JAPANESE NAMES (日本人の氏名, Nihonjin no Shimei) in modern times usually consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name . More than one given name is not generally used. Japanese names are usually written in kanji , which are characters usually Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation. The kanji for a name may have a variety of possible Japanese pronunciations, hence parents might use hiragana or katakana when giving a birth name to their newborn child. Names written in hiragana or katakana are phonetic renderings, and so lack the visual meaning of names expressed in the logographic kanji .
Japanese family names are extremely varied: according to estimates,
there are over 100,000 different surnames in use today in Japan. The
three most common family names in Japan are
Satō (佐藤), Suzuki
Surnames occur with varying frequency in different regions; for
example, the names Chinen (知念), Higa (比嘉), and Shimabukuro
(島袋) are common in
While family names follow relatively consistent rules, given names are much more diverse in pronunciation and character usage. While many common names can easily be spelled or pronounced, many parents choose names with unusual characters or pronunciations, and such names cannot in general be spelled or pronounced unless both the spelling and pronunciation are given. Unusual pronunciations have especially become common, with this trend having increased significantly since the 1990s. For example, the popular masculine name 大翔 is traditionally pronounced "Hiroto", but in recent years alternative pronunciations "Haruto", "Yamato ", "Taiga", "Sora", "Taito", "Daito", and "Masato" have all entered use.
Male names often end in -rō (郎 "son", but also 朗 "clear, bright"; e.g. " Ichirō ") -ta (太 "great, thick"; e.g. "Kenta ") or -o (男 / 雄 / 夫 "man"; e.g. "Teruo" or " Akio "), or contain ichi (一 "first "; e.g. "Ken\'ichi "), kazu (also written with 一 "first ", along with several other possible characters; e.g. " Kazuhiro "), ji (二 "second " or 次 "next"; e.g. "Jirō "), or dai (大 "great, large"; e.g. " Daiichi ") while female names often end in -ko (子 "child"; e.g. "Keiko ") or -mi (美 "beauty"; e.g. "Yumi "). Other popular endings for female names include -ka (香 "scent, perfume" or 花 "flower"; e.g. "Reika ") and -na (奈, or 菜, meaning greens; e.g. "Haruna ").
* 1 Structure
* 2 Characters
* 2.1 Difficulty of reading names * 2.2 Regulations
* 3 Customs
* 3.1 Speaking to and of others * 3.2 Nicknames
* 4 Names from other ethnic groups in Japan * 5 Imperial names * 6 Historical names * 7 Professional names * 8 Japanese names in English and other Western languages * 9 Japanese names in Chinese * 10 See also * 11 Notes * 12 References * 13 Further reading * 14 External links
The majority of
Historically, myōji, uji and sei had different meanings. Sei was originally the patrilineal surname which is why up until now it has only been granted by the emperor as a title of male rank. The lower form of the name sei being tei which is a common name in Japanese men. Although there was a male ancestor in ancient Japan from whom the name 'Sei' originally came. There were relatively few sei, and most of the medieval noble clans trace their lineage either directly to these sei or to the courtiers of these sei. Uji was another name used to designate patrilineal descent, but later merged with myōji around the same time. Myōji was, simply, what a family chooses to call itself, as opposed to the sei granted by the emperor. While it was passed on patrilineally in male ancestors including in male ancestors called haku (uncles), one had a certain degree of freedom in changing one's myōji. See also Kabane .
Multiple Japanese characters have the same pronunciations, so several Japanese names have multiple meanings. A particular kanji itself can have multiple meanings and pronunciations. In some names, Japanese characters phonetically "spell" a name and have no intended meaning behind them. Many Japanese personal names use puns.
Very few names can serve either as surnames or as given names (for example Mayumi 真弓, Kaneko 金子, Masuko 益子, or Arata 新). Therefore, to those familiar with Japanese names, which name is the surname and which is the given name is usually apparent, no matter which order the names are presented in. This thus makes it unlikely that the two names will be confused, for example, when writing in English while using the family name-given name naming order. However, due to the variety of pronunciations and differences in languages, some common surnames and given names may coincide when Romanized: e.g., Shoji (昌司, 昭次, or 正二) (given name) and Shoji (庄司, 庄子, 東海林, or 小路) (surname).
