What’s in a name? New parents often look for a name that they hope will embody the spirit of their child or be something that their son or daughter can wear with pride throughout their life, but even the most heartfelt monicker can prove awkward when taken out of context, and can be more funny than beautiful when heard by speakers of other languages.
For Japanese parents, the meaning of kanji characters used for a child’s name are just as important as how it sounds. Recently, however, one young couple had the name they chose for their new baby daughter rejected when they attempted to register it at their local town hall. It was probably a good thing, though, since the characters they had chosen had an altogether different, rather unpleasant, meaning that the couple were completely unaware of.
It’s pretty common to see Westerners misuse Chinese characters, especially with their usage regarding tattoos, with scores of websites dedicated to pointing out hugely inappropriate words inked into people’s skin. In short, kanji can be tricky, and even native Japanese speakers make mistakes – deliberately or otherwise – when using them as names, with instances of misreadings becoming increasingly common as people rely more and more on their computer or smartphone’s auto-complete and kanji convertors, rarely writing the characters by hand.
So when one couple recently decided to call their child Mizuko, neither parent had any idea that they were on the verge of committing a terrible faux pas.
Written 水子, using the kanji for “water” and “child”, the name seemed innocent enough and was easy to read. Fortunately for the parents, however, a government employee spotted the name on their registration forms before they were officially submitted and pointed out its altogether different, entirely inappropriate meaning.
You see, the word 水子 (read chishi/mizuko), usually means a baby that has died in the womb either through abortion or miscarriage.
This city employee saved the parents, and their daughter, from an extremely embarrassing situation. But isn’t it worrying that young people aren’t aware of the meaning of this kanji?
The kanji use became widespread in the 1970s due to the increase of abortions in Japan. And while the word isn’t used as often today, it is still interesting that some people in the younger generations don’t know the meaning of the kanji, nor to avoid using it as a name for their beloved offspring.
▼”Not knowing the meaning of kanji and words is really troublesome, and depending on the situation, extremely embarrassing. At an unknown government office, parents wanted to give their kid the name ‘水子’ (Mizuko), but the employee at the registry window told them the meaning of the word and instructed them to find a new name. This is truly appalling. We have to teach people about correct Japanese.”[tweet https://twitter.com/hayamiy/statuses/475623611395371008 align=’center’]
When the news hit the Twitterverse, though, many users commented that this was the first time they had heard the meaning of these kanji together. It seems like this was a case of kanji falling in and out of use, and not a case of neglectful parents or a lack of education.
▼”On the other hand, the parents who wanted to name their child 水子 didn’t mean any offense and probably wanted their child to be lively and vibrant. When they discovered the meaning of the kanji and words, they changed the child’s name. It would be very unpleasant if someone had not told them the meaning of the kanji.”[tweet https://twitter.com/hayamiy/statuses/475624633236848640 align=’center’]
Prospective parents can look up the meaning of words in a dictionary or they can ask older generations of the meaning. It’s very embarrassing to submit a name only to get it rejected. So before you end up naming your child “Dick Cannon” (honestly, a real person’s name), make sure you ask your parents, superiors or friends about different meanings of names. Oh, and be sure to practice your kanji!