Japanese parents shocked to learn their baby girl’s name has inappropriate meaning

By KK Miller

What’s in a name? New parents often look for a name that they hope will embody the spirit of their child or be something that their son or daughter can wear with pride throughout their life, but even the most heartfelt monicker can prove awkward when taken out of context, and can be more funny than beautiful when heard by speakers of other languages.

For Japanese parents, the meaning of kanji characters used for a child’s name are just as important as how it sounds. Recently, however, one young couple had the name they chose for their new baby daughter rejected when they attempted to register it at their local town hall. It was probably a good thing, though, since the characters they had chosen had an altogether different, rather unpleasant, meaning that the couple were completely unaware of.

It’s pretty common to see Westerners misuse Chinese characters, especially with their usage regarding tattoos, with scores of websites dedicated to pointing out hugely inappropriate words inked into people’s skin. In short, kanji can be tricky, and even native Japanese speakers make mistakes – deliberately or otherwise – when using them as names, with instances of misreadings becoming increasingly common as people rely more and more on their computer or smartphone’s auto-complete and kanji convertors, rarely writing the characters by hand.

So when one couple recently decided to call their child Mizuko, neither parent had any idea that they were on the verge of committing a terrible faux pas.

Written 水子, using the kanji for “water” and “child”, the name seemed innocent enough and was easy to read. Fortunately for the parents, however, a government employee spotted the name on their registration forms before they were officially submitted and pointed out its altogether different, entirely inappropriate meaning.

You see, the word 水子 (read chishi/mizuko), usually means a baby that has died in the womb either through abortion or miscarriage.

This city employee saved the parents, and their daughter, from an extremely embarrassing situation. But isn’t it worrying that young people aren’t aware of the meaning of this kanji?

The kanji use became widespread in the 1970s due to the increase of abortions in Japan. And while the word isn’t used as often today, it is still interesting that some people in the younger generations don’t know the meaning of the kanji, nor to avoid using it as a name for their beloved offspring.

When the news hit the Twitterverse, though, many users commented that this was the first time they had heard the meaning of these kanji together. It seems like this was a case of kanji falling in and out of use, and not a case of neglectful parents or a lack of education.

”Not knowing the meaning of kanji and words is really troublesome, and depending on the situation, extremely embarrassing. At an unknown government office, parents wanted to give their kid the name ‘水子’ (Mizuko), but the employee at the registry window told them the meaning of the word and instructed them to find a new name. This is truly appalling. We have to teach people about correct Japanese.”

On the other hand, the parents who wanted to name their child 水子 didn’t mean any offense and probably wanted their child to be lively and vibrant. When they discovered the meaning of the kanji and words, they changed the child’s name. It would be very unpleasant if someone had not told them the meaning of the kanji.”

Prospective parents can look up the meaning of words in a dictionary or they can ask older generations of the meaning. It’s very embarrassing to submit a name only to get it rejected. So before you end up naming your child, a real person’s name), make sure you ask your parents, superiors or friends about different meanings of names.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- New wave of “creative” Japanese names read more like riddles -- Why old Japanese women have names in katakana -- Japan’s top 20 flowery names for baby girls: love, hearts, and dreams

© RocketNews24

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Sorry but I don't think city hall has a right to say no in a case such as this. If the parents didn't know, chances are many others don't either. "愛子", from my understand, had a horrible stigma attached to it decades ago which is now gone. This could be the same for this kanji as well.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

Could the parents have simply changed the kanji 水子? Can someone give me an example of a sentence using 水子in a sentence? I'm trying to imagine the '70s era TV anchors reporting on abortion and can't come up with anything. 日本では最近女性が水子を...? Would they say chishi or mizuko?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

right out of an online dictionary. 水子; 稚子; 若子 【みずこ; みずご; ちし(稚子)】 (n) (1) (みずこ, みずご only) aborted, stillborn or miscarried foetus (fetus); (2) (arch) newborn baby 水子供養 【みずごくよう】 (n) memorial service to appease an aborted foetus 水子地蔵 【みずこじぞう】 (n) (See 地蔵) Ksitigarbha statue erected to help deliver miscarried and aborted fetuses to buddhahood (foetuses)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh yes. Mizukojizou. I've heard of those little statues. But I have not heard of mizuko in a sentence. Is there another kanji for mizuko that the parents could have used?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the parents were very lucky to find an employee who was aware of the problem and took the time to inform them; I'm sure they'd be even more shocked if their child went to them with the dictionary when she was already in school (T_T)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

WOW, this is NOT a public service announcement but a REMINDER that the government can decide everything about YOUR child's life. You do as we say!! You will maintain Japanese culture whether you like it or NOT.

