In many English-speaking countries, it’s common to name children after a parent or relative. My dad, oldest brother, and nephew all share the same first name, for example, which provides a link through the generations, plus makes it easy for my mom to simultaneously call them for dinner.
This isn’t really done in Japan, though, and not being tethered to the past means that baby name trends can gather or lose momentum quickly. Recently, Japan is seeing more and more kirakira names. Kirakira literally means “sparkly,” and usually either the combination of kanji characters used to write the name, or the pronunciation itself, is flowery and unique.
But as a list of the top 20 for girls shows, kirakira names aren’t always just flashy, sometimes they’re downright sweet.
The list was compiled based on data submitted through the free smartphone app Free Baby Naming during the 2013 calendar year.
The same kanji character can often be read in multiple ways, which is why many names on the list have more than one possible pronunciation. Likewise, kanji can sometimes have different meanings depending on context, so a few of the names have two likely interpretations.
For purposes of the study, kirakira names were defined as those containing at least one of these four characters:
笑 (warai/smile, laughter)
Maybe the boisterous connotation of “laughter” was seen as too unladylike, but for whatever reason, no name with 笑 cracked the top 20. The other three kanji, however, each made multiple appearances on the list.
20. Ayu / 愛結 – “love joining”
19. Minori / 海愛 – “love of the sea”
18. Ria / 莉愛 – “jasmine love”
17. Minori / 望愛 – literally “love of the full moon;” also “full of love”
16. Kokoro, Miu, or Miyu / 心優 – “excellent heart” or “kind heart”
15. Kokono or Koharu / 心暖 – “warm heart”
14. Aimi, Ako, or Ami / 愛心 – “loving heart”
13. Yumeka / 夢叶 – “dreams come true”
12. Himena / 姫愛 – “princess’ love”
11. Kokone, Kotone / 心音 – “sound of the heart”
10. Seia / 星愛 – “love of the stars”
9. Yura, Mei, Yua / 結愛 – “joined love”
8. Ai, Aina, Aoi, Aki, Naruki / 愛生 – “birth of love”
7. Koko, Kokoro / 心 – “heart”
6. Kanamu, Kaname, Kanon / 叶夢 – “fulfilled dream”
5. Ai, Aki, Naruki / 愛姫 – “beloved princess”
4. Aine, Anon, Ayane / 愛音 – “sound of love”
3. Yume / 夢 – “dream”
2. Ai, Aki, Megumu – 愛 – “love”
And the number one kirakira name for 2013:
1. Kokoa, Kokona – 心愛 – “heart’s love”
Despite the elegant, deeply emotional meaning of the top choice, it seems pretty obvious that new parents were at least partly swayed by the sweet, warming images it conjures up when said aloud, as kokoa is also the Japanese word for hot cocoa.
We should mention that not everyone is behind kirakira naming, as both politicians and medical professionals have spoken out against the practice. Still, moms and dads in Japan have been giving their kids unique names for at least a century, and society hasn’t collapsed yet.
We’ve yet to come across someone who doesn’t like hot cocoa and feel just a little bit better after a cup. If parents want their raise their child to be part of a similar cycle of shared happiness, and give them a name to that effect, they’ll get no complaints from us.