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Japanese Names and Naming Practices


May 28, 2013 by Valerie Elkins

Did you know that Japan has the largest number of surnames of anyplace in the world? Over 70,000 surnames! That is not including the 107,000 special pronunciation variations of kanji characters that are also possible. There are family names that sound the same but are written with completely different characters and may be unique to your family, the time period or locality.

While the surnames Saito and Suzuki have millions with that name, there are family names so rare that it is limited to 1 family in a remote village.

Finding your family without knowing the kanji can be challenging. Especially when the name was written in English, important information may be left out. For example:


Can all be used in English for the Ohno surname, but may be confused with an entirely different name in Japanese.

Look in old records, the backs of pictures, letters and other documents that might have the name written in kanji. Finding the correct kanji can help in your quest for finding your ancestors and in doing your Japanese genealogy.

Also did you know that the Japanese often changed their given names? Do to superstition, a name might be changed for a “luckier” name. Surnames for males will be changed if they are heir adopted to another family.

Finding and learning your family names in Japan can be tricky. But, if you are diligent or lucky you can find the correct name and all the changes on their family koseki.

Best of luck in discovering your family names!




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