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Japanese names
Japanese names (人名, じんめい, jinmei) - In modern times usually consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name. This naming order is common in countries that have long been part of the Chinese cultural sphere, including among the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures. "Middle names" are not generally used.

Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are Chinese characters in Japanese pronunciation. The kanji for a name may have a variety of possible Japanese pronunciations.

Japanese family names are extremely varied: according to estimates, there are over 100,000 different surnames in use today in Japan. This is due to the recent origin of family names in Japan (1870s), hence there have been few generations in which family names could become extinct. Common family names in Japan include Satō (佐藤) (most common), Suzuki (鈴木) (second most common), Takahashi (高橋) (third most common), and Katō (加藤) (tenth most common). Surnames occur with varying frequency in different regions; for example, the names Chinen (知念), Higa (比嘉), and Shimabukuro (島袋) are common in Okinawa but not in other parts of Japan. Many Japanese family names derive from features of the rural landscape; for example, Ishikawa (石川) means "stone river," Yamamoto (山本) means "the base of the mountain," and Inoue (井上) means "above the well."

Given names are much more diverse in pronunciation and character usage. Male names often end in -rō (郎 "son", but also 朗 "clear, bright") or -ta (太 "great, thick"), or contain ichi (一 "first [son]"), kazu (also written with 一 "first [son]", along with several other possible characters), ji (二 "second [son]" or 次 "next"), or dai (大 "great, large") while female names often end in -ko (子 "child") or -mi (美 "beauty"). (Since 1980, the popularity of female names ending in -ko has dramatically fallen for new baby names and some women drop the -ko upon adulthood.) Other popular endings for female names include -ka (香 "scent, perfume" or 花 "flower") and -na (奈, or 菜, meaning greens).

All Japanese people have one surname and one given name with no middle name, except for the Japanese imperial family, whose members bear no surname. The surname is called myōji (苗字 or 名字), uji (氏) or sei (姓), and the given name is called the "name" (名前 namae) or "lower name" (下の名前 shita no namae). The family name precedes the given name.

Historically, myōji, uji and sei had different meanings. Sei was originally the matrilineal surname. Later it became granted only by the emperor. There were relatively few sei, and most of the medieval noble clans trace their lineage either directly to these sei or to the courtiers of these sei. Uji was first used to designate patrilineal descent, but later merged with myōji around the same time sei lost its matrilineal significance. Myōji was, simply, what a family chooses to call itself, as opposed to the sei granted by the emperor. While it was passed on patrilineally, one had a certain degree of freedom in changing one's myōji.

There are a few names that can be used as either surnames or given names (for example Kaneko 金子, or Masuko 益子). In addition, to those familiar with Japanese names, which name is the surname and which is the given name is usually apparent, no matter which order the names are presented in. This thus makes it unlikely that the two names will be confused, for example when writing in English using the order family name, given name. However, when romanized, some common surnames and given names may coincide: e.g., Shoji (昌司, Shoji) (given name) and Shoji (東海林, Shoji?) (surname).

Japanese names are usually written in kanji (Chinese characters), although some names use hiragana or even katakana, or a mixture of kanji and kana. While most "traditional" names use kun'yomi (native Japanese) kanji readings, a large number of given names and surnames use on'yomi (Chinese-based) kanji readings as well. Many others use readings which are only used in names (nanori), such as the female name Nozomi (希). The majority of surnames comprise one, two or three kanji characters. There are also a small number of four or five kanji surnames, such as Teshigawara (勅使河原) and (久夛良木) as in Ken Kutaragi, Kadenokoji(勘解由小路), but these are extremely rare.

As mentioned above, female given names often end in the syllable ko, written with the kanji meaning "child" (子). This was much more common up to about the 1980s, but the practice does continue today. Male names occasionally end with the syllable ko, but very rarely using the kanji 子 (most often, if a male name ends in ko, it ends in hiko, using the kanji 彦). Common male name endings are -shi and -o; names ending with -shi are often adjectives, e.g., Atsushi which might mean, for example, "(to be) faithful." In the past (before World War II), names written with katakana were common for women, but this trend seems to have lost favour. Hiragana names for women are not unusual. Kana names for boys, particularly those written in hiragana, have historically been very rare. This may be in part because the hiragana script is seen as feminine; in medieval Japan, women generally were not taught kanji and wrote exclusively in hiragana.

Names, like other Japanese words, cannot begin with the syllable n (ん, ン). Some names end in n: the male names Ken, Shin, and Jun are examples. The syllable n should not be confused with the consonant "n," which names can begin with (provided the "n" sound is paired with a vowel); for example, the female name Naoko (尚子) or the male Naoya (直哉).

One large category of family names can be categorized as "-tō" names. The kanji 藤, meaning wisteria, has the on'yomi tō (or, with rendaku, dō). Many Japanese people have surnames that include this kanji as the second character. This is because the Fujiwara clan (藤原家) gave their samurai surnames ending with the first character of their name, to denote their status in an era when commoners were not allowed surnames. Examples include Atō, Andō, Itō (although a different final kanji is also common), Udō, Etō, Endō, Gotō, Jitō, Katō, Kitō, Kudō, Kondō, Saitō, Satō, Shindō, Sudō, Naitō, Bitō, and Mutō. As already noted, some of the most common family names are in this list.

Information source: “Japanese name.” wikipedia.org. Article date: 12 Feb. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 16 Feb. 2008 <Japanese name>.
 

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