25 Prettiest Japanese Baby Names That American Moms Should Snatch

If the parents are a fan of anime or Japanese history, they already know that Japan harbors some pretty awesome names. Granted, the original names are written in Japanese kanji (which are characters that represent words), which means that a given name can have multiple meanings, depending on the chosen characters, and different parents might use different kanji for the exact same name because spoken words can have multiple meanings based on context. That can make picking one of these names a little complicated if mom is worried about the meaning.

You can rest easy with many boys' names as they are often a description of their birth order. Jirou, for instance, means the second son. Most of the names are complimentary or, with girls, the name could be some variation of ‘child.’

In the practical sense, anyone trying to write a Japanese name out in a language that uses a phonetic alphabet, (such as, you know, English) is basically just taking a stab at writing out what they hear. This gives everyone a lot of room to play. With all this freedom, you can see why a Japanese name may be an attractive choice for American parents. The following are 25 of some of the sweetest names you might try.

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25 Akira

This delight of a name means ‘clear’ or ‘bright.’ It actually has quite a following here in America as a girl’s name. It was ranked 1008 in 2016, and is currently in 958th place on the name charts. That is not bad for a Japanese name. If you are having a boy and like it, you are still in luck. In Japan, it’s a unisex name. There is a manga with a psychic boy named Akira as its main character, and a thriller that features a college girl with that name.

You know what I like best about Akira as a name for either sex? It’s a simple sort of name. From its spelling to its meaning, it’s as unassuming a name as you can get, and yet it carries all the suggestions of an epic life to live with it.

24 Takara

Takara sounds like the name of a heroine in an epic fantasy novel. She should be slaying dragons or leading armies across drawbridges or something. If you agree with me, that this name is perfect for a princess among the elves, then you might not be surprised to know that Takara means ‘jewel’ or ‘treasure.’ (mostly - there are other Kanji with a similar pronunciation that have different meanings.)

Weirdly, this name doesn’t get a lot of play here in the US. In 2016, the Social Security Administration noted that it was 9315th in baby names used. It was slightly more popular in the 1980s, but even then, it was 1475 on the name charts. This name deserves better and a lot of dragon-slaying princesses can have this name.

23 Atsuko

This is a girl’s name, and it really deserves to come back to America. The last time it even registered on the name charts in America was in 1925, when it was 4973 on the chart. Like a lot of Japanese names for girls, part of the name (the second kanji) means ‘child.’ The first kanji of the name can be the character that means ‘warm’ or it can be the character that means ‘sincere.’ It can also be ‘honest’ and ‘kind.’ They are all pronounced the same, and, anyway, a warm child and a sincere child are both great things. Either way, it’s a charming name for a girl.

In Japan, it’s the name of an actress and singer and someone has also named a main-belt asteroid Atsuko. When you name your daughter Atsuko, you can say that you named her after a star.

22 Chiyo

This is a great name for nicknames. Chi, Yo, ChiChi, and Chibi (which means little) are all good derivations, though the traditional nickname is Chikiyo. This is good, because little girls all need a few nicknames in their life, and Chiyo is a feminine name. It means… well, a couple of things. It can be translated as ‘thousand worlds’ or as ‘thousand generations.’ More poetically, it can be translated as ‘eternal,’ which is a nice wish for your child’s legacy.

With this meaning, it isn’t surprising that it was the name of an elder advisor in the manga ‘Naruto.’ It was also the name of a popular poet from the Edo period in Japan and a character from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ With such fine forebears, you would think that it would be more popular for girls in America, but it doesn’t even register on the name lists here.

21 Daiki

If you want a cute, sweet-sounding name for your little boy that has a very masculine undertone, the Japanese have you covered. Daiki is a very common name for boys there, and, not surprisingly, for many athletes. The first kanji in the name means ‘big’ or ‘great,’ but the second kanji can be ‘brightness,’ ‘tree,’ or ‘valuable.’ Quite a few soccer players and mixed martial artists bear the name, and most athletes would probably consider themselves ‘great bright’ or ‘greatly valuable.’ You can tell your son he is always your little MVP.

Despite the fact that it is great for little boys, according to the Social Security Administration, Daiki has never been in the top 1000 in the US. In 2016, it was 10,947 in the country. Your little Daiki will never be confused with anyone else in his class.

20 Daisuke

Everybody wants their little boy to be a big helper. This makes Daisuke a great name for any little boy because it means ‘big’ or ‘great’ ‘help.’ There are some ways of writing it so that the name means ‘great ruler’ or ‘great mediator,’ which are also great things for little boys to be. There are many athletes with that name, including three bronze medalists in the Olympics. Of course, that may be because it’s a really common name in Japan. It was one of the most popular names for boys there between 1994 to 2003. It was the number one name in 1985, and the second most popular name in Japan in 1975.

