Thursday, April 22, 2010

Basic Japanese Names

Whether you're into history, a writer or just wonder which name is the first one whenever you see a Japanese name, it can be helpful to know some of the most common ones. Here are ones I encountered frequently while living over there:

Men's First Names:
Ken, Jun, Satoshi, Takeshi, Kaoru, Nobu, Hideto, Hideaki, Akitoshi. There's a funny story behind those last two... I once taught four adult men in their own small class. We had, no BS, a Hideaki, Akitoshi, Toshiaki and Toshihide. The first day I was able to quickly and confidently pair them up using their names they gave me a round of applause. ;)

Women's First Names:
Akiko, Natsuko, Haruko, Fuyuko (all the four seasons plus "ko", or "child"), Emi, Hikari, Eri, Ai, Hisa, Sayuri, Yuki, Kaori or Kaoru (I saw both men and women with this last one).

Last Names:
Watanabe, Nakamura, Nakata, Saitou, Moritaka, Mori, Abe, Matsui.

Japanese names are traditionally written last name first, a subtle sign of the cultural notion of your group (family) being first and more important to your identity than you as the individual. In history books and at times during meetings, however, the names will be reversed if they know they're dealing with a Westerner.

It took me about six months, starting from zero familiarity, to get a good feel for what was a first name and what was a last one, and which gender it was likely to be.

If you are a writer and would like to make names for your Japanese character, please don't try awkward combinations of random words (things like Kokorohana Yoruai - "Heartflower NightLove" sound just as awkward in Japanese as they do in English) or crib names from anime/manga, where liberties are sometimes taken with names for poetic effect.

In Death Note, Light Yagami's last name, for example, is written with the characters for "night god", which I've never seen spelled that way outside of that series. Another example would be Itachi from Naruto: Itachi means "weasel", which is a very unlucky symbol and not a name parents are going to go for in the real world.

1 comment:

Kelly Maple said...

Lol! I'm the sort of girl who loves planning her wedding, and thinking up baby names, even though I don't even have a boyfriend. ^.^'

I have lists and everything, and I wanted to put 'Itachi' on the list of boys' names just because I love his character so much, and I hated the tragic ending they gave him.

Then, while I was doing a bunch of babyname research, I found out about the whole 'bad omen' thing. I was just like, damn! Why couldn't they call him 'Yuuto' or something... >.>'