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'Kirakira' names still excite strong passions

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The Japanese word “kirakira” is common and easy to define: shining, glittering. Then there are the “kirakira names” that more and more children are sporting lately. What can they be? What is a shining, glittering name?

It needs two qualities to qualify. One: it must be unusual, not to say weird. Two: the kanji character or characters that signify it must be incomprehensible to the uninitiated. For example: Raito – a Japanese pronunciation of the English “light,” written with the character for "tsuki," moon. That’s kirakira to the max. Or Cheri, pronounced not sherry but cherry and written with two characters, one of which is "sakura," cherry blossom.

One more example, because it’s irresistible: Naushika, presumably with Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film “Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind” in mind. Any guesses on how you’d write that? The first character is "ima" – now; the second, "shika" – deer.

So that, briefly, is kirakira naming. In that connection, an article appearing in the November issue of the Japanese Journal of Pediatrics offered an intriguing observation, which may be meaningful – or, the article’s author admits, may not be: Among children brought to a particular hospital emergency ward at night, a disproportionate number have kirakira names.

The article unexpectedly went viral on Twitter, which is how Shukan Josei (Dec 22) first came to hear of it. Kirakira naming has excited strong passions since it got off the ground at the dawn of the mass Internet age, circa 1995, with passions intensifying as the practice spreads. Most tweeters and posters of opinions on Internet chat sites are indignantly disapproving. What kind of parents, they fume, would saddle helpless, innocent children with names like Raito? The sympathetic minority, of course, champions individuality and originality. The debate rages on.

Among those taking notice was Yuji Matsuura, a 30-year-old pediatrician at the Japan Red Cross Wakayama Treatment Center in Wakayama. His informal survey forms the core of his article in the Journal. It covers only one week in December 2013, and only his own hospital, so it is more an invitation to further investigation than comprehensive research in its own right. He wasn’t even quite sure what he was looking for, but what he found was the disproportion referred to above.

Here are the numbers: The week in question (Dec 1-7, 2013) saw 104 children under 15 brought to the emergency ward, of whom 16 had names that could (in the absence of a precise definition) be considered kirakira. Of those 16, six – 37.5% – were brought in at night (between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.). Among the 88 with more conventional names, only 11 – 12.5% – were brought in at night. The gap seems too wide to be merely chance – but if it’s significant, what does it signify?

A first suspicion – that parents who give their kids name like that might be prone to child abuse – was quickly ruled out.

Matsuura himself draws no conclusions, or even, for the time being, hypotheses. One who does, tentatively, in conversation with Shukan Josei, is Kyoto Bunkyo University sociologist Yasumasa Kobayashi, who sees a possible link between kirakira naming and the deepening isolation of the nuclear family, cut off from both the traditional community which in less hyper-urbanized times provided friendly support, and from its own older generation. The parents and grandparents are more likely than not nowadays to live too far away to be helpful. Kirakira naming, then, is a kind of call for notice in an increasingly indifferent world. The high percentage of night-time emergency ward visits, at first blush seemingly sinister, may in fact, Kobayashi suggests, show a greater concern for their children among kirakira namers – they are quick to respond to symptoms that others dismiss (often rightly) as insignificant.

© Japan Today

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29 Comments
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JT: The gap seems too wide to be merely chance

Or maybe it doesn't.

JT: It covers only one week in December 2013, and only his own hospital

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Strangerland I love Lucy. The name.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"non-made up names" are boring. Does the world need another Tom, Dick or Harry? Does the world need another Lucy? Bland blah.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Luca,

Then, how about names made up since 1950?!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@theeast

Made-up names always sound vulgar in English

I know what you mean, but aren't all names made-up? ; ) 

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Made-up names always sound vulgar in English and it sounds like the same is true in Japanese...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@lostrune

Even as I typed it, that thought occurred to me..... !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My parents screwed up royally with my name; it means "God has given us another child", but I was the first-born....

Heh, that ya know of.......

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Yubara

It seemed like you we're saying the unusual name was the problem, not the bullying. If I mistook you, I apologize. But, I don't think I did.

Also, you may notice I didn't say it was just in Japan.

Personally, I enjoy the creative use of language, including names, even though some find the novelty strangely amusing or irritating.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Every hear of Johnny Cash?

