Home Podcasts Ichimon Japan How do Japanese names work? | Ichimon Japan 28

How do Japanese names work? | Ichimon Japan 28

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On this episode of Ichimon Japan we ask: How do Japanese names work?

Topics Discussed

  • How people in Japan normally state their family name before their given name
  • The complicated history of naming practices in Japan
  • Commoners being prohibited from using family names during the Edo Period
  • The Meiji era laws that mandated every Japanese person take a family name
  • The reluctance of some people to take a family name during the Meiji Period
  • The fact that many (most?) people with the surname Satō (佐藤) are probably not descended from samurai
  • The fact that many commoners were given last names based on the geographical features of the area in which they lived
  • The story of how the Furo (風呂) family supposedly got their family name from Minamoto no Yoshitsune
  • The most common family names in Japan in 2019
  • How many Japanese family names there are
  • The prevalence of rare Japanese last names
  • The regional nature of some Japanese family names
  • The convention of naming boys based on their birth order
  • How it’s easy to forget people’s first names in Japan
  • Some of the factors people in Japan consider when naming a baby
  • Asking people in Japan about the kanji they use for their given name as a way to spark conversation
  • The phenomenon of siblings having related names
  • Interesting names in anime
  • The practice of picking a baby name based on the way a name is written
  • How much it usually costs to have a shrine pick a baby name for you
  • What a seimeihandanshi is
  • What it might cost you to have a seimeihandanshi pick a baby name for you
  • A list outlining the most popular baby names in Japan of 2019
  • The Japanese naming convention of tōriji
  • How shorter names have become common in Japan in recent years
  • How female names that end in -ko used to be more common
  • And much more!

Note: Just for the sake of clarity, I’d like to point out that the story of the Furo family name did not occur during the Meiji Period (actually it probably never even occurred in the way it is normally told). However, because the story was introduced alongside the changes of the Meiji Period it’s possible to be left with the impression that there was a connection there. There is no direct connection. The story was simply brought up as an example of the many interesting ways in which people in Japan acquired last names.

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Sources, Links, Videos, Etc.

Here are some of the main Japanese-language sources that were used when doing the research for this episode.

Here are some of the main English-language sources used when doing the research for this episode.

Here are the Ichimon Japan episodes mentioned during this episode.

Here is the latest episode of Japan Station.

If you would like to check out the Kimito Designs shop, then use the link below. Remember to use the coupon code OPENING10 when you check out to get 10% off (valid until the end of 2020).

Japanese Vocabulary List

Most episodes feature at least one or two interesting Japanese words or phrases. Here’s some of the ones that came up on this episode. All information is from Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC.

  • Myōji
    • 苗字 : 苗字(P); 名字(P) 【みょうじ】 (n) (See 名前・2) surname; family name
  • Namae
    • 名前 : 名前(P); 名まえ 【なまえ】 (n) (1) name; (n) (2) (See 名字) given name; first name;
  • Furo
    • 風呂 【ふろ】 (n) (1) (See お風呂) bath; bathing; bathtub; bathroom; (n) (2) bathhouse; public bath
  • Kenkō
    • 健康 【けんこう】 (n) (1) health; (adj-na) (2) healthy; sound; fit; wholesome
  • Futoi
    • 太い 【ふとい】 (adj-i) (1) fat; thick; (adj-i) (2) deep (of a voice); thick; sonorous; (adj-i) (3) daring; shameless; brazen; audacious
  • Seimeihandan
    • 姓名判断 【せいめいはんだん】 (n) (yoji) fortunetelling based on writing or pronunciation of one’s name
  • Iemoto
    • 家元 【いえもと】 (n) head of a school (of music, dance); head family of a school
  • Himawari
    • ひまわり (n) sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Tsumugi
    • ç´¬ : ç´¬; 紡ぎ 【つむぎ】 (n) pongee; soft thin cloth woven from raw silk
  • Tsumugu
    • 紡ぐ 【つむぐ】 ; (v5g,vt) (1) to spin; to make yarn; (v5g,vt) (2) to spin (a tale); to assemble (e.g. words); to put together
  • Kotoba o tsumugu
    • 言葉を紡ぐ : 言葉を紡ぐ; 言葉をつむぐ 【ことばをつむぐ】 (exp,v5g) (poet) to express in a refined fashion; to weave a web of words
  • Wa
    • 和 : 和(P); 倭 【わ】 (n) (1) (和 only) {math} sum; (n) (2) (和 only) harmony; peace; (n,n-pref,adj-no) (3) Japan; Japanese-style

We Want Your Questions

Is there something about Japan that confuses you? Is there something about Japanese culture that you would like to learn more about? Is there something in Japanese history that you would like us to explain? We’re always looking for new questions about Japan to answer, so if you have one, please send it to ichimon@japankyo.com.

Special Thanks

Opening/Closing Theme: Produced by Apol (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Fiverr)

Ichimon Japan cover art: Produced by Erik R.

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Full Show Notes



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