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. They also reflect a person's affiliation to 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, Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝) was Yoritomo (頼朝) of the Minamoto (源) clan. Fujiwara no Kamatari (藤原 鎌足), Ki no Tsurayuki (紀 貫之), and Taira no Kiyomori (平 清盛) are additional examples. These family names were recorded in Shinsen Shōjiroku. Ryukyuan ruling class used names composed of kanji, usually of one or two syllables and read in their dialects, like Korean and Chinese names.
Historically, a Japanese person could maintain several names to use in different occasions. Among those that were common are azana, imina or okurina (either translate to posthumous name) and gō (号) (a pen name, Haigō or Haimei for a haiku poet, Kagō for Waka poet). It was not uncommon for one to have more than 10 names. In the 19th century, Japanese people used multiple names. When nobles and samurai received promotions in rank, they received new names. Saigō Takamori had one name at birth and received another name in adulthood. In addition he wrote poetry under a different name.
Imina (諱?) means the personal name of someone who is no longer living. After the death of someone given a posthumous name (諡, okurina?), the real name would from that point be called the person's imina and would not be used anymore. Instead, the person would be referred to by his or her okurina. Imina are also used for Japanese emperors. 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 Haiku poet Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), is named after his house, Bashō-an (芭蕉庵).
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 Kyokutei Bakin (曲亭 馬琴) is known to have had as many as 33 names.
Read more about this topic: Japanese Name
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