In Japanese, “namae” usually means a person’s “full name” (given & surname), however, it can also refer to just your given name, a similar concept to English. Generally, Japanese call one another by their surnames, although among close friends they may use given names.
In Japan, it is said there are about 300,000 different surnames, of which 7,000 comprise 96%. It was only in 1875, after the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, that ordinary Japanese people were permitted to use their surnames. Everyone could freely have a surname, in order to distinguish themselves from other families, and as a result, many people used names derived from where they lived, such as near a mountain, valley, tree, river, rice field, field, hill or the sea.
The top 10 surnames in Japan are: 1. Satou, 2. Suzuki, 3. Takahashi, 4. Tanaka, 5. Watanabe, 6. Itou, 7. Yamamoto, 8. Nakamura, 9. Kobayashi, and 10. Saitou. The most common, Satou, is used by nearly 2 million Japanese, while the 10th most frequent, Saitou, is used by nearly 1 million.
Children’s names also reflect the times. In the year the present Emperor married, many girls were named “Michiko,” after the new princess. Then, when MATSUZAKA Daisuke set great high school baseball records, many boys were given his name.
Until roughly the 1970s, kanji symbols for male names included男, 夫, 雄 (these are read as “o”) as 秀男 (Hideo), while for girls in kanji symbols such as 子 (ko) as in 秀子(Hideko) were generally added to the end. This is similar to English names ending in “o” like Antonio and “a” like Antonia.
In the 80s and after, the number of parents giving their children unique names increased. According to the Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company, which conducts yearly name surveys, 2009’s most popular name for boys was Haruto, while for girls it was Yuna.
Since 2000, the three most popular boy’s names have been: Haruto, Yuuto and Yuuki. while popular girls names included: Ayaka, Yui and Yuna. However, many different kanji are used for those names. They use various uncommon Japanese kanji characters, making them very difficult to read even for Japanese.
大翔 (Taiga / Hiroto and other readings), was the most widely used kanji for boys, embodying the image of flying high. For girls it was陽菜 (Hina / Haruna and other readings), which embodies the image of flowers and the grass gleaming in the sunshine. These names seemingly imply the Japanese wish for optimism and a bright future for their children.
Previously, traditional Japanese boy’s names included Kiyoshi and Makoto, while traditional girl’s names included Kazuko and Ai.