Japanese names
  • I was wondering if some one could help me figure out the meaning of a few names.
    I got a book with exercises where they use a few names and, as I try not to write in romaji at all but mostly in kana or kanji, I come across quite a few kanji that I try to learn.
    So at one point I read the name Mishima Yukio that's written 三島由紀夫. I was wondering if someone could tell me if the meaning of 由紀夫 (Yukio) was something like 'Origin of the History of Man' and if it carries some kind of deeper meaning like what would this origin be.
    I have a few more names that also appear to have a rather obscure translation but let's start with this one first.
  • It isn't like a direct translation as such, but more often about the image/feeling people get from different kanji. The name ゆきお could be written several ways (for example, 幸男, 行夫). Most names that end in something like ~夫 ~男, etc, can probably be read as something like "such and such type of man", e.g. something like 勇男 is pretty obvious.

    Here are some comments from a thread on the "meaning" of 紀 in a name (they're talking about the name 紀子 so most of the commenter are women):
    (in this case, her name is 美紀, her parents were born in the 紀州 area, so the intended meaning of her name is "beautiful 紀州")

    (in the dictionary the meaning is "the beginning of things". Her father said they decided on that character because she was the eldest daughter.

    (even when I asked my mother, she said it didn't have a particular origin).

    由 and 紀 both have sort of a "history/origins" type feel to them, and both are quite common in names, separately or together. 三島由紀夫 was the pen name of a writer (born 平岡 公威), so maybe he liked 紀 for it's connection to written history, e.g. from the 日本書紀 and similar.
  • Okay thanks.
    Yeah I saw for example the name 'Akemi' has over 15 translations possible in kanji.

    Also another question if you're able to help me, maybe you read the kojiki/古事記, and I had a pretty hard time remembering all the characters in it, especially since some of them appear in one chapter and then reappear a few chapter later while you completely forgot who he/she was.
    So the question is, does the names of the god/goddess/mikoto have a special meaning? or is it also something that has more to do with where they were born or the feeling attached to certain kanji?
    I had an English version so the names were in romaji and not in kanji so I was a bit guessing what the names could mean.
    For example, some kami/mikoto I remember: Ame No Minakanushi No Kami, Takami Musubi No Kami, Kami Musubi No Kami, Amaterasu Ookami or Takehaya Susanowo No Mikoto.

  • These are not like standard names. They probably can be more directly translated if you must (ama/ame here is heavens, not rain, so Amaterasu = shining in heaven or something of the short).

    I'm not overly familiar with these but you can probably find kanji for the better-known ones on wikipedia or something. For some there will be multiple versions (the names pre-date the introduction of kanji so spelling in early documents varies a lot).
  • Awesome, thanks for your help.
    Yeah I found some of the names on wikipedia but some are tough to find on the internet. Beside Ame No Minakanushi No Kami, Amaterasu Ookami or Susanowo and a few others, you don't find much information about them.
    I guess I'll have to work on my japanese a few more years and try to grab an original japanese version.

    Thanks a lot once again. I feel a little bit less stupid right now :D lol.
  • In modern Japanese, names from the Kojiki are often written in katakana. Presumably this is partly because they are difficult to read in kanji, but I think also because in some cases the kanji don't have specific meanings, but just represent sounds.

    In any case, for Susanoo, for example it is unclear what exactly the name means, though there are different explanations. It's not especially easy to read, but some theories are written in the JWiki article in the third paragraph on this link:
  • I guess what I'm trying to say is that the names would have come from an oral tradition first, with the kanji added later. In some cases the kanji would have been chosen to match the meaning, but sometimes they seem to just represent sound (perhaps because the original meaning had been forgotten). So sometimes it doesn't especially help to see the name in Japanese.
  • Thank you Richard,
    My japanese isn't good enough yet to use the JWiki but I'm working on it lol.
    Anyhow I see what you mean. The Kojiki having been written during the 7th century or so , chances are a good part of the original meaning has been lost if not only by the fact that it was written in Chinese at that time.
    You pretty much end up with the same problems as with the Art of War of Sun Tsu although it's much older. Despite the fact that many scholars studied it through out the different eras, time plus the difficult translation from Chinese to european languages make it hard to fully understand these valuable works.
    But in the end I've found the overall translation of these books pretty satisfying.

    Thanks again both of you.

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