Do Japanese Have Middle Names?

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In Western areas, it’s pretty much accepted that most people have a middle name.

In fact, around 80% of people have one. It’s believed that middle names began appearing as early as the 13th century in Italy.

Japanese do not have middle names
Do Japanese have middle names?

Many people presume middle names are common everywhere but do Japanese have middle names?

The quick answer is no, Japanese people do not have middle names. The idea of giving or having a middle name is an alien concept in Japan and there are no places to include them on official documents like passports, forms, or family registries (their equivalent to birth certificates and marriage certificates).

In this article, we’ll talk about Japanese naming conventions and look at some of the most popular names in Japan.

Do Japanese people have middle names? Japanese naming conventions

As mentioned above, there are no middle names in Japan. Japanese have a given name and a surname.

There are some similarities with other countries in that a person’s surname is usually inherited from their father.

Also, women typically adopt their husband’s surname when they marry.

Unlike in the English-speaking world, in Japan, the surname comes first.

Japanese naming conventions explained
Japanese naming conventions

So, while we might call the famous Japanese actor Yutaka Takenouchi, in Japan, he is referred to as Takenouchi Yutaka.

It’s more common to see Japanese names written in Chinese characters or kanji as they’re called in Japan. So, our famous actor is 竹野内 豊.

The only time you will see a middle name in Japan is when a foreigner is there. They simply do not exist otherwise.

Japanese Surnames

There are lots of different surnames in Japan.

The Japanese electronic dictionary of names, the Enamdict, has over 138,500 different surnames.

Usually, a person’s surname is in kanji and is formed with two characters like 竹野 for Takenouchi. It is possible to have only one kanji like in the name 所 (Tokoro).

The majority of Japanese surnames are straightforward to read. However, there can be more than one way to read the same characters.

What’s More – It’s common to have a place name as a surname too.

The top three surnames in Japan are 佐藤 (Sato), 鈴木 (Suzuki), and 高橋 (Takahasi).

What is the lower name in Japan?

When you hear Japanese people referring to the lower name, they are talking about a given name.

This given name is called the lower name because when it is written in Japanese vertically, it appears underneath the surname.

In Japan, a baby’s given name must use characters that come from a list of 2,200 that is sanctioned by the government.

The reason for this is because of how time-consuming it is to learn so many characters.

High school students know about 2,000 characters while university graduates might know around 3,000.

Only the very well-educated would know as many as 4,000, which is why there is such a limit for names.

Officials also reserve the right to refuse a name, even if it uses characters from the list.

In 1993, for example, a couple wanted to call their child Akuma, which means devil, and this was rejected.

Even though there are regulations on the characters, there is no regulation on how those characters are interpreted or pronounced.

Since Japanese given names in kanji can be read in different ways, most forms will also be required a name to be written in furigana too. This is the phonetic spelling of the name.

Common given names for boys in Japan

Traditionally, boys names were linked to their birth order.

For example, you might come across Yuichi, meaning ‘heroic first son’, Shinji, meaning ‘true second son’, or Goro, meaning fifth son.

Common names for boys in Japan listed
Common names for boys in Japan

Nowadays, there are many popular boy names and their popularity has grown due to well-known actors, musicians, baseball players, and the like.

Here are some examples of popular Japanese baby names for boys:

  • Hiroto (big flight)
  • Ichiro (firstborn son)
  • Kenji (wise second/healthy child/healthy second)
  • Kenta (large and strong)
  • Riku (wise sky/nice cool sky)
  • Kaito (supportive person)

There are also some common Japanese boys names that are inspired by nature.

These include:

  • Haru (meaning born in spring)
  • Haruto (sunlight or sun)
  • Ren (unisex, meaning lotus)
  • Itsuki (tree)

Common characteristics of Japanese boys names

If you see a name that ends in hiko, hei, or suke, these are usually male.

Also, names that end in o or shi tend to be male too.

Common given names for girls in Japan

Because of manga and anime, Japanese girls names are more well known in the English-speaking world.

Common characteristics of Japanese girl names
Common names for girls in Japan

Here are some of the most popular Japanese girls names:

  • Akari (red plum)
  • Asahi (morning sun)
  • Akiki (glistening or bright child)
  • Hana (flower)
  • Fumiko (beautiful child)
  • Chiyo (a thousand generations)
  • Yua (affection or love)
  • Yumi (beautiful)

Like boys names, it’s common to be inspired by nature when naming a girl.

Popular nature-inspired names in Japan include:

  • An (apricot)
  • Aoi (hollyhock flower)
  • Fuji (wisteria)
  • Ayaka (fragrant summer/colorful flower)
  • Sakura (cherry blossom)
  • Sora (sky)
  • Suzuki (bell tree)

Common characteristics of Japanese girl names

Names that end in yo, mi, ko, or e are typically female names.

You’ll also see names that end in ka and na being given to girls.

Japanese girl is wearing pink red hakama

It’s more common to see girls names being written in hiragana compared to boys.

When a girl’s name ends in ko, this means ‘child’.

Common examples include:

  • Eriko
  • Asako
  • Aiko
  • Sakiko
  • and Tadako

When the name ends in mi, this means ‘beauty’.

Common examples include:

  • Ami
  • Nomi
  • Mutsumi
  • Remi
  • Romi
  • and Yumi

Final thoughts on do Japanese have middle names

As we’ve seen, Japanese people do not have middle names.

Some people often ask do people with mixed Japanese and foreign parentage have middle names? To which the answer is yes.

One of the only times you’ll see a Japanese person with a middle name is if they have mixed parentage.

Another time you might see something like a middle name is when an author uses an initial in the middle of their two names.

The reason for this is to distinguish them from someone else with the same name.

All in all, though, it’s so rare to have a middle name in Japan that you won’t find a space to write it anywhere, no matter what form you’re filling in!

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