I believe these parents were in fact very UNLUCKY. The government should have no place in family matters. Of course It's NOT a government of the people, for the PEOPLE.

I love the summary of this article. Always consult your SUPERIORS.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

What on earth are you going on about FPSRussia. Would you want to grow up with the name "miscarried child?/Aborted fetus"? I know you take every opportunity to badmouth Japan, but at least try to make an intelligent argument sheesh.

Plus, quite a few European countries have naming laws which are sometimes more baffling than the Japanese ones.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Most countries I know also reject names that are deemed unsuitable, many of those are in Europe.

And I am similar news decades ago.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think city hall has a right to say no in a case such as this. If the parents didn't know, chances are many others don't either. "愛子", from my understand, had a horrible stigma attached to it decades ago which is now gone. This could be the same for this kanji as well.

Well if in ignorance I'd considered calling one of my children 'aborted fetus' I'd be more than pleased and grateful to have someone put me right, whether it was a friend, an older relative or the man behind the desk at the yakuza. Much better than having people laughing at me - or worse, at the child - behind my back. Or worse still for the child, to her face, which would happen in school. How many people don't know the meaning isn't the problem; it's how many do, and what effect it could have on the poor child.

"愛子", from my understand, had a horrible stigma attached to it decades ago which is now gone. This could be the same for this kanji as well.

I think you're thinking of 'ainoko,' a derogative term meaning 'half-breed'; as far as I know it was/is not written in kanji and if it was it would be 間の子, not 愛子. The meaning of 水子 hasn't changed.

It’s very embarrassing to submit a name only to get it rejected.

Much more embarrassing to go through life being called a miscarriage. I hope the parents are grateful to the official.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I know a "瑞子"

It's pronounced "Mizuko" and means "water child", exactly the same.

Couldn't they have just changed the kanji?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


It's pronounced "Mizuko" and means "water child", exactly the same.

No it doesn't. The different kanji makes all the difference. 瑞 means something like 'sacred' or 'propitious' and has nothing to do with miscarriages or abortions - the opposite, in fact. It appears in such words as mizumizushii (瑞々しい, young and fresh); Mizuho no Kuni (みずほの国, lit. 'The Land of Verdant Rice Plants, =Japan) and zuishou (瑞祥, a good omen).

2 ( +2 / -0 )


While you're right that it has other, more common meanings, one meaning of "瑞" is "water".

"Mizumizushii", which you cited, can also be written "水々しい”.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

one meaning of "瑞" is "water".

"Mizumizushii", which you cited, can also be written "水々しい”.

Not according to my etymology dictionary, which gives two meanings: (1) しるし。領地や爵位を与えたしるしとする形のよい玉。(a mark or sign; a well-shaped gem used to mark the granting of land or a title: (2) 甘露や美しい雲など、天の神が善政をほめてくだすしるし。めでたい兆候とされる。また、めでたいさま。(a sign indicating the blessings of heaven, such as good taste or the beauty of a cloud. Considered an auspicious sign. Also, the appearance of happiness or success)

While the pronunciation mizu might be the same, the meaning is not. 水々しい is ateji, presumably suggested from the fact that things that are fresh and young-looking often are moist and succulent. 瑞 does not mean water.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Meanings of "瑞":

しるし。めでたいしるし。めでたいこと。 みず。みずみずしい。 スイス・スウェーデンのこと。

Don't want to fall out over it, though... ; )

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The last thing I want to do is fall out with lucabrasi, but.....

With the strong connotations of auspiciousness and general blessedness flowing out of 瑞, there's no way 瑞子さんcould be confused with a miscarriage or abortion. ;) It's no way 'exactly the same'.

Still friends? Please? :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Actually, you're dead right.

I realised my mistake as soon as I'd sent my last post. My only defence is that James Hesig's Remebering The Kanji 3 claims that it means "water". He's wrong. I was wrong. Sorry.... ; )

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Parents do not have the right to give their child an offensive or inappropriate name that can make their life a misery. If people can't be bothered to check the meaning of the name they want to force on their off-spring they are really selfish and irresponsible parents.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Parents name their children a lot of things now a days many don't even look up the name for babies , however they still mean well any baby with out a name at all is far more sad then the meaning of the name.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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