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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Banned Japanese Name

What's in a name?

Regular readers will note that whenever I write out a Japanese person's name in this blog, I always write the surname/family name FIRST, followed by the given name, trying to add the kanji writing where possible.

I don't know if you ever noticed, but when I write a Japanese name, I don't give a middle initial or name… unlike myself: J. Andrew M. S. Joseph….

In Japan, middle names are usually not given. I'm sure some do, but it is defiantly not the norm.

There is a Japanese Family Registry known as a koseki (戸籍).

Like most countries, Japanese law says the household MUST report all births, deaths, marriages, divorces, acknowledgement of paternity, adoptions and even 'disruption' of adoption (which means the adoption WAS going to take place, but for whatever reason it did not).

All of these things are reported to the local political entity… in my case, it was the Ohtawara City Hall, where they also happened to note when I became a visiting resident in their burg, as well as when I left… they also took my then-valid Alien Registration card when I was leaving… meaning my best form of identification was my passport. If you are visiting Japan for a short stay - always have that passport on your person, because police can stop you and hold you depending on their mood, regardless if you have done anything or not. That likely won't happen, though. The Japanese police may not be the most competent folk when it comes to stopping crimes (personal opinion), but they aren't a$$holes.

There are apparently 100,000 different Japanese surnames being used today.

With a population of approximately 127,000,000  - that means that for every 1,270 people, there will be some duplication or at the very least a distant relation.

I can speak from experience and say that the following is correct: The three most common Japanese family names are: Satō (佐藤), Suzuki (鈴木), and Takahashi (高橋), and are as common as Lee and Li in China or Smith & Jones or maybe even Johnson in North America.

Where do names come from? Some families picked up a surname depending on the region they were born in (Raby - as in Raby Castle), their profession (like Cooper), or honorific thing {Johnson is son of John… Robert son of John (Johnson) ... Later becoming  William son of Robert (Robertson)} implying that surnames would constantly be changing in a family line).

Takahashi, for example, means high bridge… or maybe it could mean big wood… either way, it could relate to where the family lived, or perhaps the father's work as a laborer, or that was the name of the lord whose land they lived on…. who probably picked the name from the above ways, too.

What is very interesting, of course, of that according to Japanese Family Registration Law, there is a list of 2,323 official kanji characters that can be utilizes as part of a name… this is for both the surname and given name.

Obviously, of these 2,323 kanji characters are mixed and matched to create the 100,000 or so surnames, as well as the plethora of given names for both male and females.

While there many options available for Japanese parents, there are still restrictions on what one can name a child… and regardless of wishes, the Japanese Family Registry takes its responsibilities seriously.

Perhaps it was merely a joke attempt, but back in 1993, the father of a Japanese child wanted to call his son "Akuma (悪魔)", which sounds all nice and powerful, but it literally means 'Devil'.

The Japanese Akuma is supposed to be an evil fire spirit/demon with a huge flaming head, with eyes made of flame, and he (yes, he's male) carries a large sword which he swing as he flies through the air.

If you see an Akuma, it is considered to be very bad luck - no kidding.

The Japanese authorities thought this name was an abuse of a parent's right to name a child, and so took the father to court, with the father eventually backing down and opting for a name less troublesome.
When asked why he chose Akuma, the father said he noticed a mysterious birthmark on the head… no, not 6-6-6, but rather a strangely spelt word: DCLXVI, and felt the Japanese translation would be devilishly perfect.

Of course, I'm kidding about that whole last paragraph. DCLXVI is the Roman Numeral equivalent for 666, as in six hundred and sixty-six. Ha-ha.

If the father knew about the whole bad luck causing thing surrounding the akuma, he may have wanted to give everyone the crap luck... failing to realize that he would have also been the recipient of bad luck while he was around his bouncing baby demon.

This isn't the only case of a name being banned in Japan, but it seems to be it's most infamous, as my casual search of the Internet only makes a ritualistic offering of this example.

Now… let's not all jump on the Japan hating bandwagon, in 2011, Pope Benedict said good Christians should refrain from using names after celebrities, fruit or automobiles, and should concentrate more on names from the Christian calendar.

So don't call your daughter Lemon, your boy Beyonce, and definitely reconsider naming your daughter Porsche unless you are okay with her opting for a career as an exotic dancer. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I have known dancers with the faux car name of Porsche, Sierra, Lexus, and Hatchback (don't ask). (Kidding.)

"Gentlemen start your engines! Now appearing on Stage 3, Porsche!!!!"

Yes, I actually have heard that in the past in a few different locales.

In Denmark, parents can't call their kid "Anus:, Germany didn't care for "Miatt" because it wasn't easily determinable to know if it's a boy or girl's name, Mexico said aye-yi-yi-yi-yi to "Facebook" as a name, and Saudi Arabia seems like they had the biggest stick up their anus (sorry Denmark).

Saudia Arabia has banned such blasphemous and inappropriate names as "Malaak (Angel)", "Malika (Queen)", "Amir (Prince)", "Linda", "Elaine" and even, curiously, "Alice". 

Hey… to each their own. I'm a strong proponent to the fact that a strong sounding name helps produce a positive reaction in others, but at the same time, while one can not discount the power of the Devil (Akuma), at least give the kid a chance not to be a pariah.

My name, Andrew, in English, means "Masculine". 
The kanji equivalent I used while in Japan means: "Peaceful-Leader-Dragon".  

I like MY name. 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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