If you reminisce about the history of Japanese names, you’ll notice that it's changed drastically over centuries.
Today, there's an estimate of 100,00 Japanese family names; however, it wasn’t always like that. So how did Japanese names get to where they're today? Let’s get into it:
History of the Name
Centuries ago, Japanese men and ladies didn't have surnames—specifically, the standard people of the general public. the sole people in Japanese society who were allowed to possess a surname were those in positions of power or those of artistic ability.
During the Yayoi Period (300 BC-300 AD), Japan had developed a system of clans: people that were associated with one another by blood, marriage, or common ancestor would use clan names as family names.
This was how to differentiate people by class and if they were commoners or nobles. Then, over time, during the Kofun period, clan leaders and their families started emerging and little kingdoms were established.
It had been hard to differentiate the status of every clan, so to form things easier, the Uji-Kabane was created: an aristocratic title attached to an Uji name.
There was a defect during this Uji-Kabane system of names and things got so confusing that the system began to fade.
So then what happened?
A Chinese custom was introduced to countries in East Asia, including Japan, that developed the various names people could have. 名字 may be a Japanese word meaning “family name” and is pronounced “Myouji.” within the past, it had been pronounced “Naazana”, which was a kind of formal nickname.
In ancient China, people had 3 elements to their name: a surname, a primary name, and a nickname. What’s the purpose of a nickname? Well, it had been custom to avoid calling a noble person or a dead person by their first name, which customs as introduced to Japan.
While nobles would continue using their true first names, Samurai did things differently. Samurai, a member of a strong military in Japan, would use nicknames. They also had 4 parts to their name: a real surname, official family lineage name, a nickname for his or her given name, and a primary name.
Fast forward to 1870 when a law was created, allowing every Japanese person — regardless of if they were a commoner or a noble—to have family names. This law didn’t enter effect until 1875. it had been difficult to vary legally registered names, which then created confusion around legal status with a wife taking her husband’s surname.
Until 1898, husbands and wives had to stay their separate family names. Then, things changed and ladies had to require the Japanese surname of their husband. In 2015, some married women started the fight to stay their maiden names, but a court stated that only after divorce could they return to using their surname. In 2019, it had been stated that maiden names were informal and a lady must take an equivalent surname of her husband.
What happened next?
Before the Meiji Era (1868-1912), some people had Japanese names passed on from their ancestors et al. adopted an equivalent surname albeit they weren’t related by blood. After this era , every one had to legally register their family name—some names were favorable family names et al. were either made up or taken from ancient Japanese last names.
Where are we now?
As mentioned before, there are thousands of Japanese names. There are a many different Japanese names for both boys and girls, also as many different surnames. Here’s an inventory of a number of the foremost popular Japanese last names and their meanings, also as few popular names for boys and girls:
Meaning: sai 斉 can be used to refer to a meal taken by monks and priests or an image of purity and divine worship. tō 藤 can be read as “fuji”, and means wisteria.
Meaning: “Small forest.”
Meaning: “inside” or “middle” (naka 中) and “village” (mura 村). A person with this Japanese name might be from the middle village.
Meaning: “mountain” (yama 山) and “base/origin” (moto 本)
Meaning: “this’ or ‘that one’ (伊) and wisteria (藤)
Meaning: To cross or pass over (渡) and “area” or “border” (辺)
Meaning: “rice field” (田) and “middle/in” (中). This would often be used for generic names, as we would with Jane Doe or John Smith.
Meaning: “Tall/high” (高) and “bridge” (橋)
Meaning: “Bell tree”
Meaning: Alongside the ever-popular “tō” 藤, we find (sa 佐), meaning “to assist”. Sato is the most popular last name because of the possibility that it descended from the great clan.
Popular Japanese female names:
一愛: One Love; 初凪: Beginning Calm; 初南: First South; 初名: First Name; 初夏: Early Summer
久茉莉: Long Jasmine; 仁葵: Benevolent Sunflower; 光愛里: Home of Light & Love; 光鞠: Ball of Light; 向日葵: Sunflower
丹凛: Red Cold; 丹凜: Red Cold; 丹利: Red Profit; 丹李: Red Plum; 丹梨: Red Pear Tree
一伽: Best Entertainer; 一佳: Best & Excellent; 一凛: Number One Cold; 一加: First at Increasing; 一千花: One Thousand Flowers
佐楽: Comforting Music; 佐羅: Roman Aid; 倖良: Good Fortune; 冴咲: Vivid Blossom; 冴愛: Clear Love
Popular Japanese male names:
一温: Best Warmth; 優音: Tender Sound; 大翔: Great Flight; 大透: To Be Crystal Clear; 天翔: Soar to Heavens
俐空: Wise Sky; 俐虎: Clever Tiger; 凉空: Nice, Cool Sky; 凌久: Endure a Long Time; 凌功: Excel in Success
和晴: Peaceful clear Weather; 悠琉: Eternal Treasure; 悠類: Easy-going Type; 春月: Spring Moon; 春流: Flowing Springtime
一陽: Best Sunlight; 優陽: Superior Light; 光暖: Ray of Warmth; 向日: Sunny Place
介人: Supportive Person; 介斗: The Most Supportive; 介 杜: Between Pear Trees; 介渡: Going Through And Beyond; 介登: Growing Through Climbing Up
Popular Japanese family names:
Abe 阿部, 安倍, 安部, or 阿倍
Meaning: “A” means “peace” while “be“ means multiple times.
Meaning: “Separate borough”
Kiyama 木山, 喜山
Meaning: “Tree mountain”
Nakaya 仲谷, 中谷 or 中矢
Meaning: “Between the valley” or “in the center of the valley”
Meaning: “Blue tree”
Meaning: “Border” or “territory”
Meaning: “Young forest”
Takao 高雄 or 高尾
Meaning: “Bulky man” or “warrior
Shima 志麻 or 志摩
Meaning: “Western river”
Meaning: “Correct” or “tree”
Meaning: “Increase and wisteria”
Meaning: “Beach peninsula”
Meaning: “Well of wisteria”
Meaning: “Thousand leaves”
Meaning: “Together” or “mutual” (Ai 相) and “river” (kawa 河)
Meaning: “Shrimp” and “distinguished”
Goda/Gōda 合田 or 郷田
Meaning: “Rice paddy” or “village rice paddy”
Meaning: “Bush clover” and “book/present”
Meaning: “Swamp well”
Meaning: “Decayed/rotted tree”
Doi土井, 土居, 土肥
Meaning: “Earth town,” “earth residence,” or “earth fertilizer”
Meaning: “Wooden flute/pipe”
Tachi 舘 or 立
Meaning: “Palace” or “rise”
Meaning: “Double prize”
Honda 本田, 本多 or 誉田
Meaning: “Root rice field,” “origin rice field,” or “honor rice field”
Meaning: ‘Stone mount/stone hill”
Meaning: “chrysanthemum book”
Meaning: “Split rock”
Meaning: “The mouth of the mountain”
Japanese Language FAQ:
1.What is Hiragana?
Hiragana is a Japanese syllabary or pronunciation. It’s also one part of the phonetic lettering system.
2.What is Katakana?
Katakana is the other part of the Japanese phonetic lettering system.
3.What’s the difference between the two?
Hiragana is used for spelling out Japanese words and Katakana is used for foreign words. Katakana lettering is also ore straight, while Hiragana is more curved.
4.What does “Tokyo” mean?
“Eastern capital” — 京 (kyō) means “Capital” and 都 (to) means “City”.
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(Also Read:-1.500+ Japanese Baby Names With their Meanings