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Bicultural Japanese baby names

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Written by Mary Fetzer   

America is a melting pot, and our names prove it. No longer is it the norm to choose a first name of the same ethnicity as the surname. And that's good for bicultural families who want to honor multiple ethnic backgrounds. But the process can be tricky for some intermarried parents, particularly Japanese-American couples.

Children of blended cultural backgrounds can face challenges that the average all-American Joe doesn't have to deal with. Japanese tradition calls parents to capture appropriate kanji characters for their babies' names. When combined with another culture, however, there is more than kanji to consider.

Will the child's name take into consideration both ethnicities and their related histories and cultural expectations? Will such a name be one that can easily be pronounced and understood both in the U.S. and in Japan?

Understanding Japanese naming rules


Consider using a Japanese first name — one that's easy to pronounce and spell. Japan does not have a legal structure for middle names, so it may be a good idea to save non-Japanese names for the center spot.

Japanese law does not look kindly on hyphenated last names, according to Kaori Mori Want, an associate professor at Shibaura Institute of Technology. So, you'll have to get culturally creative with the first and middle names.

For travelers, following the rules is important, unless you want to get hung up in passport purgatory.

Helping others get your kid's Japanese name


Romaji are Japanese words written in Roman characters. And some of the letters, like Rs, are pronounced differently. Additionally, there is typically no emphasis on any one syllable.

Mariko, for example, is pronounced mar-ee-koh and not MAR-ee-koh or mar-EE-koh. Expect others, including family, friends, neighbors and your kids' teachers, to get it wrong. Writing names in Japanese is even more challenging: There are four Japanese alphabets!

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Try one of these uncomplicated Japanese names.

12 Japanese names for girls


  • Amai (ah-my): Sweet      
  • Akiko (ah-kee-koh): Autumn
  • Chou (cho-oo): Butterfly
  • Emi (ay-mee): Beautiful blessing
  • Hana (hah-nah): Flower
  • Hoshi (hoh-shee): Star
  • Kaori (kah-oh-ree): Fragrant
  • Mai (mye): Dance
  • Mariko (mah-ree-koh): Child
  • Rei (ray): Lovely
  • Rina (ree-nah): Jasmine
  • Sakura (sah-koo-rah): Cherry blossom

12 Japanese names for boys


  • Arata (ah-rah-tah): Fresh
  • Haruki (hah-roo-kee): Sunshine
  • Kaito (ky-toh): Ocean
  • Kenji (ken-jee): Study
  • Masaru (mah-sah-roo): Victory
  • Naoki (nah-oh-kee): Honest
  • Sentaro (sen-tah-roh): Steel
  • Shigeru (shee-geh-roo): Luxuriant
  • Sora (soh-rah): Sky
  • Takashi (tah-kah-shee): Noble
  • Tsubasa (tsoo-bah-sah): Winged
  • Yuki (yoo-kee): Happiness
  • Yuma (yoo-mah): Leisurely

More baby name tips


How to find a fantastic ancestral name
Coping with baby name regret
The right baby name for your surname

Photo credit: marimarik/Flickr

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