Japanese names have distinct differences from
Chinese names through
the selection of characters in a name and pronunciation. A Japanese
person can distinguish a
Japanese names are usually written in kanji (Chinese characters),
although some names use hiragana or even katakana , or a mixture of
kanji and kana . While most "traditional" names use kun\'yomi (native
Japanese) kanji readings, a large number of given names and surnames
use on\'yomi (Chinese-based) kanji readings as well. Many others use
readings which are only used in names (nanori ), such as the female
name Nozomi (希). The majority of surnames comprise one, two or three
kanji characters. There are also a small number of four or five kanji
surnames, such as Teshigawara (勅使河原), Kutaragi (久多良木)
and Kadenokōji (勘解由小路), but these are extremely rare. The
sound no, indicating possession (like the apostrophe in English), and
corresponding to the character の, is often included in names but not
written as a separate character, as in the common name 井上
(i-no-ue, well-(possessive)-top/above, top of the well), or historical
figures such as
Sen no Rikyū
Most personal names use one, two, or three kanji. Four syllable given names are common, especially in eldest sons.
As mentioned above, female given names often end in the syllable ko, written with the kanji meaning "child" (子), or mi, written with the kanji meaning "beautiful" (美).
The usage of -ko (子) has changed significantly over the years:
prior to the
Names ending with -ko dropped significantly in popularity in the mid
1980s, but are still given, though much less than in the past. Male
names occasionally end with the syllable ko as in Mako , but very
rarely using the kanji 子 (most often, if a male name ends in -ko, it
ends in -hiko, using the kanji 彦 meaning "boy"). Common male name
endings are -shi and -o; names ending with -shi are often adjectives,
e.g., Atsushi which might mean, for example, "(to be) faithful." In
the past (before
World War II
Names cannot begin with the syllable n (ん, ン); this is in common with other proper Japanese words, though colloquial words may begin with ん, as in んまい (nmai, variant of うまい umai, delicious). Some names end in n: the male names Ken, Shin, and Jun are examples. The syllable n should not be confused with the consonant n, which names can begin with; for example, the female name Naoko (尚子) or the male Naoya (直哉). (The consonant n needs to be paired with a vowel to form a syllable.)
One large category of family names can be categorized as "-tō"
names. The kanji 藤, meaning wisteria , has the on'yomi tō (or, with
rendaku , dō). Many
Japanese family names usually include characters referring to places and geographic features.
DIFFICULTY OF READING NAMES
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A name written in kanji may have more than one common pronunciation,
only one of which is correct for a given individual. For example, the
surname written in kanji as 東海林 may be read either Tōkairin or
Shōji. Conversely, any one name may have several possible written
forms, and again, only one will be correct for a given individual. The
character "一" when used as a male given name may be used as the
written form for "Hajime," "Hitoshi," "Ichi- / -ichi" "Kazu- / -kazu,"
and many others. The name "
Hajime " may be written with any of the
following: 始, 治, 初, 一, 元, 肇, 創, 甫, 基, 哉, 啓, 本,
源, 東, 大, 孟, or 祝. This many-to-many correspondence between
names and the ways they are written is much more common with male
given names than with surnames or female given names, but can be
observed in all these categories. The permutations of potential
characters and sounds can become enormous, as some very overloaded
sounds may be produced by over 500 distinct
A few Japanese names, particularly family names, include archaic
versions of characters . For example, the very common character shima,
island, may be written as 嶋 or 嶌 instead of the usual 島. Some
names also feature very uncommon kanji , or even kanji which no longer
exist in modern Japanese .
An example of such a name is Saitō . There are two common kanji for sai here. The two sai characters have different meanings: 斉 means "together" or "parallel", but 斎 means "to purify". These names can also exist written in archaic forms, as 齊藤 and 齋藤 respectively.
Family names are sometimes written with periphrastic readings, called jukujikun , in which the written characters relate indirectly to the name as spoken. For example, 四月一日 would normally be read as shigatsu tsuitachi ("April 1st"), but as a family name it is read watanuki ("unpadded clothes"), because April 1 is the traditional date to switch from winter to summer clothes. In the same way 小鳥遊 would normally be read as kotori asobi ("little birds play") or shōchōyū, but is read Takanashi, because little birds (kotori) play (asobi) where there are no (nashi) hawks (taka).
Not all names are complicated. Some common names are summarized by the phrase tanakamura ("the village in the middle of the rice fields"): the three kanji: 田 (ta, rice field), 中 (naka, middle) and 村 (mura, village), together in any pair, form a simple, reasonably common surname: Tanaka , Nakamura , Murata , Nakata (Nakada), Muranaka , Tamura .
