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. "Middle names" are not generally used. Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters of usually Chinese origin in Japanese pronunciation. The kanji for a name may have a variety of possible Japanese pronunciations, but 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. Common family names in Japan include Satō (佐藤) (most common), Suzuki (鈴木) (second most common), and Takahashi (高橋) (third most common). This diversity is in stark contrast to the situation in other Sinosphere nations, there being very few Chinese surnames (a few hundred common, 20 comprise half the population), and similarly Korean names (250 names, of which 3 comprise almost half the population) and Vietnamese names (about 100 family names, of which 3 comprise 60% of the population). This reflects different history: while Chinese surnames have been in use for millennia and were often reflective of an entire clan or adopted from nobles (without any genetic relationship) – and were thence transferred to Korea and Vietnam via noble names, modern Japanese family names date only to the 19th century, following the Meiji restoration, and were chosen creatively. The recent introduction of surnames has two additional effects: Japanese names became widespread when the country had a very large population (over 30,000,000 during the early Meiji era – see Demographics of Imperial Japan) instead of dating to ancient times (population estimated at 300,000 in 1 CE, for instance – see Demographics of Japan before Meiji Restoration), and since little time has passed, Japanese names have not experienced as significant surname extinction as has occurred in the much longer history in China.
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 Okinawa but not in other parts of Japan; this is mainly due to differences between the language and culture of Yamato people and Okinawans. Many Japanese family names derive from features of the rural landscape; for example, Ishikawa (石川) means "stone river", Yamamoto (山本) means "the base of the mountain", and Inoue (井上) means "above the well".
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 spelt or pronounced, many parents choose names with unusual characters or pronunciations, and such names cannot in general be spelt 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 boy's name 大翔 is traditionally pronounced "Hiroto", but in recent years alternative pronunciations "Haruto", "Yamato", "Daito", "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") or -ta (太 "great, thick"; e.g. "Kenta"), 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").
Read more about Japanese Name: Structure, Characters, Customs, Names From Other Ethnic Groups in Japan, Imperial Names, Historical Names, Professional Names, Japanese Names in English, Japanese Names in Chinese Languages
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