Here in the US, it doesn’t even register on the top 3000 of American names, which may not be really surprising, but it deserves to catch on here. It’s very sweet and it has great forebears.

19 Etsuko

There was a tradition for quite a long time of ending feminine names with the ‘ko’ kanji, which is the kanji for ‘child'. That is when names like Michiko, Masako, and Kiko became popular. That second kanji has waned in popularity for the last couple of years. That isn’t any reason for you to not take this lovely name ending, especially for a name like Etsuko, because Etsu means ‘joy’ or ‘pleased.’ We could all wish that our daughters are joyful, or that they are the sort of people that spread joy. There are a few people with the name that are musicians and actresses, so that is very fitting as those are the jobs that are about spreading joy.

There are less than 100 people in this country with Etsuko as a first or last name, so if you are looking for a happy name but think the English options are too common, Etsuko may the best option.

18 Emi

This name gets props for being cute, short and highly flattering. It’s almost as long in the kanji script as it is in English, being the character ‘e’ for ‘favor or benefit’ and the character for ‘mi’ for ‘beautiful.’ Calling your daughter a ‘beautiful benefit’ or ‘blessed with beauty’ is always a wise idea, regardless of the language you use. Next to Akira, this may be the highest ranked Japanese name in the US, coming in at 1355 in 2016. This probably has something to do with the fact that Emi sounds like the nickname you would give an Emily or an Emilia. It also blends well with most Western names. In fact, it’s making quite a showing in French-speaking Quebec as an alternative to the popular Emmy.

Emi is actually shortened from its original form. Before 1960, many girls were named Emiko. When people dropped the ‘ko’ part, it became a popular name and it was on the top 100 names there until 1980. Emis are more common out of Japan these days. You have to admit, it deserves recognition around the world.

17 Mika

This has 2 origins, Finland and Japan. In Japan, it is used as a girl’s name that means ‘beautiful fragrance’ or ‘beautiful increase,’ depending on the characters used. You can more loosely translate it as ‘bringer of beauty’ or ‘sweet’. This is another name that will work well with any Western name you choose, whether you use it for a middle name or a first name. Intuitively spelled and pronounced, it makes a long last name or a surname with a lot of consonants sound reasonable. And this makes sense, since, in the Netherlands, Mika is a fairly common boy’s name. It’s not in the top 100 names, but it isn’t too far below.

Not surprisingly, Mika is the name of quite a few manga characters, including LoveLive, which is a story about high school students raising money for their school through singing. Honestly, if you were going to write a story about a sweet little girl who is raising money for her school, wouldn’t you name her Mika?

16 Hibiki

Another trend in kanji characters used to write Japanese names is the ‘ki’ ending. Lots of little boys in Japan have been going around with monikers such as Yuuki, Daiki, and Haruki in the past couple of years. Part of that trend is the name Hibiki. It does have a bouncy feel to it, which is always an appropriate touch for little boys. It has been translated to mean echo, sound or reverberation. If you have a noisy son, that can pretty appropriate (I have a nephew who is chatty even by radio show host standards, so it might have suited him). This is another name that is popular in mangas, including Fairy Tail and Change 123.

This can also be a name for girls. There are mangas with female characters named Hibiki, but it mostly refers to boys.

15 Hideki

There are probably few names that sound more Japanese to Western ears than Hideki. There was a baseball player named Hideki Matsui in the 2009 World Series and a golfer by the name of Hideki Matsuyama.

The kanji used to spell the name translate as ‘excellent’ and ‘tree,’ so you can think of it as meaning ‘Excellence’ or ‘Excellent and strong.’ (Trees are generally pretty tough.) The meaning and the popular ‘ki’ ending make it common in Japan, but here in America, it has barely registered as a name since 1981, and even then, it was lower than 4000 on the charts. But it’s such a nice thing to wish for your son to be excellent, so if you find Emil (which is kind of the German equivalent) not quite working for you, you might try Hideki out on your little boy.

14 Yoshirou

This is another highly flattering name for a boy. ‘Yoshi’ means ‘righteous’ and ‘rou’ means son, which is an excellent thing to wish on your progeny. It is pronounced Yo-shee-ro, and it has belonged to a long string of righteous people, including many soccer players, politicians, and writers. It can also be spelled Yoshiro, which may make the pronunciation a bit more intuitive for some.

There is something very appealing about the name which has made it popular for decades. Inventors born in 1928, baseball players born in 1945, and prime ministers born in 1937 have all had the name. Your son will have plenty of fine namesakes to choose from if you use it, which will make him the righteous son of many greats.

