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Most common Okinawa family names

Most common Okinawa family names
Most common Okinawa family names

Okinawa travel map with local specialties (Shisa; tropical fruits; whale shark; hibiscus; palm tree; coral; tropical fish; starfish; strong Okinawan liquor; manta ray)

Have you been to Okinawa?
Okinawa is the most western part of Japan and has a population of 1.45 million. It is composed of 37 inhabited remote islands with magnificent nature. Many people from the Japanese mainland migrate to Okinawa for the amazing nature.
Also, it is a very popular holiday destination for Japanese people, as well as for weddings and honeymoons.

In Japan, people can tell whether a person is from Okinawa just by hearing his/ her family name. To those who have distinctive surnames, if we ask, “Are you from Okinawa?” we’ll usually get the right answer. This is because Okinawa people’s family name is very different from people from Japan’s mainland.

The history of Okinawa

Okinawa was once an independent country under the control of the “Ryukyu Kingdom”. At that time, it was not in the form of a family name and a given name during the former “Ryukyu Kingdom”. However, when an invasion by the people of the Satsuma clan began in 1609, the Okinawans were ordered to adopt a Japanese family name.

Naha, Okinawa, Japan at historic Shuri Castle during twilight.

Here are the most common Okinawa family names

  1. 比嘉 (Higa) Appx.50,800 people.
  2. 金城 (Kinjō) Appx.50,300 people.
  3. 大城 (Ōshiro) Appx.46,900 people.
  4. 宮城 (Miyagi) Appx.36,700 people.
  5. 新垣 (Arakaki, Aragaki, Shinoaki) Appx.29,900 people.
  6. 玉城 (Tamashiro, Tamaki) Appx.28,700 people.
  7. 上原 (Uehara) Appx.27,200 people.
  8. 島袋 (Shimabukuro, Shimabuku) Appx.24,400 people.
  9. 平良 (Taira) Appx.21,900 people.
  10. 山城 (Yamashiro) Appx.18,400 people.

Reference: 名字由来net

The Origin of Okinawa’s Family Name

比嘉 (Higa)  Click to speech ひが

More than 95% of the “Higa” surname in Japan live in Okinawa Prefecture.
The word “Higa” is based on the word “east”. The reason why it is the most common family name in Okinawa is that in Okinawa it was believed that God’s kingdom was located in the direction of the east, where the sun rises. And the direction of the east was sacred. Because of this, it is used as a family name in many places in Okinawa.

金城 (Kinjō)  Click to speech きんじょう

Nowadays, 金城(Kinjo) is commonly read as “Kinjō”, but it was originally “Kane-gusuku”. In Okinawa, there are many castles called ”Tama-gusuku”, “Naka-gusuku” and “Tomi-gusuku”.
“Gusuku” means castle (城), “金” means gold. As a family name, “金城” represents something precious and valuable.

大城 (Ōshiro)  Click to speech おおしろ

”大” means big, so “大城” means “Big castle”.
Some of the common surnames in Okinawa, such as “金城 (Kinjo)”, “大城(Oshiro)”, “玉城 (Tamashiro)” and “山城(Yamashiro)”, contains the word “城” – meaning is a castle. The reason for this is that it said during the Ryukyu period, there were many castle ruins in various places. Those became the names of places, and it is said that many people have taken their surname from the name of the place.

宮城 (Miyagi)  Click to speech みやぎ

The name comes from the name of a place that existed during the ”Ryukyu Kingdom”. The name used to read “Nā-gusuku”. “宮” is referred to a large house inhabited by a person of high status.

新垣 (Arakaki  Click to speech あらかき, Aragaki   Click to speech あらがき, Shinoaki   Click to speech しのあき)

It has its origins in a specific place, Arakaki Village, that existed during the ”Ryukyu Kingdom”. The “新” means new, “垣” means fence.

玉城 (Tamashiro Click to speech たましろ, Tamaki Click to speech たまき

The name came from the name of a place in the “Ryukyu Kingdom”. It was once called “Tama-gusuku”. In Okinawa, it is often called “Tamashiro”, but it is also sometimes called “Tamaki” in Japan mainland. “玉” means a beautiful and treasured piece of stone.

上原 (Uehara)  Click to speech うえはら

“上原” means a field in the higher part of the village. It is said that the name comes from the area named “Uehara” in Uruma city during the ”Ryukyu Kingdom”. The name was originally called “Ī-baru”.

島袋 (Shimabukuro  Click to speech しまぶくろ, Shimabuku  Click to speech しまぶく)

The only known origin of “島袋” is that it came from the name of a place during the Ryukyu period. In the Ryukyu period, it was called “Shimabuku”, but nowadays “Shimabukuro” is commonly used. “島” means island, 袋 means bag.

平良 (Taira)  Click to speech たいら

The name is said its origin is the name of a place in the Ryukyu period. It was originally called “Tēra”.
The name is said to be a character from the dialect “Pisa-ra” of the locals who lived in this region. “Pisa” means flat and “Ra” means land. However, there is no proof of this tradition. It is also said it was originated with the 12th century Taira clan – samurai clan – but this is also not known for certain.

山城 (Yamashiro)  Click to speech やましろ

”山城” is said to have originated from the name of a place named ”Yamashiro” in Uruma City, Okinawa Prefecture. It was once called ”Yama-gusuku. “山” means mountain.

There are nearly 300,000 different surnames in Japan, but there are only about 1,500 different surnames in Okinawa. If you met a person with the last name with these characteristics, you can ask them “Are you from Okinawa?” Even if the person is not from Okinawa themselves, he or she is likely to have Okinawa roots in their ancestry. You may have a lot of fun talking about Okinawa.

If you already have traveled to Japan’s mainland, you may feel Okinawa is a completely different country. I think one of the reasons for this is their name. Why don’t you go and discover the unusual names of the Okinawan people and enjoy the magnificent sea of Okinawa?

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