Have you ever thought about getting better acquainted with the Japanese name?
Names are important in Japan and may have more significance in Japanese culture than you’d expect. Not only do names themselves bare special meanings, but the formatting of names plays a key role in formality. The Japanese Ministry of Justice even regulates personal names (more on that later)!
This article is all about the different names in Japanese and everything you might want to know about it. Parents might get great ideas for baby names here too!
- 1 Name in Japanese
- 2 Japanese Name
- 3 Japanese Boy Names
- 4 Japanese Girl Names
- 5 Japanese Surnames
- 6 Other things to know about Japanese names
- 6.1 Repeating sounds and characters in Japanese Names
- 6.2 Japanese names that can be a first or last name
- 6.3 How Kanji characters affect a Japanese name
- 6.3.1 Reading characters used for names
- 7 Japanese Names Structure
- 7.1 Japanese Names Order
- 8 Japanese Names Regulations
- 9 Japanese Names of the Royal Family
- 10 Using the Title Instead of the Japanese Name
- 11 What is my Name in Japanese?
- 11.1 Phonetic Kanji
- 12 Wrap Up
Name in Japanese
Let’s start ourselves off with a quick vocabulary lesson. In case you were wondering how to say “name” in Japanese, it’s なまえ (namae|名前). This specifically means place name or personal name.
If you ever want to refer to the name of a thing, you use the term 名前 (namae). Referring to someone’s first name? Again, we use 名前 (namae).
Sometimes, this term is cut in half and shortened to simply な (na|名).
The other term for “name” in Japanese is みょうじ(myouji｜苗字), which represents a person’s surname or last name. The first term, 名前 (namae), is one of the most important Japanese vocabulary words to learn as a Japanese student, so master it well!
Similar to English, a Japanese name is made up of a first name and a family name. However, a Japanese name doesn’t follow the same order as English names are written.
A Japanese name is written in the following order:
family name + first name
Japanese names are usually written in Kanji. You can learn more about these in the section called Japanese name structure.
Japanese Boy Names
Just like in most countries, the popularity contest winners for names shift a little bit each and every year. It’s very rare to find a young adult “Otis” or little girl “Pearl” these days, as those names just aren’t common anymore!
The common Japanese baby names of the last 30-40 years have become the well-known names of Japanese adults today. Thusly, here are some current popular Japanese first names for boys that you may want to learn! You might have known some of these from any anime or manga series that you follow.
ひると (hiroto|陽翔) – This name means “positive flight”
やまと(yamato|大和) – This name represents one who has great harmony
そうま (souma|陽向) – This name means “the right direction”
あつし (atsushi|敦) – This name literally means worker, but more obviously means “a hard worker”
あきら (akira|明) – A name that means “bright” or “clear”
だいすけ(daisuke | 大輔) – This name translates as “big helper”
じゅん (jun | 順) – This name means “order” or “obedience”
けん (ken | 健) – This male name means healthy or strong
いちろ(ichiro |一郎) – There are special Japanese names used for every ordinal number of birth for sons (ex – third son, eighth son, 4th, 7th, etc.). This name represents the first son
のぶ (nobu|延) – A name that means expansion, extension, or prolonging. This name is a blessing for longevity.
Japanese Girl Names
And, of course, here are some very well-known Japanese baby girl names worth getting familiar with.
あいこ (aiko|愛子) – This name means “love child”
ちよ(chiyo|千代) – A long-thriving name, this one means “a thousand generations” and foreshadows longevity
ふみこ(fumiko|文子) – This name means “beautiful child”
じゅんこ (junko|順子) – Just like the boys’ name above, this female version also represents the obedient or orderly child
はな (hana|花) – This name means “flower” and is totally a vocabulary all Japanese learners should know!
めぐみ (megumi|恵) – Meaning “blessing” or “grace”
ゆみ (yumi|由美) – Another name meaning beautiful
りん (rin|凛) – This name means cold, but more specifically, it means dignified and serious
いずみ (izumi|泉)- A girl’s name that means “fountain” or “source”
なおこ(naoko|尚子) – means a “docile child”
Keep in mind that there are a few names that are unisex in Japanese and can be used for both boys and girls!
