Here is a guide to read and understand Japanese names. You can also generate realistic Japanese names for your Japanese characters by reading the page.
Some say the Japanese language is the language of demons, the most difficult one in the world.
A Japanese word consist of some syllables. There are 109 syllables, though "wi" and "we" are seldom used. The word "Shinkansen" can be be separated as "Shi-n-ka-n-se-n", thus a six-syllable word. There are only five vowels and fourteen consonants, very fewer than English.
Japanese grammar is some complex. Because it is impossible explain Japanese grammar fully in this page, I'll show some of most features.
First, Japanese has no apparent subject. In many case subject is omissioned.
Second, Japanese has no distinction of the singular and the plural.
Third, a Japanese sentence is determined at its end. The sentence "Kimi wa machigatte iru" means "You are wrong," and "Kimi wa machigatte inai" means "You are not wrong."
In short, expressions in Japanese are noncomittal and ambiguous, so the language Japanese is not suitable for logical discussion. Instead, it is full of words which express subtle emotion.
The language Japanese bases on the special character set called kanji. Kanji is the ideographic characters that originated in ancient China, and has been used in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The word "kan-ji" means "Chinese (kan) character(ji)." There are more than 6,000 different kanji, but two thirds of them are rarely used. Each of them have its meaning and pronunciation. There are also the other two letter sets, hiragana and katakana, which is unique to Japanese. Different from kanji, it is phonogram. A hiragana/katakana represents a syllable.
Japanese language has 101 syllables.
Type I a i u e o ka ki ku ke ko sa shi su se so ta chi tsu te to na ni nu ne no ha hi fu he ho ma mi mu me mo ya yu yo ra ri ru re ro wa Type II ga gi gu ge go za ji zu ze zo da de do ba bi bu be bo Type III pa pi pu pe po Type IV kya kyu kyo sha shu sho cha chu cho nya nyu nyo hya hyu hyo mya myu myo rya ryu ryo gya gyu gyo ja ju jo bya byu byo pya pyu pyo Type V nAll Japanese words, including Japanese names, consists of the syllables above.
Order of Family Name / Given Name
In most eastern countries such as China and Korea, the family name written first and the personal name is written last when someone writes his name.
This is true in Japanese, too. In Japanese, myoji, the family name comes first, and namae, the personal name comes last. For example, Tokugawa Ieyasu is Ieyasu of the house Tokugawa.
However, many Japanese prefer to write in the western style, the personal name first and the family name last, when they write in English today. So you would see many Japanese names such as Akira Kurosawa, Akira of the Kurosawas.
This often make you confuse. The names of historical figures are almost written in family-personal order, and names of modern people are written in personal-family order. But not always.
Some people capitalize their family name, such as Gen-ichi NISHIO, Gen-ichi of the Nishios.
A Japanese has no middle name today. Anyone have only a personal name and a family name.
Historical figures before 19th century often had many middle names, representing their occupation etc.
The emperor has no family name. He has only his personal name, such as Hirohito, Akihito and so on. Members of the royal family also don't have their family names. When a woman married with a member of the royal family, she lose her personal name.
Names for Historical Figures
Modern Japanese names are very different from those of 200 years ago. So I'll explain each of the two.
Until 19th century, only the noble and bushi(samurai) had family names. All other people, including farmers, merchants, craftmen, had only personal names. When the Edo Shogunate fell in 1853, the new government of Meiji decided that all people must have family names. Until then, 80% of the Japanese people had no family names.
Most of women didn't have their family names, eigher. Even a daughter of bushi, she had only her personal name. This was because a woman couldn't be a successor of her house.
Historical Family Names
Famous Bushi Houses
There are famous bushi houses in history. Genji One of the two major houses in Heian era, and the house of Kamakura shogunate. It discontinued in 13th century. Famous members: Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune .
Heike One of the two major houses in Heian era. They once grasped the very power of the government, they were destroyed by Genji in 1185. Famous members: Taira-no-Masakado , Taira-no-Kiyomori.
