It’s one of the first of many important decisions you’ll make for your baby; what you name your child will impact his/her life in unspeakable ways. Does the name flow nicely? Will a short form cause lifelong embarrassment for your child? You only have one shot, so you want to make the right choice (no pressure!).
Traditionally, North Americans have picked biblical names like Matthew and John for their bundles of joy, or English-inspired names like Richard and George. These are tried and true names that are still popular today. However, we are becoming a little less conservative as time goes on and even turning to other cultures for inspiration.
The Japanese culture is certainly no exception. Japanese names are beautiful, exotic, and rich with traditional values. The names embody ancient beliefs and share artistic forms, such as haikus, gardening, and architecture.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Japanese tradition, Japanese people have two names, a surname and a given name, that are used in that order. Given names are usually written in kanji (a Japanese adaptation of Chinese characters). Although members of Japanese culture are more popularly known by their surnames, Japanese given names are more symbolic. They are chosen so that the stroke count of the kanji in the child’s name will be a fortuitous number.
There is a true art behind picking names. Girls’ names traditionally ended with “ko,” meaning child (although people are moving away from this trend now), while boys may be named by a numbering system. The Chinese character for “one” may appear in the name of the first son and so on. Much thought goes into selecting a name of Japanese origin, and it is a parent’s hope that the child will live up to the qualities demonstrated in the name.
We’ve compiled a list of 15 both popular and unique Japanese-inspired names you may consider for your baby. The list includes the special meaning behind each name and the qualities attributed to them.
Meaning and origin: in the morning; beautiful sunrise/dawn. This inspiring unisex name is best suited for people who have a deep desire for beauty in their work and home environment. They tend to be leaders rather than followers. As unique and creative individuals, they may resent conformity.
Notable persons: Actress Akeno Watanabe, who is known for her varied performances as a voice actress for anime films.
Meaning and origin: a beautiful person; light and bright; sparkle. People with this female name (notice that indicating ‘ko’ at the end of the name, hmm?) tend to be quiet, cooperative, and trustworthy. They can be counted on to keep someone’s confidences and are expected to make excellent diplomats, mediators, and partners.
Notable persons:Princess Akiko (Member of the Japanese Imperial family) and actress Akiko Yada, who has landed many roles in both television series and films.
Meaning and origin: flower blossom; bud. This female name is popular in many different countries, including Arabic-speaking cultures and Eastern Europe. This gentle-sounding name did not appear on the American baby-naming charts until 1994, while its alternative, Hannah, is a popular throwback to the Old Testament and is wildly popular even today.
A Pillar of Strength
In an interesting contrast to the Japanese version, the alternative Hebrew version of Hannah is reserved for a persistent woman, instead of a gentle, bright blossom. Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel in the Bible.
As the story goes, Hannah was desperate for a child and did everything in her power to become a mother. She even promised God she would devote her only child to Him if she ever became a mother. Her persistence paid off when she bore Samuel, and she kept her word to God.
Notable persons: Hana Mandlikova, Czech professional tennis player
Meaning and origin: fragrance; sweet; smell; perfume. This popular name is traditionally used for a female. A person with this name is thought to be friendly, fun, and energetic. She is passionate and well-rounded.
Notable persons: Actress Kaori Momoi – who is a well-respected actress and singer -- and novelist Kaori Ekuni, author of bestseller Twinkle Twinkle, which has been translated into English.
Meaning and origin: companion child; beauty child. People with this female name are said to be very compassionate, with a desire to give to others.
Notable persons: Actress Kumiko Aso, known for Pulse and Dr. Akagi, and politician Kumiko Aihara (with no reflection at all on Ms. Aihara’s political performance or intentions, how ironic is it that the “companion child” grew up to become a politician?).
Meaning and origin: thunder. This female name is meant for someone who will possess many talents. Nariko is witty, clever, and good at presenting ideas. She is typically quite popular.
Notable persons: Voice actress Nariko Nagai.
9 Nobu (long form can be Nobuyuki)
Meaning and origin: enduring and prolonging. Someone with the male name Nobu is thought to be an introverted soul. He is pragmatic and rational, but is also one to be relied upon. Ultimately, he enjoys peace and quiet and to be one with nature.
