Choosing a name for your newborn son or daughter can be tough. Not only are you responsible for bestowing a name upon another human being—a collection of vowels and consonants that that will stick with them for life and likely have a profound effect on how people initially perceive their owner—but if you live in a country like Japan, then you not only have to choose the baby’s name, but how it will be written in kanji characters as well. Talk about pressure.
But that’s the reason we have baby name lists! For the past two years we’ve been keeping track of the most popular names for baby boys and girls in Japan, and this year we’re keeping up the tradition. Take a peek at what trends are spreading through Japan by seeing which names are in this year and which are out.
Before we get started, a quick crash course on Japanese names. Like we mentioned in the intro, Japanese parents not only pick out a name they like for their child, but, in the majority of cases, kanji characters they like as well. So if the parents like a certain name but want different kanji, you can end up with different ways of reading/writing names.
Because of that, you may notice some names repeating in the list but which use different kanji to “spell” them. While this is kind of a cool idea, it is incredibly frustrating when trying to read or write someone’s name: even if you recognize the kanji used in it, you may not be able to pronounce a person’s name, and on the flip-side even if you know a person’s name, you may have absolutely no idea how write it.
With that out of the way, let’s start with the boys’ names. Here are the top 10 Japanese boys’ names for 2015:
The first thing to notice is that the number one name from last year, Ren, got demoted to number three. Hinata/Haruta is still going strong, only dropping one place down from third to fourth.
Interestingly, the kanji for “harbor/port” (and three different ways to read it!) takes the number one spot this year. Perhaps it’s the parents’ desire for their child to travel the world? Or maybe they’re all just Naruto fans and hope that their boy grows up to be like the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze?
For a Naruto name, the parents certainly could have picked worse; I for one am glad there isn’t a whole generation of kids named “Orochimaru.”
▼ Although it would’ve helped put an end to the age-old question: who would win?
One kanji that featured a lot in the list is “ta” (太), meaning “fat/thick/grand”, in the fourth, sixth, and tenth most popular names. Cookpad Baby, the site that compiled these lists, suggests that the reason for this is parents “wanting their child to grow up strong and to have a full, rich life.” (N.B. Be sure not to confuse 太 with 大 [big] or 犬 [dog]. Why, Japanese people? Why?)
Moving on to the girls, here are the top names for 2015, with quite a few ties:
In out of nowhere, the most popular names are Sakura (“cherry blossom”) and Riko (“lavender child” in this instance). These weren’t even on the list in 2013, and they didn’t break the top three last year either.
The fact that Sakura appears again at number five with a kanji (the top-slot one, you’ll notice, forgoes Chinese characters altogether and is instead written in phonetic ‘hiragana’ script) shows just how popular the name is. And let’s not forget number three either, Aoi (“hollyhock”), yet another flower.
Cookpad Baby suggests that the popularity of flower names is due to parents “wanting their child to bring beauty to the world around them, and to be loved by many.” That’s a fine theory, but personally we’re going with the popularity of Naruto’s Sakura again for this one.
Another change this year is Rin falling down to sixth place. Last year we speculated that Rin (meaning anything from “cold” to “elegant”) may have had some Frozen inspiration behind it, and the fact that the name Anna is tied for sixth place might mean that Frozen-mania isn’t quite over yet in Japan.
▼ Oh my god it’s Anna! And… uh… her sister Rin!
One final observation is the prevalence of girls’ names that feel right at home outside of Japan too. Sara, Anna, Yuna, and perhaps even Sakura are all names with a bit of Japanese flavor to them, but fit right in with more Western names. Compared to the boys’ names which might give a Western teacher doing roll-call a headache, the girls’ names are all pretty straightforward.
Is the boys’ number one name Minato (“port/harbor”) and the girls’ easy-on-the-Western-ears names a sign of Japanese parents trying to prepare their children for more international lives? Or is it all just because of Naruto? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.