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Trends in Japanese names as they change over time

Trends in Japanese names as they change over time
Trends in Japanese names as they change over time

Popular names change with the period. Certain names are trendy in each generation. This is because names change with the influence of each period, events, society, celebrities, etc. For Japanese people, they might often guess the generation in which a person was born just by listening to their name. Here is a recent history o of some naming trends.

Name Trends before World War II (~1944)

Around 1910s-1930s, the most popular name for boys was “清 (Kiyoshi)”. It had been at the top of the “Popular Name Rankings” for nearly 30 years.
The meaning of the word “清” is innocence and purity. It was said that this may have come from the moral values that people had at the time. This may become the basis for the integrity of the Japanese people’s character today.

During the same period, “清” was also popular for a girls name and it comes with “子(ko)” then made it ”清子(Kiyoko)”. And from this period onwards, women’s names almost always ended in “子(Ko)”. e.x. 文子(Fumiko), 幸子(Sachiko), etc.
The “子(ko)” was used as a name for an upper-class woman, then it spread around general people. The name “子(ko)” created an impression of elegance and nobility, which was popular in those days.

In the 1940s, “勝(Masaru)”, “勇(Isamu)” and ”武(Takeshi)” became popular names for boys. “勝” means victory. “勇” means bravery, and ”武” is a warrior.
Interestingly, a popular name among girls was also “勝子(Katsuko)”. This was a time when Japan was in the midst of the Second World War. You can see the historical context of the period reflected in the popular name choices of the time.

Name Trends after World War II (1945~)

After the year that World War II ended, names like “勝(Masaru)”, “勇(Isamu)” and ”武(Takeshi)” were no longer in vogue. Boys were popularly named ”稔(Minoru)” and “豊(Yutaka)”. Both mean that the grain will be fertile.
Also, the names “恵子(Keiko)” and “幸子(Sachiko)” were popular at this time for girls’ names. The meaning of “恵” is grace and boon and “幸” is happiness. It showed that people were looking for happiness in the new world during the hard times right after the war. Perhaps that might be a sign of people’s desire to create a new generation after the war is over.

The influence of television? the name trends of the 1960s and 80s

For nearly two decades, starting in 1960, the boy’s name ”誠(Makoto)” was very popular as a trendy name. The meaning of ”誠” is loyalty. It has been said that this may have reflected the loyalty of workers to their companies during this time of rapid growth in Japan.
Also at this time, girls’ names began to end with “美(mi)” instead of “子(ko)”. (“美” means beauty.) For example, “直美(Naomi)” and ”明美(Akemi)” were the new trend, and names with ”子(ko)” slowly fading. (“直” is straightforward, ”明” is lighting.)

Unusual readings not found in dictionaries. The name trends in the 1990s-2000s

In the 1990s, the trend in names changed significantly and became even more creative. Increasingly, more and more boys’ names used characters that remind you of nature, such as “海 –meaning sea” and “翼 –meaning wings” in their names.
Also, kanji with a majestic and magnificent impression, such as “翔-meaning fly,” was becoming more popular.

Girls’ names also began to use kanji that were associated with nature and the seasons, such as ”桜 –meaning cherry blossoms” and “春 –meaning spring”.

At the same time, in the 2000s, with the spread of a culture that respects the individual, more and more parents are choosing to use names with unusual pronunciations that are not found in the dictionary.
For example, a boy’s name is “男” -meaning a boy, and its pronunciation is “Adam”. In Japanese, there is no way to read “Adam” with the kanji for “男”, but they use the kanji for “男” and apply the reading of “Adam” to it.

Latest Name Trends (2020~)

Until about 1960, the most popular names for boys were those using only one Chinese character. For example, as previously stated, “清(Kiyoshi)”, “勝(Masaru)”, “勇(Isamu)”. ”武(Takeshi)”, and ”誠(Makoto)” etc.
The fads may repeat themselves. Lately, the retro single-kanji names seem to be trending again as there’s a nostalgic feel to them. For example, “蓮(Ren)” -meaning lotus, “湊(Minato)” -meanig harbor, etc.

And girls’ names with ending “子(ko)” are attracting attention again. For example, “桜子(Sakurako)”, “梨子(Riko)” etc. (“梨” means pear.)
However, the difference from the old trend is the parents sometimes use of the other kanji instead of “子(ko)”. For instance, some people use the kanji ”湖” -meaning lake, ”心” -meaning heart, “来” -meaning coming. These are all pronouncing “ko”.

It’s interesting to see how name trends have shifted over time.

In 2021, the pandemic of COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the world, and I wonder how this event and future events will influence naming trends going forward.

Reference: 明治安田生命 名前ランキング

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