Surnames (often called last names in English) are diverse in Japan but perhaps not as diverse as in a place like America. The population of Japan is 98% ethnic Japanese, so not much compromise has taken place when it comes to last names.
Below are the most popular and widespread Japanese surnames these days. Keep in mind that these names are generally popular but may not be most popular in some specific areas of Japan, as each region is a little bit different!
*さとう(satou|佐藤) – The name means to “help the wisteria.” Wisteria is a traditionally respected flower in Japan and was often found in imperial gardens.
なかむら(nakamura|中村) – This name means “within the village” or “between villages”
すずき(suzuki|鈴木) – Yes, this is the same Suzuki as the car. This name means “bell tree”
たなか(tanaka|田中) – This common name means “within the rice fields,” or paddies
こばやし(kobayashi|小林) – This popular surname means “small forest”
わたなべ(watanabe|渡辺) – This vetted name means “to cross an edge”
いとう(itou|伊都) – Think of this super common surname as simply meaning “Wisteria”
やまだ(yamada|山田) – A name that represents mountains and rice fields.
たかはし(takahashi|高橋) – Meaning “high bridge”
やまもと(yamamoto|山本) – This name technically means “mountain” and “origin” and refers to those who originate from the mountains
*Please note that these names are written differently in Japanese/hiragana than in English. Although they are romanized with a long vowel (for example, さとう = satou), when translated to English, they are usually written without the long vowel (just Sato)!
Other things to know about Japanese names
Now that you know some of the common names in Japanese, here are some interesting and helpful facts about them.
Repeating sounds and characters in Japanese Names
You may have noticed that many of the names in the individual lists above contain either the same sound, character, or meaning. This is a normal phenomenon in Japanese culture.
For example, many boys will have the sound お(o) in their names, a pronunciation of the characters for “man” (男/雄/夫). There are other popular Japanese sounds, too, like ろう(rou) and た(ta). ろう(rou) represents either “son” （郎）or “clear/bright”(朗). た(ta|太) carries the meaning of “great” or “thick.”
The same goes for girls too. Take, for example, the popular name ending こ(ko), which usually corresponds to the kanji for “child” (子). Or how about the very popular sounds and character of み (mi|美), which means “beauty.” The Japanese language can dance in this way only due to its unique structure! Pretty cool, huh!?
Japanese names that can be a first or last name
Some Japanese names can actually be both a first name and a last name. A few popular examples are ますこ(masuko|益子), あらた(arata|新), and かねこ(kaneko|金子). Even though these names have a double standard, due to naming patterns, native Japanese people will really never have a problem confusing the proper place of these names.
How Kanji characters affect a Japanese name
Unlike many other lists of Japanese names out there, we’ve taken the time to include the corresponding かんじ(kanji|漢字) with each name. 漢字 (kanji) are the Chinese characters that were adopted and are used as a part of the Japanese language.
There is a very important reason why these characters were included in our lists: Japanese names have no meaning without 漢字 (kanji)! Well, there are a few exceptions to this rule – some names are just phonetic combinations – but by and large, all Japanese names have them.
That’s because it is the characters themselves that have the meanings. That is, three people with a name bearing the exact same pronunciation may write their name three different ways and therefore have multiple meanings.
On the flip side, that is also why the exact same characters may be pronounced in different ways, leading to different names altogether!
Reading characters used for names
This way of reading characters for creating names is known as なのり(nanori|名乗り). Typically there are only two readings for 漢字 (kanji).
The first is くんよみ(kunyomi|訓読み), or the Japanese reading of a character. The other is おんよみ (onyomi|音読み), or the original Chinese reading of a character.
名乗り(nanori) takes all the potential readings and meanings for a character into consideration to create a completely unique name!So when dealing with Japanese names, it is super important to understand and honor the 漢字 (kanji) that’s involved!