Despite these difficulties, there are enough patterns and recurring names that most native Japanese will be able to read virtually all family names they encounter and the majority of personal names.
Some common interesting names with phonetic puns include Michio Kaku
, which could mean "Draw a path" or "Lead the way", and
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Though there are regulations on the naming of children, many archaic
characters can still be found in adults' names, particularly those
born prior to the
Second World War
The use of a space in given names (to separate first and middle names) is not allowed in official documents, because technically, a space is not an allowed character. However, spaces are sometimes used on business cards and in correspondence.
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In ancient times, people in Japan were considered the property of the Emperor and their surname reflected the role in the government they served. An example is Ōtomo (大友 'great attendant, companion'). Names would also be given in the recognition of a great achievement and contribution.
During the period when typical parents had several children, it was a common practice to name sons by numbers suffixed with rō (郎, "son"). The first son would be known as "Ichirō", the second as "Jirō", and so on. Girls were often named with ko (子, "child") at the end of the given name; this should not be confused with the less common male suffix hiko (彦). Both practices have become less common, although many children still have names along these lines.
While some people may still believe this, Lafcadio Hearn (see below), in Shadowings, makes it clear that at least in his time (1880 to 1905, the date of publication), the ending -ko (子) was not any part of the name, but an honorific suffix like さん -san. Particularly, even though the symbol was "child", it meant "Lady" and was used only by upper-class females. It would have been ridiculous to apply to middle-class or lower-class women. Pretty much the same names were used by all classes, but Hana-ko was upper class, while lesser women would be O-Hana-san, with honorific prefix as well as suffix.
SPEAKING TO AND OF OTHERS
The way in which a name is used in conversation depends on the circumstances and the speaker's relationships with the listener and the bearer of the name. Typically the family name is used, with given names largely restricted to informal situations and cases where the speaker is older than, superior to, or very familiar with the named individual. When addressing someone, or referring to a member of one's out-group , a title such as さん -san is typically added.
On the other hand, pronominals meaning "you" ( あなた anata, きみ kimi, お前 omae ) are used rather little in Japanese. Using such words sometimes sounds disrespectful, and people will commonly address each other by name, title and honorific even in face-to-face conversations.
Calling someone's name (family name) without any title or honorific is called yobisute (呼び捨て), and may be considered rude even in the most informal and friendly occasions. This faux pas, however, is readily excused for foreigners.
Corresponding to any given name there are one or more hypocoristics ,
affectionate nicknames. These are formed by adding the suffix -chan
ちゃん to a stem. There are two types of stem. One consists of the
full given name. Examples of this type are Tarō
Hypocoristics with modified stems are derived by adding
The common Japanese practice of forming abbreviations by
concatenating the first two morae of two words is sometimes applied to
names (usually those of celebrities). For example, Takuya Kimura
(木村 拓哉, Kimura Takuya), a famous Japanese actor and singer,
becomes Kimutaku (キムタク). This is sometimes applied even to
NAMES FROM OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS IN JAPAN
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Many ethnic minorities, mostly Korean and Chinese, living in Japan adopt Japanese names. The roots of this custom go back to the colonial-era policy of sōshi-kaimei , which permitted many Koreans to change their names to Japanese names. Nowadays, ethnic minorities, mostly Korean, who immigrated to Japan after the WWII, take on Japanese names, sometimes called pass names, to ease communication and, more importantly, to avoid discrimination . A few of them (e.g., Han Chang-Woo , founder and chairman of Maruhan Corp., pronounced Kan Shōyū in Japanese) still keep their native names. Sometimes, however, these ethnic Chinese and Koreans in Japan who choose to renounce Permanent Resident status to apply for Japanese citizenship have to change the characters in their names, because not all characters are legally recognized in Japan for naming purposes.
Japanese citizenship used to require adoption of a Japanese name. In
recent decades, the government has allowed individuals to simply adopt
katakana versions of their native names when applying for citizenship,
as is already done when referring to non-East Asian foreigners:
National Diet member Tsurunen Marutei (ツルネン マルテイ),
originally Martti Turunen, who is Finnish , is a famous example.
Others transliterate their names into phonetically similar kanji
compounds, such as activist
Arudou Debito (有道 出人), an American
previously known as David Aldwinckle (Tsurunen has similarly adopted
弦念 丸呈), although these renderings are artificial and would not
exist in Japan otherwise. Still others have abandoned their native
names entirely in favor of traditional Japanese names, such as
Lafcadio Hearn (who was half
Individuals born overseas with Western given names and Japanese
surnames are usually given a katakana name in Western order when
referred to in Japanese.