13 Ichirou

Did you just find out that you are having a son? Is he your first boy? There is a great name for your baby boy: Ichirou, sometimes spelled Ichiro, and always pronounced ee-chee-ro. It is part of the Japanese tradition of naming their sons after their birth order, a tendency that has only recently waned. It became so common to use such names that for a long time, the word for ‘first,’ ‘Taro,’ became the generic name for boys. It was the most popular naming convention until just the last generation. Ichirou, however, still remains a good name. For one thing, it is always very descriptive. ‘Ichi’ is the word for one, and ‘rou’ is the word for son, so it is great name for only sons. Even if he isn’t an only child, and you have a bunch of daughters and one son, the name still fits perfectly.

12 Izumi

This sweet little name may be familiar from Full Metal Alchemist or Digimon. It’s a unisex name that is composed of one kanji character that means ‘fountain or spring.’ It’s mostly used as a girl’s name, and it does sound very feminine sound to it. Pronounced ee-zoo-mee, it has the charming zip of a pop star, and the suggestion of a pleasant pastoral scene.

Like many of these other names, it isn’t really common in the US. It reached its peak of popularity in 2011, when it was 9123 on the name charts. It isn’t on the top 10 in Japan, either, but it is part of the trend of diversifying names to include nouns with pleasant connotations, such as ‘cherry blossom’ and ‘lavender child.’ It should be on the rise in both countries, if only for the sweet sound and the Full Metal Alchemist association.

11 Kaede

Coming in at 9 in popular name charts, tying with Yuna and Yuina, is Kaede. It’s part of the trend in Japan to give their daughters names for pretty plants, which in this case is the maple. Yes, that lovely tree that produces delicious syrup and sports delicately-tipped leaves is the meaning of the name. These trees are the epitome of elegance and beauty to the point that they are used to make into Bonsai trees. With this association with refinement and loveliness, maple is a fine name for a girl.

And the sound of the name is just as nice the meaning. It’s pronounced Kah-Eh-deh, so you can shorten it down to Kye or Keddi in informal situations. It’s always nice to have an obvious nickname for your baby girl built into her name. If you always liked plant names, but were bored with Rose and Violet, Kaede may be the right name for you.

10 Suzume

Names that imply freedom and innocence are always a great choice for a feminine name. That’s why Suzume, pronounced soo-zoo-mee, works so well. The literal translation is ‘sparrow,’ which is a very cute bird to associate with a child. You could go around calling your baby girl ‘my little sparrow’ all day and also be calling her by her name.

Suzume isn’t particularly popular in the US. It is #15480 in name popularity and it isn’t on the top 10 chart in Japan, either. But it really should catch on here. For one thing, it sounds a lot like Susan, only cuter and fancier. It can get shortened down to Suzy or Sue, just like Susan, too. The spelling and pronunciation are fairly self-explanatory, so most people can feel comfortable bestowing it on a little girl. Then there is the sparrow meaning: who doesn’t love a cute little sparrow?

9 Kasumi

This is another name that can mean more than one thing, depending on the kanji character used to represent it. It can be written as the character for ‘mist,’ but it can also be written as two kanji, ‘ka,’ which means ‘blossom’ and ‘sumi,’ which means ‘clear or pure.’ Basically, it can suggest a beautiful, mysterious force of nature or an innocent flower. Both are fairly nice images for a little girl. It isn’t common in America, but it does show up quite a bit as names for female ninjas in mangas and in video games. There was even an Olympic silver medalist in table tennis named Kasumi Ishikawa.

Of course, Kasumi has some lovely nicknames built into it. You can call a Kasumi ‘Kassy’ and ‘Misty.’ It’s also a pretty simple name to spell and pronounce (Ka-soo-mee.) It deserves to become more popular with anyone who likes fitting names for girls.

8 Keiko

Keiko (pronounced kay-ko) has been translated as ‘blessing,’ and this is a possibility as it can use a kanji that means ‘benefit.’ But the ‘kei’ sound can also be written with the kanji character for ‘open, begin,’ the character for ‘celebrate’ and the character for ‘respect.’ And of course, ‘ko’ means child, so it is part of the tradition of calling little girls ‘child.’ Any of these translations can be flattering to your little girl, possibly as ‘happy child’ or ‘beloved child.’ It will also be very flattering to know that she shares a name with the 12th emperor of Japan that is supposed to have governed from 71 to 130 AD.

All of these aspects may make it attractive as a name, though it doesn’t even register in the top 2000 name charts in the US. It deserves to be more popular, though.