Japanese Names Structure
Dissimilar to many other countries, almost all Japanese natives have only one first name and one last name, as we defined earlier on in this article. Only those natives of mixed ethnic backgrounds sometimes have middle names – otherwise, you’ll never find them!
In the olden days, some family patriarchs were granted another surname by the emperor aside from their normal みょうじ(myouji|苗字). There were two different surname titles that could be granted – either せい (sei|姓) or うじ (uji|氏).
Each had a slightly different purpose related to the special lineage of those who received them. These names were very rarely given to people, however, and over time they died out.
Japanese Names Order
Also, as you may already know, the surname always precedes the given name when addressing someone’s name in Japanese.
For example, if you come across a name that reads やまもとかずえ(yamamoto kazue | 山本和江), you should recognize immediately that やまもと is the given name and かずえ is the first name. Plus, since Japanese writing can be done vertically as well as horizontally, the first name is also known as the lower name.
Note: Unless you are very familiar with someone (or unless they introduce themselves as such), you’d never address them by their first name!
Japanese Names Regulations
Oddly enough, Japan’s Ministry of Justice actually governs the use of Kanji character for names. This has placed a limit on the characters that can be used for both a Japanese surname and name.
The purpose of this is twofold: for one, this limitation regulates the logistics of Japanese literacy. For two, this prevents certain old or negative characters from being used to create offensive or incomprehensible names.
Japanese Names of the Royal Family
Here’s a fun fact: members of the Japanese royal family as a whole bear no surname. Remember how we said that sometimes the emperor would grant special surnames based on one’s lineage and family history? Well, historically in Japan, surnames were not necessary and only used to denote these certain people.
For example, if a member of the imperial family breaks away from the family, that family would be granted a special name to honor their lineage. But many common folks didn’t even adopt surnames until a certain period in Japan known as the Muromachi period.
Since the imperial line has been unbroken, there is no need for them to acquire a surname! Instead, the emperor grants members of the royal family a title followed by no-miya, such as Misaka-no-miya or Hitachi-no-miya. These special titles are considered appellations and not surnames.
Using the Title Instead of the Japanese Name
Usually, as a sign of respect for seniors, Japanese speakers will avoid saying a name altogether and simply call someone by their title. For example, せんせい(sensei|先生) in Japanese means teacher.
You may simply always refer to your teacher as 先生 (sensei) unless you are referring to them specifically and must say their name. The same goes for family members, too, the same way in most other cultures.
Alternatively, perhaps you don’t know the name of someone at all, but you know their position of employment. In such circumstances, you can simply address that person in their position.
For example, you might address the owner of a shop as てんちょう(tenchou|店長), which defines his position. Lastly, you might address someone by their position followed by the suffix さん(san), which can be thought of as “mister” or “miss” in a polite sense.
What is my Name in Japanese?
Now knowing all of this cool stuff about the intricacies of the Japanese name, you may be wondering if you can have your own name in Japanese– well, you can!
There is a concept you need to know for creating your own name in Japanese using kanji: あてじ (ateji|当て字).
あてじ (ateji|当て字) is using kanji to correspond to sounds, regardless of meaning. It can be considered phonetic kanji. It’s something that’s very famous in recent decades and modern-day Chinese culture as well as Japanese culture. Before katakana was invented, this is how the Japanese incorporated foreign words into their language.
すし (sushi|寿司) is a great example of 当て字 (ateji) at work, as the two kanji used to write sushi actually have nothing to do with its meaning but are very common kanji used throughout Japan.
We won’t provide any name examples here since its use is a little impractical and since using this method can be quite tricky, but it’s good to know!
And that’s it for the Japanese names! How about learning about the different seasons in Japan next? You’ll get to know when the best time to visit for cherry blossom viewing would be. Til next time!
