Japanese names consist of a family name, followed by a given name. In the West, Japanese names are normally written in the reverse order. For example, the author Kawabata Yasunari is known in the West as Yasunari Kawabata. Note that some authors in the West use the Japanese format.
Family Names (Surnames)
Commoners were not allowed to use family names until after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when they were allowed to create a surname or borrow an existing one. Family names usually are written with two Chinese characters (kanji), which may or may not have related meanings. For example, "Yamamoto" means "base of the mountain." However, some surnames consist of one or three or more characters. Because there are thousands of kanji and thus millions of possible combinations, Japan probably has more family names than any other country.
Matsushita (Below the Pine), Saito, Sato, Suzuki (Bell Tree), Watanabe, Yamamoto (Base of the Mountain).
Common Components of Surnames
The number of possible given names is practically limitless. Some names are exclusively female or male, while others can be either. Note that some names (e.g., Jun) have many different meanings, depending on the kanji used to write it.
Female Given Names
Female names usually, but not always, end in "ko," which means child. Common female names include Akiko (Autumn Child), Haruko (Spring Child), Jun'ko, Keiko, Kiyoko, Michiko, Natsuko (Summer Child), Sachiko, Yoshiko (Good Child), and Yukiko (Snow Child). Note that all names ending in "ko" are not necessarily female. For example, the male name Norihiko.
Male Given Names
Male names sometimes indicate the order of birth, using the suffix -ro, the counter for sons. For example, Ichiro (first son), Jiro (second son), Saburo (third son), Shiro (fourth son), Goro (fifth son), and so on. Common male names include Hiroshi, Ken and its many variants (Kenji, Ken'ichi), Yoshi, etc.
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