One of the first and most enduring gifts that a parent gives their child is the gift of a name. It is a gift that carries heavy responsibility. A name in some way shapes the child's character, because it is the first factor by which they learn to identify themselves. Therefore, a parent must give careful consideration to name selection. Japanese names present an interesting option. They may recall a sense of cultural pride in a family with Japanese roots, or foster individuality. However, it's important to become familiar with Japanese naming conventions before giving a baby Japanese names.
When it comes to the order of the name, Japan puts family names before given names. For example, a child known as "John Smith" in the West would be known as "Smith John" in Japan. Baby Japanese names, both family and given, are written in Kanji. Kanji is the most complicated of the three Japanese alphabets. It consists of Chinese pictographs. Because there are so many Kanji and each one has many different meanings, and can be combined in almost any way to form a name, Japan has a nearly infinite number of names to choose from.
There are some conventions of Japanese names that can help narrow down the choices for parents. For instance, traditionally, female names end in the suffix "-ko", meaning child or "-mi", meaning beauty, though many parents are beginning to move away from such traditions. The suffix "-ko" brings particular issues as the girl gets older and may not wish to be known as 'child'. Some of the most popular Japanese names for girls include "Ai" which means 'love', "Mai" which means 'dance', and "Mayu" which means 'true reason'. Male Japanese names traditionally end in "-shi" and "-o". Popular boys' names include "Ryuu" which means 'dragon' and "Shou", which means 'soar', Japanese male babies are also often named by birth order, using the suffix "-ro". For instance the word "ichi" meaning one, coupled with the suffix "-ro" forms the name "Ichiro" meaning "first son".
Japanese names are chosen for diverse reasons. Some parents choose names like "Yuudai" which means 'great hero' or "Sakura" which means 'prosperous' as a wish for the child's future. Others choose names to honor family traditions. Because of the importance of nature to the Japanese culture, many Japanese children are named for trees as in "Kaeda" which means maple, or for flowers as in "Sakura" which means 'cherry blossom'. Still, others choose names simply because they like the sound or the visual effect of the Kanji. If parents do choose Japanese names based on the sound or the visual effect they must be very careful. Because of the diversity of meanings implied by each Kanji, unfortunate names can occur quite accidentally.
Japanese names present a wide range of possibilities for parents wishing to grant their child a name that sets them apart from the many Williams, Johns, and Jennifers of the world. However, while original names may be appealing to parents, and offer the child a measure of individuality, overly exotic names may cause the child to feel alienated from other children with more conventional names.
Parents must be careful to fully understand the meaning of the name they have chosen, and be able to pronounce it. Lastly, they must offer the child a sense of pride in their given name, and the cultural references that it implies.