Scroll down for a list of all the kanji mentioned in this column.

Kanji Clinic #61 The Japan Times, October 14, 2004
"New options raise the stakes in the 'Name That Baby' kanji game"

Since middle names are not used in Japan, the parents of a newborn need only agree on one name for their offspring. This is probably just as well, because choosing a kanji name involves a whole host of complex considerations. While some couples settle on a name written in kana (Japanfs phonetic script), the majority opt for a moniker of one to three kanji for their little bundles of joy.

Many new parents uphold the tradition of consulting fortunetelling charts to determine whether a potential name is "auspicious," based on the number of strokes in the characters comprising it. The pronunciation of each kanji must be decided upon, with obscure options often available, and the given and family names must sound harmonious together. The meanings of the characters are also of critical importance, reflecting, as they often do, the hopes parents hold for their child.

Since 1990, the Justice Ministry has limited the kanji allowed for use in Japanese personal names to those among the 1,945 general-use (joyo) kanji and 285 name (jinmei) kanji. Beginning last month, however, a wide range of new naming options became available: Responding to public pressure, the ministry has increased the number of jinmei kanji by 488, bringing the total number to 773.

The working group charged with choosing the additional characters first drew up a proposed list, based on frequency of use, from the Japan Industrial Standards (JIS 1 and 2) kanji lists. The public was then invited to voice its opinion on which candidates were inappropriate for use in names. Approximately 90 JIS kanji were axed from the initial list-- including gant,h ghemorrhoid,h gmother-in-law,h and gdebauchery.h (These ill-fated kanji will be the topic of the next Kanji Clinic.)

Many of the characters that did survive the cut to become jinmei kanji seem unlikely to appear with any regularity on elementary-school rosters in the coming years. These include the characters for mundane household objects such as gchopsticks,h gtiles,h and gpots.h Ditto body parts garmpith and gkidney,h sea creatures gshrimph and gsardine,h and the verbs gto crawlh and gto lose weight.h gBeeh also seems something of a long shot, with ghoneyh a bit more likely, perhaps for a girlfs name. The odds seem long for the likes of glonely,h gclaw,h or gmochi (rice cake)h being widely used in names for either gender.

Some of the new jinmei kanji, however, do possess the potential to emerge as serious players in the gName That Babyh game. Watch for gStrawberryh to press its way into the Top 10 list of girlsf names within a year or so. Japanese parents are also now free to name their daughters gApple,h just as American movie actress Gwenyth Paltrow recently did. Given that girlsf names containing the kanji for gpeach,h gpear,h and gapricoth are already common, newcomers gmelonh and gpersimmonh may also attract interest.

The current boom in flower-kanji monikers for girls-- as evidenced by gHollyhockh (Aoi) and gBudh (Moe) in the 2003 Top 10 girlsf names list--is likely to continue: Kikyou (bellflower) and Nadeshiko (pink--the flower) are comprised of new jinmei kanji, and the Japanese media has them pegged to become hot new names. Other promising nature newcomers include "birch, (comprised of the components for 'tree' and 'flower')" "amber, ('white' plus 'king')," and "raindrop ('rain' and 'under')." (See the list below).

For boys born in the next few years in the Japanese archipelago, look for newly allowed nautical-kanji like grudder,h ggunwale,h and gseagullh to make a splash. In addition to seagull, a flock of other bird-kanji-- gswallow,h gheron,h gcrow,h and gwild duckh--are new jinmei characters, but the soaring geagleh seems the bird most likely to land in the list of popular boysf names. Kanji representing gwingh and gflyh appear in four names in the 2003 Top 10 boysf list, reflecting parentsf hopes that their sons will ascend to great heights in life.

gHillock,h the second character in place names gShizuokah and gFukuokah is now available for use in personal names, and may begin to pop up in boysf names. The kanji representing gKoreah is also a jinmei newcomer; one hopes that the current boom in Japan for Korean television dramas will do its part to eat away at lingering discrimination against ethnic Koreans and bring this character into contention in the name game.

It remains to be seen how many parents will use the additional jinmei kanji to craft brand new names for their little ones. In the coming months, make a point of asking new Japanese parents the meanings of the kanji in their babiesf names, and donft forget to check whether they considered any of the newcomers discussed in todayfs column.

Read another column about baby names.

Kanji mentioned in this column:
ant: a
debauchery: (captivate), as in S (debauchery)
lose weight:
bee: I
apple: ь (the second character is newly allowed)
melon: Z
persimmon: `
bud: G
bellflower: j[ (both characters are newly allowed)
pink (flower): q (the first character is newly allowed)
birch, autumn foliage:
wild duck:
eagle: h

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