But Sue did show some gratitude for his pa making him tough by giving him a 'kirakira' name

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You are basically blaming the victim here and putting forth an argument for conformity.

No I am not, I am telling you the reality and it is not just here in Japan it's worldwide. Every hear of Johnny Cash?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The only parents that go for these kinds of names are bogans.

Not necessarily. One of my classmates was named Suzie, but her parents spelled it Siouxie after their favourite singer. They were both journalists.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@CH3CHO

Why would you be bothered at all interacting with a child because of some discrepancy between how it's name is pronounced and how it seems like it should be pronounced? What difference does it make? You are interacting with a human being, not a kanji reading.

@Yubaru

If children are teasing another child because he/she has an unusual name then, yes, it matters that you discipline them. The teasing/bullying is the problem, not the unusual name. You are basically blaming the victim here and putting forth an argument for conformity.

In an increasingly interconnected world where people from very different backgrounds often interact isn't it better to just accept and teach the kids that basically anything can be a name and someone having an "unusual" name isn't such a big deal.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My favourite is "明日", pronounced "ともろ". Clever and funny.

My parents screwed up royally with my name; it means "God has given us another child", but I was the first-born....

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Typically one does no use furigana all the time when writing their name. And it would be rather awkward in some cases if you did use it as well.

Everyone with this type reason, I don't understand. Japanese are always asking how to read names, and which kanji is used. It's anormal first time conversation. For example, super simple basic name kanji 智子 is it Toshiko, Tomoko, Satako, Noriko? I know people with that kanji and at least two of the readings, and I know people of the other two names (whose Kanji I haven't learned)

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Can't understand why some people are bothered by what other people name their children.

Myself as well. And some of the 'explanations' for being bothered that have been given are pretty weak at best.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

.Isn't that what furigana is for?

Typically one does no use furigana all the time when writing their name. And it would be rather awkward in some cases if you did use it as well.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I find myself suppressing the urge to retch.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Let's face it. The only parents that go for these kinds of names are bogans. Tasteless and poorly-educated bogans who have no consideration for the future of their children. shame, shame, shame.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Yoshimi Onishi...Isn't that what furigana is for? My maiden name is difficult, even for native English speakers, but when I write in the furigana of my name, it's totally read-able. Japanese have an easier time saying my maiden name than native speakers.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Your name isn't just something personal or private. People use it to call you or refer to you and this happens all the time throughout your entire lifetime. Parents should not really give their child a name most people don't know how to read. I'm saying this from my own often unpleasant experiences of having my name read mistakenly for countless times in places like schools, hospitals, banks, and whatnot.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Can't understand why some people are bothered by what other people name their children.

Here is one good reason.....

If someone named his child "Moon" which should be pronounced "Light", I would be bothered whenever I would have some contact with the child.

Another is that children being children will tease and make fun (often times) of things that are unusual or different, and if a child has a particularly unusual or unfamiliar name other children may pick on that child purely because of their name.

If you are in a situation where YOU are the one that has to discipline or deal with children like that it matters.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Stranger_in_a_Strange_LandDEC. 22, 2015 - 09:01AM JST

Can't understand why some people are bothered by what other people name their children.

If someone named his child "Moon" which should be pronounced "Light", I would be bothered whenever I would have some contact with the child.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

So a doctor did research without defining his variable or even proposing a hypothesis. The hypothesis comes from a university sociologist who was not involved in the research at all and has presumably not seen the undefined data, but it fits an oft-repeated narrative, so without even making a test he makes his claim. Because one is a doctor and the other affiliated with a famous university, they get quoted by a magazine which then gets quoted by a newspaper.

There are many things to love about Japan, but the approach to academic discourse isn't one of them.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

My friend gave his wife a kirakira name, but not sure if it is legal. He calls her OniBaba

1 ( +5 / -4 )

No list of names? Top 10 at least?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Can't understand why some people are bothered by what other people name their children.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

KiraKira names are getting quite popular. Thankfully you can change your name to remedy that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

'Kirakira' names still excite strong passions

Passion? Exaggerating a bit here? KiraKira names I hope will soon become a passing fad, as there seem to be many parents that give a name like this to their child without a thought to how it will sound or be for them when they grow up and have to deal with people having a hard time with their name.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

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