Eric Shinseki , for instance, is referred to
as エリック シンセキ (Erikku Shinseki). However, sometimes
Japanese parents decide to use Japanese order when mentioning the
child's name in Japanese. Also, Japanese parents tend to give their
children a name in kanji, hiragana or katakana, particularly if it is
a Japanese name. Even individuals born in Japan, with a Japanese name,
might be referred to using katakana, if they've established residency
or a career overseas.
There is a restriction (as of 2001 ) on the use of the "v" character in a name unless at least one of the parents is of foreign origin. The closest corresponding katakana is ヴ (vu), which can be romanized as v or b. This affects issuing of Japanese passports or other documentation where a romanization of the name is given; the letter v is replaced with b. This affects names such as Kevin (ケヴィン), which would be written as Kebin.
Japan's Christians traditionally have Christian names in addition to
their native Japanese names. These Christian names are written using
katakana, and are adapted to Japanese phonology from their original
Latin forms rather than being borrowed from any particular language
like English. Peter, for example, is Petoro (ペトロ), John is
Yohane (ヨハネ), Jacob is Yakobu (ヤコブ), Martin is Maruchino
(マルチノ), Dominic is Dominiko (ドミニコ), and so on. For
most purposes in real life, the Christian names aren't used; for
Akishino-dera in Nara , from which
The Japanese emperor and his families have no surname for historical
reasons, only a given name such as
When children are born into the Imperial family, they receive a
standard given name, as well as a special title. For instance, the
current Emperor was born Tsugu-no-miya
When a member of the Imperial family becomes a noble or a commoner,
the emperor gives him or her a family name. In medieval era, a family
The current structure (family name + given name) did not materialize until the 1870s when the government made the new family registration system.
In feudal Japan, names reflected a person's social status, as well as their affiliation with Buddhist, Shintō, feudatory-military, Confucian-scholarly, mercantile, peasant, slave and imperial orders.
Before feudal times,
Japanese clan names figured prominently in
history: names with no fall into this category. No means of and is
similar in usage to the aristocratic von in German although the
association is in the opposite order in Japanese, and is not generally
explicitly written in this style of name. Thus,
Before the government formalized the naming system in 1868, Japanese personal names were fluid. Men changed their names for a variety of reasons: to signify that they had attained a higher social status, to demonstrate their allegiance to a house or clan, to show that they had succeeded to the headship of a family or company, to shed bad luck that was attached to an inauspicious name, or simply to avoid being mistaken for a neighbor with a similar name. Upper-class men often changed their names upon coming of age (genpuku ), leaving behind their childhood name (which often ended with -maru) and taking on an adult name. When nobles and samurai received promotions in rank, they received new names, which might contain a syllable or character from their lord's name as a mark of favor.
Women's personal name changes were recorded less often, so they may not have changed their names as frequently as men did, but women who went into service as maids or entertainers frequently changed their names for the duration of their service. During their employment, their temporary names were treated as their legal names. For example, a maid who was involved in legal dealings in Kyoto in 1819-1831 signed legal documents as Sayo during one period of employment and as Mitsu during a later period of employment, but she signed as Iwa, presumably her birth name, when she was between jobs.
A Japanese person could go by one of several names, depending on the
occasion. For example, the famous 18th-century author, poet, and
artist Iwase Samuru wrote under the name
Death added to the number of a person's names. When a person died, their personal name was referred to as an imina (諱) and was no longer used. Instead, the person was referred to by their posthumous name (諡, okurina).
The personal names of Japanese emperors were also referred to as imina, even if the emperor was alive. Prior to Emperor Jomei , the imina of the emperors were very long and not used. The number of characters in each name diminished after Jomei's reign.
Azana (字), which is given at genpuku (元服), is used by others
and one himself uses his real name to refer to him. Gō are commonly
named after places or houses; e.g., Basho, as in the
In the late shogunate period , many anti-government activists used
several false names to hide their activities from the shogunate .
