Japanese Name - Characters

Characters

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) and Kutaragi (久多良木), Kadenokōji (勘解由小路), but these are extremely rare. The sound no, meaning "of", 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-of-top/above, top of the well), or historical figures such as Sen no Rikyū.

Most personal names use one, two, or three kanji. Male given names often use the characters "hiro" (宏, "expansive, wide"), "ki" (木, "tree, standing"), and "ta" (太, "big, fat"). 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 Meiji Restoration (1868), it was reserved for members of the imperial family. Following the restoration, it became popular and was overwhelmingly common in the Taisho and early Showa era. The suffix -ko increased in popularity after the mid-20th century. Around the year 2006, due to the citizenry mimicking naming habits of popular entertainers, the suffix -ko was declining in popularity. At the same time, names of western origin, written in kana, were becoming increasingly popular for naming of girls. By 2004 there was a trend of using hiragana instead of kanji in naming girls. Molly Hakes, author of The Everything Conversational Japanese Book: Basic Instruction For Speaking This Fascinating Language In Any Setting, said that this may have to do with using hiragana out of cultural pride, since hiragana is Japan's indigenous writing form, or out of not assigning a meaning to a girl's name so that others do not have a particular expectation of her.

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, but very rarely using the kanji 子 (most often, if a male name ends in ko, it ends in hiko, using the kanji 彦). 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 written with katakana were common for women, but this trend seems to have lost favour. Hiragana names for women are not unusual. Kana names for boys, particularly those written in hiragana, have historically been very rare. This may be in part because the hiragana script is seen as feminine; in medieval Japan, women generally were not taught kanji and wrote exclusively in hiragana.

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, 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 (or, with rendaku, ). Many Japanese people have surnames that include this kanji as the second character. This is because the Fujiwara clan (藤原家) gave their samurai surnames (myōji) ending with the first character of their name, to denote their status in an era when commoners were not allowed surnames. Examples include Atō, Andō, Itō (although a different final kanji is also common), Udō, Etō, Endō, Gotō, Jitō, Katō, Kitō, Kudō, Kondō, Saitō, Satō, Shindō, Sudō, Naitō, Bitō, and Mutō. As already noted, some of the most common family names are in this list.

Japanese family names usually include characters referring to places and geographic features.

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