Names with auspicious and beautiful meanings appear often in parents’ top picks.
Japanese parents have a lot of things to take into consideration when choosing a name for their baby. Not only does a name need to sound nice, writing it in kanji characters makes the base meaning readily apparent too, so that also has to fit with their hopes for the child’s future.
Those sensibilities are reflected in the list of the most popular names for girls and boys in Japan during 2016, which was just released by children’s clothing retailer Tamahiyo. The study compiled the names of 18,029 babies born between the start of January and the end of October, so let’s take a look at the top five for boys and girls, starting with the boys.
5. Yuma / 悠真
Meaning: calm truth
Last year, Yuma was the top boys’ name in Tamahiyo’s study, but it dipped slightly in popularity during 2016.
4. Minato / 湊
Minato, which carries with it connotations of security and shelter, also slipped a few spots from the number-two spot it occupied in 2015.
3. Haruto / 陽翔
Meaning: good flight
Both of the kanji that make up this rendering of Haruto appear frequently in childrens’ names. While 陽 literally translates as “positive,” it also lends a bright and energetic feel to a name, since the character also shows up in taiyo, the Japanese word for sun. Meanwhile, 翔, referring to flight, brings with it an aura of adventurous journeys and meeting new challenges.
2. Hiroto / 大翔
Meaning: big flight
Once again, 翔 shows up and contributes to a bold atmosphere akin to “great journey.”
1. Ren / 蓮
While Ren wasn’t a particularly common name a generation ago, it’s become extremely popular in the last few years, perhaps due to the way it combines a masculine sound with an elegant meaning. Ren was also the most popular name in Tamahiyo’s survey in 2010, and climbed back to the number-three slot in 2015 before retaking the throne this year.
And now, on to the top five girls’ names.
5. Sakura / さくら
Meaning: cherry blossom
This entry is the only one in either top five list that’s not written in kanji, but instead in phonetic hiragana characters. In fact, even when the word “sakura” is being used to refer to the cherry blossoms themselves, you’ll often see it written like this, since the soft, curved lines of the hiragana match nicely with the delicately cute image the flowers have.
4. Sakura / 咲良
Meaning: blossoming well
There’s actually quite a bit of wordplay going on here, since when someone hears the name Sakura spoken, his or her first image will be of cherry blossoms. However, the kanji characters used here differ from the one used to describe the flowers, and instead are meant to evoke a feeling of good things waiting for the child in her future.
3. Yua / 結愛
Meaning: connected love
The first character, 結, is also found in the word musube, meaning “to tie together,” and helping to express parents’ wish that their daughter be blessed with connections to many kind and loving people in her life.
2. Hina / 陽菜
Meaning: good vegetables
There’s 陽 again, this time showing up with 菜 (read “na”), which is a surprisingly popular choice, considering that it refers to edible greens. But hey, it sound cute, right?
1. Himari / 陽葵
Meaning: good hollyhock
Finally, the top pick for girl, which shot up from number five in Tamahiyo’s 2015 survey, references the flower known alternatively as alcea or hollyhock. Aside from being girlish, Himari also has a bit of a regal air to it, and the hollyhock even shows up in the crest of the Tokugawa Clan, the samurai family that held power as Japan’s final shogun dynasty.
Just as in any country, naming trends are always changing in Japan. For the time being, though, between Himari, Sakura, and Ren, it looks like a lot of Japan’s seeds of the future can thank the local plant life for their names.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s pretty happy with the name his then-eight-year-old brother picked for him
[ Read in Japanese ]