Dealing with Japanese kanji names is one of the most difficult parts of learning the language. With a multitude of ways to both write and read names, it can be a particularly vexing problem for non-native speakers.

But take heart, Japanese language learners! Turns out you’re not the only ones! Some unusual names are so troublesome that one ICU doctor has called on people to use normal names…if only to save their lives.

These “kirakira names” (lit. “sparkly” or “flashy” names) have been getting quite a bit of high-profile attention over the last year, starting with current Prime Minister Abe’s call for creating naming guidelines for new parents last November. By using exceptionally unusual readings and kanji couplings, couples are bestowing some seriously cringeworthy names on their children. Yes, even “Pikachu” (written with the characters for light 光 and space 宙).

Now, Ikuya Ueta, an emergency room doctor in Shizuoka Prefecture, has poked the hornets’ nest by asking people to avoid giving their children kirakira names. The reason? It might save their lives. On July 30, Ueta sent out the tweet below.


“Please, don’t give your kids kirakira names. When getting incoming calls from EMS workers, if names don’t use common kanji or have normal readings, it could result in errors when making patient IDs. If we redo the patient ID later, it results in two IDs, which increases the danger of making mistakes. Please give your kids names that can be easily conveyed over the phone!!”

It seems like a bit of an exaggeration on one hand, but on the other, this guy is an ICU doctor—we think he might know what he’s talking about. As another Twitter user pointed out, time spent trying to figure out a name is time wasted that could be spent saving a life. Ueta added that in extreme cases they just give the patient a random name like “ア” (the katakana “a”), but this is really meant for people whose identities are actually unknown.


Ueta earned himself a divided reaction from other Twitter users, and, as you might expect, not everyone was so understanding.

I agree with the doctor’s brave statement.

For a doctor, you’re not very bright.

“Ueta”?? That’s kind of hard to read! Change it to “Ueda!”

I wonder if this is true. I don’t want to die just because of my name!

In order to preserve our right to have kirakira names, how about if we just give everyone a number and IC chips implants?

The person complaining about hard to read names has 植田 for a last name–and reads it as “Ueta” instead of “Ueda”!!

Practice conveying names over the phone!

We really should make a law about this!

I kind of understand what you’re saying, but I’m not really sure…

An impossible request, isn’t it?

Well, then, what should we do about people with kirakira last names?

The problem is that the system for giving patients IDs is crap.

This is a human rights issue. You have no common sense.

While the issue certainly did get people worked up, we can understand both sides of this discussion. It’s easy to see why parents would want to be able to choose any name for their children, but making work harder for people like ICU doctors is nothing to sneeze at.

Like many suggested, maybe the easiest solution is a nation wide identification system…though in the middle of an emergency situation, it seems just as easy to get a few numbers backwards, doesn’t it?

Sources: Byoukan Sunday
Image sources: Wikipedia