Notable persons: Chef and restaurateur Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa (Perhaps, he only uses ‘natural’ ingredients to honor his name. Who knows?)
Meaning and origin: lawful; manages state of affairs. Boys with this name do not like to be governed by rules. This is perfect for the boy who marches to the tune of his own drum. People with this name have superior analytical and learning skills. They also have a deep desire for travel and adventure.
Notable persons: Producer Seiji Abe and actor Seiji Miyaguchi. The late producer is known for various television series, some accumulating up to 50 episodes. The late actor was known for his roles in Japanese movies, such as Seven Samurai, which was released in 1954.
Meaning and origin: long-lived; crane. People with this unisex name tend to be family-oriented. They need stable, loving families and a strong sense of community. There is also a desire for harmony and balance in their lives.
Notable persons: Japanese singer Suzu. Suzu is a young artist who many of us might know to release covers of Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus songs. With her talent, it’s likely that she feels a strong sense of community within the music industry.
Meaning and origin: strong like bamboo; warrior. A boy with this name is thought to have superior learning and analytical skills. They make wonderful teachers and scholars. Their high intellect causes them to be introverts, and they come across as sometimes aloof or melancholy as a result.
Notable persons: Football player Takeo Spikes (what a perfect last name for a Football player!)
Meaning and origin: bird. This unisex name is truly for a future entrepreneur. Tori has excellent judgment when it comes to money and financial planning. He/she is responsible to the core. This name is more often used for girls rather than boys.
In contrast, Tori is also a Scandinavian name, which means beautiful. Other spellings are Torey and Toree.
Perhaps the most familiar name to us, you might not have guessed that this one has origins across the globe.
Notable persons: Musician Tori Kudo, member of the Japanese music ensemble Maher Shalal Hash Baz
Meaning and origin: Intelligent boy. When parents name their child Toshiro, they have great things in store for him. Toshiro is thought to do a variety of things well. He is a clever and analytical thinker. Additionally, he is thought to have a large circle of friends and is very upbeat.
Notable persons: Astronomer Toshiro Nomura and composer Toshiro Masuda (I guess they weren’t kidding when they said Toshiros yield wide and varied talents and abilities!)
Meaning and origin: complacent; satisfied. Your baby will be a born leader with this unique name. Males with the name Tadao tend to be optimistic, with an inner desire to supervise and lead. They make friends easily and have a spark of rebellion in them. They fight being restricted by rules and love the freedom of making their own decisions.
There must have been one hell of a transition between the “complacent” origin of the name Tadao and the expectations of Tadao to be rebellious and avant-garde. Perhaps, that contrast makes this name the most versatile of all! If you want your baby to have free reign over his destiny, name him Tadao and watch lovingly as he blossoms.
Notable persons: Architect Tadao Ando.
Meaning and origin: prized child. Yuriko is typically a generous and helpful child. She works well with others, and friendships, love, and affection are of utmost importance.
Notable persons: Actress Yuriko Kikuchi (also known as Rinko Kikuchi), known for her roles in Pacific Rim and Babel
1 Yuto (also Yuuto)
Meaning and origin: gentleness; superiority. Last, but certainly not least, a person with this male name is considered to be quick-thinking and witty. He enjoys a good challenge and is a true man of conquest. He is an imaginative and sensitive soul who enjoys his freedom.
Notable persons: Athlete Yuto Nagatomo
After one look at your beautiful baby, one of these Japanese-inspired names, rich in meaning and culture, might just tickle your fancy. If you’re struggling to find something beautiful, strong, or creative enough to really honor the greatness of your growing bundle, consider choosing one of these Japanese names that are saturated in culture, meaning, and inspiration.
Sometimes, you just feel a special connection to a name (which is totally understandable here, but of course we think that – we picked them!). Whatever motivates you, we hope you find a name that fulfills all of your expectations, dreams, and desires for your adorable mini-me. Choose whatever name feels ‘right’ and the most fitting and don’t look back!