Once upon a time there was a boy named Prince – more or less. Actually his name was Oji, which means Prince. His parents intended no harm. The idea had been, his mother explained when matter came up for consideration in family court in March, to give the boy a sense of uniqueness. He would grow up “like a prince,” said mom.
Alas, life is not like that. Far from commanding respect, the name drew either incredulous stares or derisive laughter. Reaching the age of 18, thoroughly sick of it, Oji resolved to be Oji no longer. The court saw his point, and accorded him permission to change his name. He is now no Prince but plain ordinary Hajime – Hajime Akaike of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture.
What has gotten into young parents nowadays? The names many of them inflict on their children! “Kirakira names,” they’re called. Kirakira is best translated as “sparkling.” Sometimes they’re just plain weird. A turning point in the history of the phenomenon occurred in 1994, when a publicity-mad young couple named Sato gave their newborn son the name Akuma – Devil. Let other parents, they thought, give their children conventional names that are no sooner uttered than forgotten. Their boy would stand out in a crowd – whether he liked it or not.
The media storm that followed led to an intervention by the justice ministry, which struck the name. The parents at first refused to back down, then finally compromised. They would call the boy Aku.
A 68-year-old grandmother in Mie Prefecture, inspired by the Oji case, sent off a letter to a legal advice column published by Josei Seven (May 2). Her own grandchild has a kirakira name. She doesn’t say what it is, but does say that her daughter, the child’s mother, brusquely dismissed her vigorous objections and insisted on the name of her choice. “It’s okay when the child is small,” the grandmother writes plaintively, “but when the child is in puberty, won’t such a name provoke bullying?” Her question for lawyer Masami Takeshita, the column’s expert adviser, is, “How would my grandchild go about changing the name, supposing the desire to do so arises?”
Oji’s success notwithstanding, it’s not easy, the lawyer replies. Changing your name is not like changing your clothes or your hair color, and generally speaking, society intends to keep it that way. Your name, so far as society is concerned, is you. To change it, you have to present a pretty good reason.
Takeshita cites five. (1) You inherited a professional name as a symbol of a family profession (like kabuki acting or tea ceremony teaching) which you have not made your chosen career; (2) someone in your neighborhood shares by coincidence your identical name and surname, causing confusion; (3) your foreign name no longer suits you now that you have returned to Japan; (4) you are entering the Buddhist priesthood and require a priestly name; and (5) your name sounds provocatively odd in some foreign language.
There is no specific mention of kirakira names, unless the last point may be said to cover them. One may well hope it does. An online scan for the most popular among them yields such treasures as Loveha, Lovely, Luna – to say nothing of those that are immediately familiar to anime and manga fans: Pikachu, Kitty, Naushika. Many, moreover – and this is true lately with more than a few names that are not conspicuously sparkling – are written with characters that defy conventional readings. No one seeing the naked characters would have a chance of knowing what they signify. Presumably that’s part of the fun.© Japan Today