Examples are Saidani Umetarō (才谷 梅太郎) for Sakamoto Ryōma
(坂本 龍馬), Niibori Matsusuke (新堀 松輔) for Kido Takayoshi
(木戸 孝允) and Tani Umenosuke (谷 梅之助) for Takasugi
Shinsaku (高杉 晋作). The famous writer
Actors and actresses in Western and Japanese dramatic forms,
comedians , sumo wrestlers, Western-style professional wrestlers, and
practitioners of traditional crafts often use professional names. Many
stage names of television and film actors and actresses are
unremarkable, being just like ordinary Japanese personal names, but a
few are tongue-in-cheek. For example,
Kamatari Fujiwara (藤原
釜足) chose the name of the aforementioned founder of the Fujiwara
family , while Hino Yōjin (日野 陽仁)'s name sounds like be
careful with fire (although written differently). Many stand-up comics
like the duo Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi choose a Western name for
the act, and use their own (or stage) given names. Writers also tend
to be clever about their names, for example
Edogawa Ranpo which is
designed to sound like "
Edgar Allan Poe
JAPANESE NAMES IN ENGLISH AND OTHER WESTERN LANGUAGES
In English, the names of living or recently deceased Japanese are
generally given surname last and without macrons. Historical figures
are given surname first and with macrons, if available. Haruko
Momoi at the
Anime Expo 2007 in
As of 2008, when using English and other Western languages Japanese
people usually give their names in an order reversed from the
traditional Japanese naming order, with the family name after the
given name, instead of the given name after the family name.
Most foreign publications reverse the names of modern individuals, and most Japanese reverse their own names when creating materials for foreign consumption. A Japanese executive or official usually has two business cards (meishi ): one in Japanese and intended for fellow Japanese, using Japanese order, and another intended for foreigners, with the name in Western order. In popular journalism publications, western order is used.
In English many historical figures are still referred to with the
family name first. This is especially the case in scholarly works
about Japan. Many scholarly works use Japanese order with Japanese
names in general, and a scholarly work is more likely to use Japanese
order if the author is a Japanologist. John Power, author of "Japanese
names," wrote "People who can speak and read Japanese have a strong
resistance to switching Japanese names to the Western order." Books
written by these authors often have notes stating that Japanese names
are in the original order. Some books do not have consistent naming
order practices. Shizuka Saeki of
Look Japan said, "This is not only a
headache for writers and translators, it is also a source of confusion
for readers." Lynne E. Riggs of the Society of Writers, Editors and
Translators (SWET), a professional writing organization headquartered
Edith Terry, author of How Asia Got Rich, said that because Japanese people are "mastering" a "Western game" people have some pride and at the same time feel insecurity because the "game" is on "Western terms" rather than "Japanese terms." The standard presentation of Japanese names in English differs from the standard presentations of modern Chinese names , since modern Chinese names are usually not reversed to fit the western order in English, except when the Chinese person is living or traveling outside of China. The convention regarding Japanese names also differs from Korean names , which are usually in Korean order unless the Korean person is abroad. Power wrote that the difference between the treatment of Japanese names and of Chinese and Korean names often results in confusion. Terry wrote, "it was one of the ironies of the late twentieth century that Japan remained stranded in the formal devices underlining its historical quest for equality with the West, while China set its own terms, in language as in big-power politics."
Saeki said in 2001 that most
Chicago Manual of Style
JAPANESE NAMES IN CHINESE
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In Chinese-speaking communities, Japanese names are pronounced according to the Chinese pronunciation of the characters. For example, in Mandarin, 山田 太郎 (Yamada Tarō) becomes Shāntián Tàiláng, while 鳩山 由紀夫 (Hatoyama Yukio) becomes Jiūshān Yóujìfū. As a result, a Japanese person without adequate knowledge of Chinese would not understand his or her name when it is spoken in Chinese. Simply porting the kanji into Chinese and reading them as if they were Chinese is also different from the usual Chinese practice of approximating foreign names with similar-sounding Chinese characters.
Heng Ji, the author of "Improving Information Extraction and
Translation Using Component Interactions," wrote that because Japanese
names have "flexible" lengths, it may be difficult for someone to
One place where Japanese names may be translated into Chinese
languages phonetically is in Japanese video games, anime and manga
series. In May 2016,
* Japan portal
* List of most common Japanese family names
* ^ 山田太郎から進化を続ける「名前例」 . EXCITE
BIT (IN JAPANESE). EXCITE NEWS. 20 FEBRUARY 2012. RETRIEVED 6 DECEMBER
* ^ The Expanded Dictionary of Japanese Family Names has 290,000
entries; some of these are distinguished by differences in
pronunciation of the same characters, or by rare variant characters.
* ^ "
* Power, John. "Japanese names." (Archive) The Indexer . June 2008. Volume 26, Issue 2, p. C4-2-C4-8 (7 pages). ISSN 0019-4131. Accession number 502948569. Available on EBSCOHost