happier! it's your name and you can do whatever you want with it

note about inclusivity

people use lots of different words to describe themselves in toki pona, not necessarily just 󱤑 jan, depending on what word(s) they identify with more. for example, i use 󱥢 soweli to describe myself!

keep this in mind when speaking toki pona! for example, since not everyone is a 󱤑 jan, it doesn't make sense to translate everyone as 󱤑󱤄jan ale, instead of just 󱤄 ale.

another example: when you're talking about a diverse group of people, you can't know for sure if everyone in said group is a 󱤑 jan. in this case, perhaps using a more general word like 󱤌 ijo might be better, to avoid some feeling excluded.

basically - don't use 󱤑 jan if you're not actually sure you're referring to a 󱤑 jan!

the above note is a very strong personal opinion.

in practice, many people do still use 󱤑 jan for someone/anyone/everyone etc.


tess (my name!)
~ 󱥢󱦐󱥧󱤉󱥦󱤈󱦑
~ soweli Tesa
technically, my name should be Te to preserve syllable count, but i wanted to preserve the s in my name, so i broke a rule and made it Tesa instead!

tiara (my cat!)
~ 󱥢󱦐󱥦󱤌󱤑󱤄󱤧󱤂󱦑
~ soweli Sijala
ti is an illegal syllable, so it turns into si, and the r becomes an l because i'm norwegian and tap my rs!

~ 󱥬󱦐󱤌󱥁󱤧󱤍󱦑
~ toki Inli
here, the ng cluster is simplified to n, and the final sh was dropped to prioritize syllable count

~ 󱥬󱦐󱥷󱤉󱥂󱥗󱤂󱦑
~ toki Wensa
derived from swedish svenska, the sv cluster is simplified to just w, and the sk cluster gets simplified to s!
remember that there's not ever just one correct tokiponization, for example, swedish could be toki Sensa instead!


translate from toki pona to english

mi sona toki Nosiki

~ i know how to speak a language called Nosiki (norwegian)

mi wile tawa ma sina

~ i wanna go to your country

mi wile e len mute tan ni · ma Kanata li lete mute

~ i need a lot of clothes because the country called Kanata (canada) is really cold!

sona mi pi nimi sina li kama weka lon tenpo poka

~ i forgot your name recently

waso Lisa li wile pini e pali ona

~ (a flying animal named) lisa wants to finish working

translate from english to toki pona

tess is teaching faer girlfriend toki pona

~ soweli Tesa li pana e sona pi toki pona tawa waso olin ona

this bug flew here from norway

~ pipi ni li tawa ni tan ma Nosiki

my dad is stronger than your dad

~ mama mi li wawa mute · mama sina li wawa lili

your name is cool

~ nimi sina li pona

read sitelen pona


~ waso Ipa li wile pana e sina tawa telo

~ a bird named Ipa wants to throw you in the ocean


~ ijo lili ale li ken wawa

~ all small things can be strong


~ mama Lepa li wile e len seli tan tawa pi tenpo kama

~ the parent named Lepa wants warm clothes for a future walk


~ mi wile sona e nimi pona ale

~ i want to know every good word