The Name Station: Japanese Names

Mitaki Temple, Hiroshima

Lou: Yay, today marks day 1 in my week of reposting wonderful articles from other name blogs. Today we’re hosting The Name Station, a blog which made it’s début in August 2011. What I’ve always loved about this blog is the arrangement of material in a post, making a long article surprisingly readable for someone like me, who admittedly has somewhat of a short attention span. This post was chosen because of how it simply and effectively conveys information about dozens of unfamiliar (or perhaps familiar for some) Japanese names. I remember reading it and resolving to aim more at making what I write accessible, not only informational. Enjoy.

Japan is a gorgeous country, and it happens to have some people with beautiful, meaningful names – many of which could find a place right at home in North America. Plenty of them have, even if their Japanese heritage and meaning hasn’t been the primary consideration, and they come from somewhere else.

Akira is Japanese for “anchor” and was used on Johnny Knoxville’s son, Rocko Akira, in 2009. And Gina is Japanese for “silvery,” but is primarily known and used as a derivative of the Hebrew name Jean, a female form of Gene. Kaede is a Japanese female name for “maple leaf,” something that makes me smile as a Canadian. In North America, it’s found use among boys. Kane is considered a name only suitable for boys in Japan, and means “putting together” as in one’s finances. Dai (see Dae) is a female name meaning “great.” Rising Hana is Japanese for “flower.”

Earlier this year, actress Mariska Hargitay adopted daughter Amaya Josephine – in Japanese, Amaya means “night rain.” Another heavy trender, Kaiya, is Japanese for “forgiveness.” Shina, more popularly known in it’s Irish form as Sheena, in Japanese means “virtue, good.”

Keiko was the name of the beloved orca whale from the 1993 film Free Willy. In Japanese, Keiko is a female name that means “happiness for the adored child.” A great number of Japanese names end in –ko, which means “child.” Like English –son names represent the child of someone, so too do (often female) names likeMasako (“child of Masa”), Miyoko (“child of a beautiful generation”), Noriko(“doctrine child”), and Sachiko (it means “child of Sachi,” but it also means “bliss”). Nine-year-old Japanese Princess Aiko, the only daughter of the future emperorNaruhito, has a name that means “loved child.” (Aiko is the granddaughter of current emperor Akihito; her cousin Hisahito, the son of Naruhito’s younger brother Akishino, is set to claim the throne that one day could have been hers, if not for laws of succession that honour male lineage first and foremost.) Male names tend to end in –ichi, which means “first son,” –zo (like in Japanese-American designer Kimora Lee Simmons and Beninese actor Djimon Housou’s sonKenzo Lee) can also mean “son,” –hiko means “boy,” and –hito means “person.”

In Japan, Prince Hisahito’s birth in 2006 lifted the popularity of the name considerably, from hisa (eternal) + hito (person). Hisa is a popular name on it’s own. Ryo is also rising in popularity in Japan thanks to nationally-known teen golf phenom Ryo Ishikawa. Ryo means “excel, survive.”

Suki (it’s been seen here and there, but so has it’s anglicized, pop culture-friendly cousin Sookie) is a girl’s name meaning “beloved.” Zen is a boy’s name that means “religious,” a reference to the Buddhist faith which thrives in Japan. Eighties film star Corey Feldman had son Zen Scott in 2004, and actress Tisha Campbell-Martin had son Xen in 2001. Yoko, as in John Lennon’s wife, artistYoko Ono, means “positive.” Due to the name’s connection to the break up of the Beatles, the name has taken on another quality – to describe girls who come between their man’s friends, and it isn’t trending as a first name. Even Ringo is Japanese, for another Beatles connection – it means “apple” or “peace be with you.”

The fabulous Flaming Lips are known in an almost cultish circle for the song “Yoshimi vs. the Pink Robots.” Yoshi, of course, was the name of the dragon in the Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game. Yoshi means “beauty” and Yoshimimeans “to rejoice in beauty,” which is lovely!

Uma, made famous by actress Uma Thurman (whose father is Buddhist), is Japanese for “horse.” Tori is generally in use as a nickname for Victoria, but it’s also Japanese for “bird,” and bird names have been getting some attention. Close to the bird trend is Ren, which in Japanese is a girl’s name for “water lily,” and is the Number One name in Japan.

Other top choices include Hiroto (“big flight”), Sora (“sky”), Yuto (“tender”), andKutaro (a variant of Kotaro, which means “first born son”).

Child actress Mana Ashida portrays Rin in the 2011 Japanese film Bunny Drop.

On the flight over, I watched the Japanese film Bunny (Usagi) Drop. It focused on a little girl named Rin (pronounced reen), which is Japanese for “companion,” or “cold.” ‘Companion’ was another great name to describe little Rin, but ‘cold’ certainly didn’t fit! In Japanese, there are three different types of character sets –hiraganakatakana, and kanji (which uses Chinese characters). The meaning of Rin (and plenty other names; Mai could mean “brightness” or “coyote”) can change in the same language, depending on the characters used. But regardless of original meaning, names are almost always written in kanji. The use of Latin letters to create anglicized forms of Japanese words is called romaji (as in “Romanized”). Alternately, not all Latin letters make it in a Japanese translation, L and V among them. My name in Japanese is Abigeiru (pronounced ah-bee-geh-roo), and looks like this (check out yours here, kinda cool):

Ronin is a Japanese term for a samurai without a master (either because the master died or the samurai was dismissed), which derived from feudal history, as a term for a serf who abandoned his master’s lands, even though it’s primarily known in the west as a Gaelic name. And Raiden, traditionally known as Raijin, was the Japanese thunder god, from rai (“thunder”) + shin (“god”).

Female names Miki and Mika are wrapped in nature, meaning “beautiful tree” and “new moon,” respectively. Despite the sheer number of people on such a small amount of land, Japan succeeds in maintaining a large amount of it’s natural environment. Japanese figure skater Midori Ito was a 1989 World Champion and 1992 Olympic silver medalist, paving the way for a huge line of strong Japanese female skaters of today. Her name is also environmentally friendly, and means “green.”

In all, Japanese names are beautiful (and I was inspired by an incredible trip!), and though they can sometimes seem a little out of reach there are some surprisingly accessible choices. Check out an endless list of options at Baby Names World to see for yourself exactly how many choices there could be!

Are there any Japanese names you love? What’s your name in Japanese?

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