Japanese Names – How Are They Chosen?

Have you ever stopped to think about Japanese names and their anthroponymy? Have you ever wondered why the names differ so much compared to other countries? It is uncommon to find someone with the name Maria and João in Japan, but it is easy to find Tanaka, Sato, Sasaki, and Yamada... But... do you know where they get these names from and what their meanings are?

A Japanese name called jinmei [人名] is composed, primarily, by the family surname followed by the personal name or first name. The first name is typically used among close acquaintances or on other occasions.

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How do Japanese names work?

  • Japanese Names are usually written with ideograms known as Kanji;
  • Names can have various pronunciations and even different spellings, since a single Kanji can have multiple pronunciations. This makes it common to create nicknames based on the kanji in the name.
  • Names can also have several meanings, as a Kanji can also mean several things, in addition to the meaning of the pronunciation;
  • It is also common for people to write their names in Hiragana according to informality or occasion;
  • Male names usually end in: Ro, To and Ta while female names: Ko, Na and Mi;
  • It is not common for the Japanese to have a surname or middle name;
  • Suffixes or Honorifics, in names, can be very useful, and should not be left out, to differentiate a word from a name, since Japanese names are usually names of common things;

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どんな - donna - pronoun used in Japanese

Japanese name meanings

Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of Japanese names? Sometimes people have names of fruits, colors, numbers, but not always does their name mean that. See some examples below:

  • Ichigo - Strawberry
  • Sakura - Cherry blossoms
  • Tsukushi - Weed, Horsetail
  • Nana - Seven
  • Juuichi - Eleven
  • Hisoka - Secret, Reserved
  • Black - Black

Did you imagine calling someone strawberry or black? Japanese doesn't usually have zillions of syllables and variations like Portuguese, so many words resemble others, but it doesn't mean that your son is called strawberry. Ichigo can also mean “the first” [一護] and not “strawberry” [いちご].

That's why the Japanese use suffixes like [-san, -kun] to prevent people from confusing someone's name with a fruit or other words.

In writing, this confusion does not usually happen, since most of the time Japanese names are written with 2 or more ideograms:

  • Sawako 爽子 - (子 KO - Child.) (爽 Sawa - Happy, refreshing, sweet.)
  • Naomi 直美 - ( 美 - Mi - Beauty.) ( 直 Nao - Frankness, Honesty.)

Not to mention that common Japanese names can be written with other Kanji and have different meanings, but only one of them is correct. For example, Haruma can be written:

  • 春馬 - (春 - Haru = Spring) ( 馬 - Uma = Horse)
  • 春間 - (It can be read Haru-Kan.) (春 - Haru = Spring.) ( 間 - Ma = Time, space)
  • 晝間 (can read Hiruma)

This varies in Japanese, they can choose a kanji and use another not very common pronunciation, as in the cases above. Another example it is "Haruka" which can be written = 晴香 / 春香 / 遥 / 遥香(香 - aroma; smell; incense.) ( 春 = Spring) (晴 - Good weather; cloudy.) ( 遥 - Distance; walk.)

Also, the name Hajime can be written with the kanji [始, 治, 初] and many other examples.

- meaning of demon slayer names – kimetsu no yaiba

The difficult choice of ideograms

It is very complex to understand about the writing of names, an example of this is the surname Saitō. While there are over 100 characters read as sai and over 200 characters read as tō, only four of these sai can be used for a surname.

The problem is that each of these characters has a different meaning: the eight-stroke sai (斉) means "together" or "parallel", the 11-dash sai (斎) means "purify". As mentioned. A name written in kanji can have more than one pronunciation, but only one of them is correct for a given individual.

For example:

  • 陽翔 -Can be read: Haruto, Hinato, Yōshō..;
  • 春間 - Can be read Haruka Haruma
  • 斉 Saying Hitoshi can be used to write Sato; Saikichi and others

Your head must be confused, very confused, and that's why the Japanese usually write their names in hiragana, even in documents there is a space for the name written in hiragana so we know the right way to say the name. And that's also why we should use suffixes so we don't get lost.

When someone introduces themselves and talks about the meaning of their name, they will write their name in kanji, state its meaning, and also talk about each kanji used and its meaning. Despite being difficult to understand at first, especially in the brief way I explained, I find this beautiful and interesting. Having your name with several meanings, pronunciations, writings, makes it very fun to play with...

The coolest thing is knowing that the name is made up of words that mean common things, although it seems strange to us, being called some fruit or object is totally legal and normal in Japan.

If I were to choose a Japanese name, I would like to have: Kyouma [凶真] which means:

  • 真 - True, Genuine
  • 凶 - Calamity, disaster, villain

Of course this is a joke, choosing a name takes time, with so many options, I would spend years deciding which one is best. Is that you? What name would you choose?

The video below can help you find more Japanese names and their meanings:

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