We’ve all heard of some unusual names that celebrities in particular give to their kids. Whether obscure or just plain nonsensical, these types of names are known as kirakira names (literally, “sparkling” or “flashy” names) in Japan. Even when bestowed without any feelings of malice, unusual names, especially in cases when the reading of the name kanji differs vastly from typical readings, can present a host of challenges to everyone from the child in question experiencing healthy social development to medical professionals when making records.
However, it appears that kirakira names may soon become a thing of the past if newly proposed legislation is approved to amend Japan’s Family Registration Law, which would limit the phonetic kanji name readings in koseki, family registers, to those that are generally recognizable by society. A subcommittee of Japan’s Legislative Council met on February 2 to compile a draft proposal for revisions to the law. The family registration system records the kinship of individuals from birth until death in Japan, and this would be the very first amendment to be enacted regarding allowable name readings. Part of the motivation for such a change is also that a certain degree of name standardization is necessary for the digitalization of many governmental administrative functions.
Specifically, the proposal seeks to impose restrictions on phonetic readings of name kanji that are:
- potentially offensive, discriminatory, obscene, not suitable for nomenclature, or generally unpleasant (e.g., 悪魔 / Akuma / “devil”)
- character names that would cause unease when given to real people (e.g., 光宙 / Pikachu / “Pikachu”)
- contradictory to the meaning of the kanji (e.g., 高 / Hikushi / the kanji’s meaning is “high” but the reading indicates “low”)
- readable as another common name (e.g., 鈴木 / Sato / the kanji are usually read as “Suzuki”)
- completely irrelevant to the kanji (e.g., 太郎 / Maikeru / the kanji are usually read as “Taro” but the reading indicates “Michael”)
- easily misread or not clear (e.g., 太郎 / Jiro / the kanji are usually read as “Taro” but the reading indicates “Jiro”)
As to what makes a kanji name reading “generally recognizable by society,” the Ministry of Justice intends to notify local governments as to which readings qualify–typically speaking, those that are widely acceptable across the country, appear on the common-use kanji list (the 2,136 characters currently taught in primary and secondary school), or appear in the Kanwa Jiten (the definitive dictionary of kanji used in Japan). If the proposed revisions are enacted, the person listed as the family head in a koseki must notify local government agencies of the kanji readings of their surname and all first names of family members within one year. If they fail to comply, standard name readings may be assigned instead. Individuals will also be able to petition agencies in the case of unusual name readings that don’t appear in the dictionary with an explanation for their request.
Final discussions regarding the changes are scheduled to take place at a general assembly meeting of the Legislative Council, after which a recommendation will be submitted to the Minister of Justice. The goal would be to eventually submit the bill during the regular session of the Diet.
Since it sounds like my request to name my future theoretical child after the King of Monsters is probably a no-go at this point, I guess I’ll have to settle for something a little more ordinary.
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