Hojo The regent house of Kamakura shogunate. When Minamoto-no-Sanetomo in 1219, the third shogun was assasinated, he left no apparent successors. The emperor Gotoba raised his army to bring down the shogunate and get back the sovereignty. In this crisis, Hojo Masako, the mother of Sanetomo, became the regent of the shogun, and defeat the imperial army in 1211 (the war of Joyku). After her, members of the house ruled Japan as the regents until 1329. Famous members: Hojo Masako, Hojo Tokimune Askikaga The house of Muromachi shogunate. After the war with Mongol, Kamakura shogunate declined. The emperor Godaigo raised an army and destroy the shogunate. But after the victory, Ashikaga Takauji, the leader of the army, rebeled against the emperor. He drove away the emperor from Kyoto, and made another emperor. Then he became the new shogun, opening the Muromachi shogunate. The house Ashikaga ruled Japan for about 200 years. Famous members: Askihaga Takauji, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Tokugawa The house of Edo shogunage, founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu . They ruled Japan for 230 years. Famouse members: Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Yoshimune. Matsudaira The original house of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was originally called Matsudaira Ieyasu, and then rename his family name and founded the new house. The hose Matsudaira was a powerful relative of shogun in the Edo era. The house Matsudaira still exists today, though no longer as a samurai house. Hosokoawa A house with a long tradition. Founded as a noble house about 500 years ago originally, the house Hosokawa became a daimyo as a bushi family later. The house Hosokoawa still exists today. Its most famous member is the ex-prime-minister. Shimazu The damiyo house of Satsuma, the south edge territory of Japanese islands. It was one of the most powerful daimyo when the Civil War era. When the western army lose the battle of Sekigahara , the house Shimazu became a daimyo under the Edo shogunate. 270 years after the battle, Shimazu rebelled against the shogunate, and finally destroyed it in 1867. Famous member: Shimazu Nariakira, Shimazu Hisamitsu
Other Family Names for Bushi
There is a collection of family names that actually existed in fudal Japan.
Kaga, Date, Maeda, Kuki, Asai, Shibata, Kato, Takeda, Saito, Honda, Ii, Tanuma, Ooka, Miyamoto, Suwa, Hattori, Chosokabe, Ukita, Mori, Ishida, Fukushima, Oda, Kuroda, Hachisuka, Okubo, Watanabe, Takigawa, Murakami
Famous Noble Family Names
Konoe, Takashi, Kujo, Ichijo, and Gojo were the five major noble houses called Gosetsuke. Hirohata, Daigo, Kuga, Oimikado, Saionji, Sanjo, Imaidegawa, Tokudaiji, and Kaoin were lanked next. There were also other noble houses such as Masachika, Shigenoi, Anenokoji, Shimizudani, Kawashi, Nakayama, Nanba, Asukai, Nomiya, Konjo, Matsuki, Jimyoin, Shijo, Yamashina, Aburakoji, Washio, Minase, Reizei, Kajuji, Karasuma, Inokuma, and Rokujochigusa.
Historical Personal Names
Personal Names for Bushi
For a high-ranked bushi, such as shogun, daimyo, high officials of shogunate etc., two kanji characters with noble images were combined and used.
Choose two from the below and combine them.
Sane-, -Yoshi-, -Tada-, -Ie-, -Tsuna-, -Yasu-, -Yori-, -Mochi-, -Taka-, -Kane-, -Tomo-, -Nobu-, -Naga-, -katsu-, -Toki-, -Masa-, -Mitsu-, -Hisa-, -Hide-, -Toshi-, -Sada-, -Kuni-, -Aki-, -Shige-, -Nori-, -Mune, -Uji, -Mori, -Tsugu
For example, Yorihisa, Kanemori, Sanetoki
There was a wide variety for a low-ranked bushi. Ichiro (the first son), Jiro (the second son), Saburo (the third son), Shiro (the fourth son), Goro (the fifth son), and their variation such as Chojiro, Kanzaburo, Heishiro, Daigoro etc. were commonly used. -Emon, -Ji, -Zo, -Suke, -Be are also common such as Kuemon, Hikozaemon, Goemon, Heiji, Heizo, Kinnosuke, Kanbe, Hyobe, Denbe etc.
