Trends in Japanese Baby Names

A father strokes his baby's face
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Baby names are like a mirror that reflects the times. Let's have a look at the transitions in popular baby names and recent trends.

Royal Influence

Since the royal family is popular and well respected in Japan, it has certain influences.

The Western calendar is widely known and used in Japan, but the name of the era (gengou) is still used to date official documents. The year in which an Emperor ascended to the throne would be the first year of a new era, and it continues until his death. The current gengou is Heisei (the year 2006 is Heisei 18), and it was changed from Showa when Emperor Akihito succeeds to the throne in 1989. That year, the kanji character "平(hei)" or "成 (sei)" was very popular to use in a name.

After Empress Michiko married to Emperor Akihito in 1959, many newborn baby girls were named Michiko. The year princess Kiko married prince Fumihito (1990), and Crown princess Masako married Crown prince Naruhito (1993), many parents named their baby after the princess or used one of the kanji characters.

In 2001, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako had a baby girl and she was named Princess Aiko. Aiko is written with the kanji characters for "love(愛)" and "child(子)", and refers to "a person who loves others". Although the popularity of the name Aiko has always been steady, its popularity grew after the princess's birth. 

Popular Kanji Characters

The recent popular kanji character for a boy's names is "翔 (to soar)". The names including this character are 翔, 大翔, 翔太, 海翔, 翔真, 翔大 and so on. Other popular kanji for boys are "太 (great)" and "大 (big)". The kanji character for "美 (beauty)" is always popular for girl's names. In 2005 it is especially popular, even more so than other popular kanji such as "愛 (love)," "優 (gentle)" or "花 (flower)". 美咲, 美羽, 美優 and美月 are listed in the top 10 names for girls.

Hiragana Names

Most names are written in kanji. However, some names don't have kanji characters and are simply written in hiragana or katakana. Katakana names are rarely used in Japan today. Hiragana is mainly used for female names because of its soft impression. A hiragana name is one of the most recent trends. さくら (Sakura), こころ (Kokoro), ひなた(Hinata), ひかり (Hikari) and ほのか (Honoka) are popular girl's names written in hiragana.

Modern Trends

Popular boy's names have endings such as ~to, ~ki, and ~ta. Haruto, Yuuto, Yuuki, Souta, Kouki, Haruki, Yuuta, and Kaito are included in the top 10 boy's names (by reading).

In 2005, names that have the image of "summer" and "ocean" are popular for boys. Among of them are 拓海, 海斗, or 太陽. Western or exotic sounding names are trendy for girls. Girl's names with two syllables are also a recent trend. The top 3 girl's names by reading are Hina, Yui, and Miyu.

In the past, it was very common and traditional to use the kanji character "ko (a child)" at the end of female names. Empress Michiko, Crown Princess Masako, Princess Kiko, and Yoko Ono, all end with "ko (子)". If you have a few female Japanese friends, you will probably notice this pattern. In fact, more than 80% of my female relatives and girlfriends have "ko" at the end of their names.

However, this might not be true for the next generation. There are only three names including "ko" in the recent 100 popular names for girls. They are Nanako (菜々子)and Riko (莉子, 理子).

Instead of "ko" at the end, using "ka" or "na" is the recent trend. Haruka, Hina, Honoka, Momoka, Ayaka, Yuuna, and Haruna for example.

Increasing Diversity

There used to be certain patterns for names. From the 10's to the mid-'70s, there was little change in naming patterns. Today there is no set pattern and baby names have greater diversity.

Boy's Names

Rank 1915 1925 1935 1945 1955
1 Kiyoshi Kiyoshi Hiroshi Masaru Takashi
2 Saburou Shigeru Kiyoshi Isamu Makoto
3 Shigeru Isamu Isamu Susumu Shigeru
4 Masao Saburou Minoru Kiyoshi Osamu
5 Tadashi Hiroshi Susumu Katsutoshi Yutaka
Rank 1965 1975 1985 1995 2000
1 Makoto Makoto Daisuke Takuya Shou
2 Hiroshi Daisuke Takuya Kenta Shouta
3 Osamu Manabu Naoki Shouta Daiki
4 Naoki Tsuyoshi Kenta Tsubasa Yuuto
5 Tetsuya Naoki Kazuya Daiki Takumi

Girl's Names

Rank 1915 1925 1935 1945 1955
1 Chiyo Sachiko Kazuko Kazuko Youko
2 Chiyoko Fumiko Sachiko Sachiko Keiko
3 Fumiko Miyoko Setsuko Youko Kyouko
4 Shizuko Hisako Hiroko Setsuko Sachiko
5 Kiyo Yoshiko Hisako Hiroko Kazuko
Rank 1965 1975 1985 1995 2000
1 Akemi Kumiko Ai Misaki Sakura
2 Mayumi Yuuko Mai Ai Yuuka
3 Yumiko Mayumi Mami Haruka Misaki
4 Keiko Tomoko Megumi Kana Natsuki
5 Kumiko Youko Kaori Mai Nanami

Individuality in Spelling

There are thousands of kanji to choose from for a name, even the same name can usually be written in many different kanji combinations (some have more than 50 combinations). Japanese baby names might have more variety than baby names in any other languages.

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Your Citation
Abe, Namiko. "Trends in Japanese Baby Names." ThoughtCo, Feb. 8, 2021, Abe, Namiko. (2021, February 8). Trends in Japanese Baby Names. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Trends in Japanese Baby Names." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).