7 Kenji

This name is actually up there with Akira as a popular name in America. It is 968th most common name in this country. This may be because it is a name that is easy to spell and pronounce. It also can be shortened down to Ken, which makes it easier to blend with Western last name.

For all the ease that it fits into Western names, it is a very Japanese name. The ‘ji’ in the name is the word for two, which puts it firmly in the ‘naming your son after his birth order’ tradition. If you already have a son, and this is your second boy, Kenji is a descriptive name. Then there is the first character ‘ken,’ which means ‘study.’ So the name can be translated as ‘intelligent second son.’ It’s always a great thing to call your son ‘smart.’

6 Makoto

The ending character ‘to’ has become popular to use at the end of boy’s names as of late, which has lead to Makoto to resurge in popularity. It was the most popular name for boys in Japan in 1965 and 1975, and it was the second most popular name in 1955. Another thing that keeps it popular and probably made it so popular in the past, is the meaning of the name. The kanji used in the name is the one for ‘sincerity,’ and so frequently gets translated as ‘good’ or ‘honest.’ Everyone wants their little boy to be good and sincere.

While it remains a popular name in Japan, here in America, it is virtually unknown. The name reached the peak of its popularity in 1922, when it was 1951st on the name charts. It steadily sunk from there until it was 8514 on the charts. One thing any son of yours that you name Makoto will never experience in the US is having someone share his name, unless he moves to Japan town in San Francisco.

5 Masaru

Do you like the name Victor? It has a strong ring to it, and there is something really masculine about it. However, it is a little on the nose, and maybe it just doesn’t sound right to you. It’s not for everyone. But you can hang on to the very supportive meaning while having a sweet-sounding name by using Masaru. It is generally written with the different kanji characters for ‘excel’ or ‘commander,’ which gets translated as ‘victory.’ This name may be unused here in the US, but it naturally has a bit of a following in Japan. It’s the name of a number of achievers, including an Olympic champion and a samurai who is considered the ‘father of the Japanese railways.’ Masaru is a name that most people can get behind for our victorious boys.

4 Naoki

Lots of people hope that their children will be as straight as a tree in their dealings with the world. They are strong and transparent- a tree is always everything it seems. Naturally, this would make a name that means ‘honest and straight’ attractive to parents. Enter Naoki, which is made of the kanji for ‘straight’ and ‘tree.’ It can also be translated as ‘respectful.’ It is a pretty good name to give a boy, and plenty of Japanese men have born the name, including many athletes and artists. It was a popular name from 1945 to 1977, and it is still common enough. It really deserves to be more popular here in America: it doesn’t even register on lists of names. It can be a fine name for any boy here, especially if you are fond of trees.

3 Natsumi

There is always something right about a name that can be shortened down to ‘Nat.’ It just makes life easier if the nickname is built into the full name and is itself easy to say. That way, the kid can always tell when she is not in trouble: you will be using the obvious nickname. Plus, with Natsumi, it would be the equivalent of calling your daughter ‘summer.’ The name breaks down into the kanji for ‘summer’ and then either ‘beauty,’ ‘truth,’ ‘life’ or ‘sea,’ depending on the second kanji used.

Regardless of how you want to translate the name, (beautiful summer works), you will be giving your daughter a name that she will share with a number of great artists. There are three manga artists, two singers and a voice actress by that name.

2 Reina

Of all the Japanese names that sound Western, Reina may be the most mellifluous. It’s also the one with the most diverse origins, as you can find it in Yiddish baby name and Spanish baby name books, too. In Japanese, it is written with two kanji, the first one being the character for ‘wise’ and the second one being a phonetic character. This actually gives your daughter a nice array of meanings to work with: it’s Spanish for ‘queen’ and it is the Yiddish variant on Katherine, so your daughter could be a wise queen (you know she rules) who is pure.

With so many people vying to use this pretty name, it isn’t too much of a surprise that it is regularly used in the US. What is a surprise is that it is only 853 on the charts. It needs a boost, just like the boost it will give any little girl given the name.

1 Sakiko

And we are back with the traditional ‘ko’ ending for girl names. Sakiko is made of the kanji for ‘blossom’ and the kanji for ‘child,’ thus bringing everything fresh and innocent to your little girl’s name. Any little girl given this name will share it with a number of musicians and actresses, not to mention an economist. It is one of those names that is definitely not English in origin: there have been only 6 girls born in the United States that were given that name between 1880 and 2016, and the record year for the name was 1924, when all 6 of the girls were born.

It does not deserve this obscurity. It is a chipper, bouncy name that can be shortened to Sak, Saki, and KoKo when you are just playing with your girl. Feel free to make your girl the 7th Sakiko in the US.

Sources: behindthename.com, thoughtco.com, issendai.com, babynames.com

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