Personal Names for other people
People who are neither the noble or bushi such as farmers, merchants, craftsmen, have only their personal names, but not family names. So they called each other by their personal name with place names or shop names. For example, Ryobe of Honda village, Kansuke of Echigoya cloth store, etc.
Their names were similar to those of low ranked bushi.
There was a wide variety of names for women. Here are famous women in Japanese history.
Sei, Shizuka, Tomoe, Masako, Ichi, Yodo, Kasuga, Nene, Koi, Tsukiyama, Matsu, Tama, Tara, Man, Sen, Yoshi,
The word hime means "princess," so a woman named Koi could called Koihime if she was noble and not married yet.
The suffix gozen was used for a wife of a Bushi, such as Shizuka-gozen.
In is the suffix for a num. When a bushi died, his widow usually became an ama (nun) in a amadera (convent). Such a widow renamed herself, and put the suffix to her new name. Here are famous nuns in Japanese history.
Hoshun-in, Kenbai-in, Kensei-in, Koudai-in
Names for Modern Japanese
Modern Family Names
There are thousands of family names in Japan. The most common family names are Suzuki, Tanaka, Yamamoto, Watanabe and Saito. Many common family names consist of two kanji. For example, Tanaka is Ta-Naka, Ta means "ricefield" and Naka means "in". Maybe ancestor of Mr.Tanaka had lived near ricefield. I listed the kanji used most frequently in family names. Choose two from the list below and catenate, and you will get a Japanese family name, or a name that sounds like Japanese. For example. Mae-kawa (means in front of the river), Kita-mura (the north village), Iwa-moto (near the rock) and so on.
fuka-(deep), asa-(shallow), mae-(front), yoko-(side), nishi-(west), kita-(north), higashi-(east), minami-(south), ao-(blue), aka-(red), kuro-(black), kiyo-(pure), iwa-(rock), ishi-(stone), matsu-(pine wood), sugi-(cedar), take-(bamboo), -ki-(tree), -ita-(board), yone-(rice), -hayashi-/-bayashi(woods), -ue/-kami(upper), -shita/-shimo(lower), -hashi-/-bashi-(bridge), -mori-(forest), -tsuka-(ballow), -mizu-(water) -moto-(near), -naka-(in),-uchi-(in), -yama-(mountain), -oka-(hill), -saka-(slope), -no-(plain), -ike-(pond), -kawa-(river), -tani-(valley), -sawa-/-zawa(creek), -numa(marsh), -hata-/-bata(cropfield), -ta-/-da(ricefield), -shima-/-jima(island), -mura-(village), -saki-/-zaki(cape/edge)
Modern Personal Names
Ichiro is a name for a first son. Jiro is one for a second son, Saburo is for a third son, Shiro for a fourth son, and Goro for fifth son.
Some of modern male names end -ichi or -kazu suffix, both of which mean "the first son," such as
Eichi, Gen-ichi, Jun-ichi, Ju-ichi, Ken-ichi, Koichi, Kyoichi, Ryoichi, Ryuichi, Seiichi, Sen-ichi, Shin-ichi, Shoichi, Shuichi, Shun-ichi, Yoichi, Yu-ichi,
Akikazu, Hidekazu, Hirokazu, Masakazu, Nobukazu, Shigekazu, Takakazu, Tomokazu, Toshikazu, Yasukazu, Yoshikazu
And -ji suffix means "the second son," -zo does "the third son," such as, Eiji, Shunji, Ryozo, Senzo.
Some names consists of the combination of those above, such as, Eichiro, Kojiro, Yushiro, Yugoro.
There are other Japanese male names.
