Japan Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • Japanese names in modern times consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name, in that order.
  • Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters usually Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation.
  • Some names use hiragana or even katakana, or a mixture of kanji and kana.
  • Until the Meiji Restoration, Japanese common people (people other than kuge and samurai) had no surnames, and when necessary, used a substitute such as the name of their birthplace. For example, Ichirō born in Asahi-mura (Asahi village) in the province of Musashi would say "Ichirō from Asahi-mura of Musashi".
  • Merchants were named after their stores or brands (for example, Denbei, the owner of Sagamiya, would be Sagamiya Denbei), and farmers were named after their fathers (for example, Isuke, whose father was Genbei, would be "Isuke, son of Genbei").
  • After the Meiji Restoration, 'the government ordered all commoners to assume surnames in addition to their given names, as part of modernization and Westernization; this was specified in the Family Register Law of 1898.
  • Many people adopted historical names, others simply made names up, chose names through divination, or had a Shinto or Buddhist priest choose a surname for them. This explains, in part, the large number of surnames in Japan, as well as their great diversity of spelling and pronunciation, and makes tracing ancestry past a certain point extremely difficult in Japan.
  • Many ethnic minorities, mostly Korean and Chinese, living in Japan adopt Japanese names. The roots of this custom go back to the colonial-era policy of sōshi-kaimei, which forced Koreans to change their names to Japanese names. Nowadays, ethnic minorities, mostly Korean, who immigrated to Japan after WWII, take on Japanese names, sometimes called pass names, to ease communication and, more importantly, to avoid discrimination.[1]

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • During the period when typical parents had several children, it was a common practice to name sons by numbers suffixed with rō (郎, "son"). The first son would be known as "Ichirō", the second as "Jirō", and so on.
  • Girls were often named with ko (子, "child") at the end of the given name; this should not be confused with the less common male suffix hiko (彦). Both practices have become less common, although many children still have names along these lines.
  • Japan's Christians traditionally have Christian names in addition to their native Japanese names. These Christian names are written using katakana, and are adapted to Japanese phonology from their Portuguese or Latin forms rather than being borrowed from English. Peter, for example, is Petoro (ペトロ), John is Yohane (ヨハネ), Jacob is Yakobu (ヤコブ), Martin is Maruchino (マルチノ), Dominic is Dominiko (ドミニコ), and so on.[20] For most purposes in real life, the Christian names aren't used; for example, Taro Aso has a Christian name, Francis (フランシスコ Furanshisuko), which is not nearly as well-known.[1]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Japanese name" in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_name, accessed 7 March 2021.