Which comes first surname or first name in Japan? ›
As is common in East Asian cultures, in Japanese the family name always comes first.What is a common Japanese first name? ›
In terms of “traditional” first names, these include Isao (勲, virtue), Kazuo (一雄, first-born), Ken ou Kenji (健治, to be in good health, often used for the youngest child), Yori (頼, worthy of trust), Hiro (広, big), Akira (明, very intelligent) and Akemi (暁美, natural beauty).How do you determine first and last name in Japanese? ›
Japanese naming conventions arrange names as follows: [FAMILY NAME] [given name]. For example, YAMAMOTO Yukio (male) and SATŌ Akari (female). The family name (known as 'myouji' or 'ue no namae') is inherited patrilineally from one's father and shared with other siblings. It always comes before the given name.What are common Japanese last names? ›
According to an online database, the top three most common surnames in Japan (as of 2021) are 佐藤/Sato, 鈴木/Suzuki, and 高橋/Takahashi.Why do Japanese people not say first names? ›
Unlike many western cultures, in Japan people generally don't call one-another by their first name. Doing so can be a mark of disrespect, unless you're very close to the other person and in the right sort of casual environment, so you've read. Mental note then: first names are best avoided.Why do Asians put their surname first? ›
Traditionally, Chinese given names are structured by a two-character pattern. The first part is the generation name that is shared by all members of a generation, and the last character is given to the individual person. The reason Chinese people write their surname first is to show respect to the ancestors.What is the #1 name in the world? ›
Haruto. The most popular kanji combination for Haruto means light, sun, male, plus soar, fly. In 2020, Haruto retained its number one spot as the most popular baby boy name in Japan by sound.Can you have 2 first names in Japan? ›
Those whose naturalize or are natural born have less options
Japan requires its nationals/citizens to have exactly two names: a family name and a given name written in either 仮名 kana (Japanese syllabet) or 漢字 kanji (Japanese sinograms), with no punctuation of spaces.
It signifies closeness. Let's go with the name John Smith, but flip it for Japan, Smith John. Smith-sama would show the utmost respect. It would be equivalent to saying, “Lord Smith.” Smith-san is the general way of saying it.
Do you introduce yourself last name first in Japan? ›
From what I've seen, when speaking Japanese, in Japan, most people will assume a name is given with the surname first if it is a Japanese name, but if it is clearly a non-Japanese (or rather non-asian) name, they will often assume it uses the given name first instead, so it often depends on the name and the person it ...What is the rarest surname in Japan? ›
- Jinja / 神社 Meaning: Shinto shrine.
- Kai / 買 Meaning: shell, shellfish.
- Myoga / 茗荷 Meaning: Japanese ginger. ...
- Ichibangase / 一番ケ瀬 Meaning: first rapids, first shoals.
- Tsukumo / 九十九 Meaning: 99. ...
- Shikichi / 敷地 Meaning: building site.
- Shio / 塩 Meaning: salt. ...
- Ikari / 五十里 Meaning: 50 villages. ...
History. O also spelled Oh (Hangul: 오) is the Korean form of the Chinese surname Wu (Hanja: 吳). The character 吳 is phonetically pronounced "Oh" in Korean, but "Wu" in Mandarin Chinese, however the historic origin of the surname is the same.What is the most used Japanese name? ›
|1||蓮 (1)||陽葵 (1)|
|3||湊 (2)||陽菜 (12)|
Will Japanese people be upset that you have a Japanese name or use a Japanese name? Mostly no - but you might find the especially rare person who does. Think of that person as similar to a westerner getting upset that a non-western person is using the name James or Jane.Why do Japanese say San? ›
さん/-san. The Japanese suffix -san is polite, but not excessively formal. It can be broadly used to: Refer to anyone you don't know, regardless of status or age.Why do English speakers call it Japan? ›
Summary: ・The reason why Japan is called Japan or similarly in most languages is because the country was once called Zu-pang in the Southern China meaning the sun's origin. ・Who named Japan? - Marco Polo is the one who brought the name of Japan to the Western world although he did not actually name it.Why do Japanese say names backwards? ›
Traditional East Asian culture places family first before self. The individual is not as important as the family, it is always subordinate. This is why the surname (or last name) comes first. In the West it is common to refer to the surname as the “last name” as if it was a suffix.Why do so many Asians have the same last name? ›
Sometimes, ancient rulers and clans would adopt the names of their state or fiefdom; others were granted new royal surnames by emperors. Over the dynasties, ethnic minorities and nomadic groups also adopted Han Chinese names, sometimes given no choice during periods of conflict or intense Sinicization campaigns.