Akihiko, Akihiro, Akihito, Akira, Fumio, Fumihiko, Hideaki, Hidekazu, Hirofumi, Hirohisa, Hiroshi, Hisashi, Hitoshi, Jotaro, Katsuhiko, Katsumi, Kazuhiko, Kazuki, Kazunori, Kazuo, Kazushi, Kei, Ken, Kensaku, Kosaku, Kotaro, Mamoru, Manabu, Masafumi, Masaharu, Masahiko, Masahiro, Masaki, Masami, Masao, Masashi, Masayoshi, MasayoshiAkio, Michihiro, Michio, Naoki, Noboru, Nobuhisa, Nobuo, Nobuyoshi, Noriaki, Norihide, Norihisa, Norio, Osamu, Rintaro, Ryosei, Ryutaro, Satoru, Satoshi, Shigeaki, Shigeki , Shintaro, Sumio, TMasayuki, Tadao, Tadashi, Takaaki, Takafumi, Takahiro, Takao, Takashi, Takayuki, Takeshi, Takuya, Taro, Teruo, Tetsuhiko, Tetsunori, Tetsuo, Tetsuya, Tetsuyuki, Tomohiko, Tomoyuki, Toru, Toshiharu, Toshio, Toshiyuki, Tsutomu, Yoshifumi, Yoshimitsu, Yoshiyuki, Yukio, Yutaka
Most of modern female names end -ko suffix, which means "child." Such as
Aiko, Akiko, Asako, Atsuko, Ayako, Chikako, Emiko, Eriko, Etsuko, Fujiko, Fumiko, Haruko, Ikuko, Junko, Katsuko, Kazuko, Keiko, Kimiko, Kumiko, Kyoko, Machiko, Maiko, Makiko, Mamiko, Mariko, Masako, Mayako, Mayuko, Mayoko, Michiko, Mihoko, Minako, Misako, Mitsuko, Miyoko, Momoko, Mutsuko, Nahoko, Namiko, Nanako, Naoko, Natsuko, Nayoko, Noriko, Reiko, Rieko, Rikako, Rinako, Risako, Ritsuko, Rumiko, Ryoko, Sachiko, Saeko, Sakiko, Sakuko, Sakurako, Sanako, Satoko, Sayoko, Shoko, Seiko, Tadako, Takako, Tamiko, Tokiko, Tomiko, Tomiko, Yoko, Yoshiko, Yukako, Yukiko, Yumako, Yumiko, Yuriko, Yutsuko
Some female names end -Mi suffix, which means "beauty." Such as,
Ami, Asami, Emi, Harumi, Honami, Kazumi, Kumi, Manami, Mami, Masami, Masumi, Mayumi, Mutsumi, Nami, Nanami, Naomi, Narumi, Natsumi, Nomi, Remi, Romi, Satomi, Yumi
There are some other names and what the name (usually) means.
Ai (love), Akane, Aki, Arisa, Ayame (sweet flag flower), Chiaki, Chika, Chisato, Ema, Eri, Fumi, Fumie, Fumiyo, Hatsue, Hatsuyo, Hitomi (eye), Ikue, Isako, Izumi (fountain), Jun (pure), Katsue, Kazue, Machi, Madoka, Mai (dance), Maki, Mari, Maya, Mayu, Mayo, Megumi (charity), Miho, Mina, Mio, Misa, Misato, Miya, Mizuki, Naho, Namie, Namiyo, Nana, Nao, Narumi, Natsumi, Nozomi (hope), Rie, Rina, Risa, Rui, Sachi, Sae, Saki, Sakura (cherry), Saya, Sayuri, Sayo, Shinobu (perseverance), Shiori, Tamiyo, Tokie, Tokiyo, Yayoi (March), Yu, Yui, Yuka, Yukari, Yuki, Yuma, Yuri (lily), Wazuka
Copyright © 1998-2006 Phillip Riley
Last Updated Sat Aug 11, 2007