Tag Archives: kanji

Divining Japanese Surnames – by Emmett

names

As part of my brief and unstudied education in Japanese I have been working out how to read family names. This is a manageable place to start, for nearly all names are made of only two kanji, pictographic characters descended from Chinese. Once I stopped associating each character with a phonetic counterpart, I was able to divine the symbolic meaning of the names. The characters’ sounds change depending on placement, noun-consonant morphology, or age of the name. The character , for instance, almost always reads as “yama”; however, in older family names and place-names may read as “san” as in “Fujisan,” the famous mountain. In the greater picture, means “mountain.” Once I focused on this, the names of the people around me began to tell a story that is not always obvious in the wake of Japanese modernity.

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