What culture puts last name first? ›
China and South Korea traditionally stick with the surname first order both at home and internationally. But Japan has chosen to be seen more as part of the West rather than Asia.What is America's oldest name? ›
Kushim is the earliest known example of a named person in writing. The name "Kushim" is found on several Uruk period (c.What is the luckiest girl name? ›
- Iris - meaning 'rainbow', symbolising luck.
- Evangeline - 'Bearer of good news' in Greek.
- Beatrice - Latin meaning of 'she who brings happiness; blessed'
- Jadie - stone transmitting wisdom and clarity.
- Kiara - 'bright/light' in Italian.
- Felicity - 'luck/good fortune' in Latin.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God has only one distinctive name, represented in the Old Testament by the Tetragrammaton. In English, they prefer to use the form Jehovah. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, the name Jehovah means "He causes to become".Do Japanese names have gender? ›
Not seldomly, the gender of a person can be guessed by the ending of his/her first name. First names ending with -ro, -shi, -ya, or -o are typically male first names, while names ending in -ko, -mi, -e and -yo are typically female first names. The names of foreigners are usually written in katakana.What are cute Japanese names for boys? ›
- Asahi (アサヒ) Asahi means “sunlight” in English. ...
- Akihiko (秋彦) This name means “bright prince”. ...
- Akira (アキラ) In the Japanese language, Akira means “wisdom.”
- Aoki (青木) After the Japanese word for “blue tree.”
- Asa (として) ...
- Botan (ボタン) ...
- Benjiro (ベンジロ) ...
- Chibi (ちび)
Names for Boys that Mean Power
These powerful boy names have strength in their very definition: Alistair is an old-fashioned but unique option that means “man's defender.” Ethan is a classic name that means “strong and firm.” Maximus or Maximo both sound regal and are a Latin word for “greatest.”
Japanese law requires that married couples share the same surname, which can be that of either the husband or the wife. There appears to be no country other than Japan that requires married couples to adopt the same surname.Can you legally change your last name in Japan? ›
You must have a legal basis to change your name. The most common bases are marriage or a court order.Can I take my wife's last name Japan? ›
Under Japanese law, married couples are not allowed separate surnames and have to choose one or the other. About 96 percent choose the man's surname. (Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan.)
Why do Japanese people live longer? ›
Japanese life expectancy
This low mortality is mainly attributable to a low rate of obesity, low consumption of red meat, and high consumption of fish and plant foods such as soybeans and tea. In Japan, the obesity rate is low (4.8% for men and 3.7% for women).
It is common practice in Japan to sleep on a very thin mattress over a tatami mat, made of rice straw and woven with soft rush grass. The Japanese believe this practice will help your muscles relax, allowing for a natural alignment of your hips, shoulders and spine.What do Japanese call Westerners? ›
Westerner ("seiyohjin" or "western ocean person") is used by Japanese in formal speech or writing to refer to Euramericans in general. But often they'll just use the term "gaijin" or, more politely "gaikokujin", (gai means "outside", and koku means "country"), meaning "foreigners" .How do Japanese address the name of a person? ›
As a rule of thumb, in Japanese business life, the surname name is always followed by the honorific suffix “san” (meaning “dear” or actually “honorable Mr/Ms.”). There are of course many other options such as “sama” (highly revered customer or company manager) or “sensei” (Dr. or professor).Do Japanese people call foreigners by last name? ›
No, they don't. Cases they call someone with his/ her first name: A) When the person is the same age or younger family or relative. They rarely call their older families/ relatives (parents, older siblings, and so on) with first name.How do foreigners introduce themselves in Japanese? ›
The most common and simple way to introduce yourself in Japanese is the phrase "Watashi no namae wa ___ desu." (wah-TAH-shee no nah-MAH-eh wah ___ dess). It means "My name is ___." If you're using your full name, say your surname first.What is the #1 last name? ›
The most common surname in the United States is Smith. Actually, the most common surname in just about every English-speaking country is Smith. As you may already suspect, the last name “Smith” refers to the blacksmith trade.What is the prettiest Japanese name? ›
- Itsuki | 一喜 ...
