What’s in a name? In Japan, those with a strong understanding of kanji, those pesky Chinese characters that are always tripping up language learners, can immediately understand the significance of anyone’s appellation.
Although the most common surname in Japan is “Sato,” it turns out that there’s a far more popular name combination that doesn’t include our quirkiest reporter‘s last name. Let’s take a look at the most common given and family names in Japan and the meanings behind them.
According to the findings of family name researcher, Hiroshi Morioka, the most common full name in Japan is “Minoru Tanaka.” This peculiar scientist studied the registered names of males in the phonebook to come to his conclusion. He also found that his own name, Hiroshi, was the most common first name, but there were many different ways of creating it. Variations of “Hiroshi” include 宏, 博史, and 比呂志, among others. He also found that the most common kanji used in male given names was 実 (meaning “honesty” or “integrity”) followed by 清 (meaning “pure”).
It’s worth noting that the surname, Tanaka, is only the fourth most common in all of Japan. Mr. Morioka concluded that in many cases, family names are purposefully related to a chosen first name. He hypothesizes that the reason “Minoru Tanaka” is the most common full name in Japan is because the kanji used (田中実) can be interpreted to mean “to ripen in the rice field” (in Japanese, 田の中で実る). This reflects the close traditional relationship the Japanese have with rice and agriculture. The second most popular full name, Shigeru Suzuki (鈴木茂), incorporates the Chinese characters for “tree” (木) and “to grow thick” (茂), another fitting name combination inspired by agriculture. In case you’re interested, the third and fourth most common male full names were Minoru Suzuki (鈴木実) and Kiyoshi Sato (佐藤清).
So what really is in a name? In Japan, actually a whole lot.