- Sora | 天 ...
- Hana | 初夏 ...
- Kaito | 海人 ...
- Sayo | 沙世 ...
- Takashi | 隆 Takashi is a masculine name that has been around for a long time. ...
- Chiha | 千羽 Chiha is a name for girls. ...
- Sakura | 桜 Like the pink and white blossoms that are its namesake, Sakura is a beautiful Japanese female given name.
There is a list of names that are extinct. It includes Bread, Spinster, Chips, Rummage, Pussett, Temples, Wellbelove, Hatman and Bytheseashore. Know anyone with those names – hardly. Other names with just a few individuals include Fernsby, Rushlands, Berrycloth, Dankworth, Birdwhistle, Relish and Tumbler.What is the coolest name in Japan? ›
What are pretty names in Japanese? ›
- 1) Himari (陽葵) Meaning: “good hollyhock”
- 2) Hina (陽菜) Meaning: “good vegetables, edible greens”
- 3) Yua (結愛) Meaning: “binding love and affection”
- 4) Sakura (咲良) Meaning: “cherry blossoms”
- 5) Ichika (一千花) Meaning: “one thousand flowers”
- 6) Akari (丹梨) Meaning: “red pear tree”
- 7) Sara (冴咲) ...
- 8) Yui (佑泉)
- Adachi clan (安達氏) – descended from Fujiwara clan.
- Akamatsu clan (赤松氏) – descended from Murakami Genji.
- Akechi clan (明智氏) – cadet branch of Toki clan who descended from Seiwa Genji; famous for Akechi Mitsuhide.
- Akita clan (秋田氏) – descended from Abe clan of Ōshū.
Baba can be a surname in a few cultures such as Japanese, Assyrian, Russian, etc. It is also a nickname for father in a few languages. Baba also translates to "father" in the Arabic and Shona languages.Is Kim a Japanese last name? ›
Kim (Korean surname)
|Region of origin||Korea|
- Sato. The surname at the top of the rankings and most used in all of Japan is 佐藤(Sato). ...
- Suzuki. 鈴木 (Suzuki) is the second most common surname in Japan, with about 1,791,000 people nationwide. ...
- Takahashi. The third most common surname is “高橋 (Takahashi)”, with about 1,405,000 people. ...
- Tanaka. ...
Historians say the Japanese called their country Yamato in its early history, and they began using Nippon around the seventh century. Nippon and Nihon are used interchangeably as the country's name.What is the most popular name in Japan for a girl? ›
1. Ema. The most popular Japanese girl name is Ema, though as an American moniker, you might see it spelled Emma.Why surname is written first in Japanese? ›
Japanese custom is to put the family name first, as in China and Korea. This is called “Eastern name order,” and the reason for it has to do with grammar. When Japanese names are written in English, they are usually flipped into the Western order, but this is slowly changing.Why do Japanese people say last name before first name? ›
In Japan, why is it that people refer to others by their last name? the people who don't know each other in the office, school etc., they call their family name. this is means they represent their family and see the person who represents the other family.Do Japanese people introduce themselves with their first or last name? ›
1. First Name and Family Name
In Japanese, people usually introduce themselves by their family names or full names.
Can a non Japanese person have a Japanese name? ›
Yes, they can, and many Koreans living in Japan are using Japanese names. There are no laws prohibiting normal names, but a couple was prohibited from naming their son Akuma (Devil).Why do Japanese add San to names? ›
The Japanese suffix -san is polite, but not excessively formal. It can be broadly used to: Refer to anyone you don't know, regardless of status or age. Address equals of the same age.How do you tell if a Japanese name is male or female? ›
First names ending with -ro, -shi, -ya, or -o are typically male first names, while names ending in -ko, -mi, -e and -yo are typically female first names.