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What's in a name? Japanese historical naming practices

J. L. Badgley
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11:48 AM - Jun 05, 2015 #1

What's the difference between Kiso Yoshinaka and Minamoto Yoshinaka?
Who is Matsudaira Takechiyo?
And what's up with Kinoshita Tôkichirô?
Why can't I find anyone else from the Murasaki family?

Historical Japanese names can be confusing to many English speakers, and even to modern Japanese. Naming practices were much more complex and fluid than today, and there were many more name patterns other than just "family name + given name".

For example, although the basic pattern is "family name + given name", only certain families had names, and early on these names were controlled. Other people might be known by a locative (that is, a description of a place that they are connected to), by a job, or even by a social group. Some of these became "uji" (氏), court designated familial structures, while later subgroups formed as "ie" (家), or house. To make things more complicated, these house or uji names might be derived from place names. Thus, Saionji Kinhira refers to Kinhira of the Saionji house, which is part of the Fujiwara uji (so they could also be called Fujiwara Kinhira, if that connection were important). On the other hand, Saionji is the name of a temple in Kyôto, and Fujiwara refers to a field of Wisteria, and was the name of one off the old capitals.

On top of that, you have different given names, from the common name given at birth, to famous names for use in public, to art and religious names. The young Matsudaira Takechiyo would later be known as Matsudaira Ieyasu, for example.

Many people were known by their titles. So, Fujiwara Dainagon simply refers to a member of the Fujiwara who holds the post of Major Counselor (Dainagon). Taira Noto-no-kami Noritsune was the governor of Noto, and is someone known simply as Noto Noritsune. Even the name "Shotoku Taishi" merely means "Prince of the Shotoku rank). Many titles eventually became names, with no actual court position attached, further confusing the issue.

Then there are nicknames, often used in literary sources, where names are not often given. Thus, in the Tale of Genji, the character Utsusemi is known as such because of a poetic reference to cast off cicada shells, but that isn't her name. Even the author's name, Murasaki Shikibu refers to one of her major characters (often assumed to be a Mary Sue) and the court office of her father. This pattern is particularly common when referring to women.

On top of that you have religious names. Often monks, eschewing worldly connections, will take religious names, which are used without a family name. Kûkai, Hônen, Nichiren, etc. These are always pronounced with the "Chinese"reading. However, you often ser the same done with lay persons, such as Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin. It was also fashionable for artists or scholars to take Chinese art names as well, such as Hokusai or Abe no Seimei.

As anyone can see, this can all get quite complex, even though English authors usually normalize to a single name, throughout. Over the next posts, I'll try to table the major name elements to provide an introduction for those with questions about names naming practices throughout Japanese history.
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Hosokawa Gracia
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2:44 PM - Jun 05, 2015 #2

"Murasaki Shikibu refers to one of her major characters and the court office of her father."

Two poets and writers in the Heian Imperial Court in Kyoto were known by their fathers' court office, but were not relatives:

(1) Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji and The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu. (2) Izumi Shikibu, who was the author of Diary of Izumi Shikibu. Both were ladies-in-waiting of the Empress Akiko at the same time. Both of them have tanka poems in famous poetry collection, One Hundred Poets (Hyakunin Isshu).

A lesser known Heian poet was the author of The Sarashina Diary. Her name is not known, but she was identified as Lady Sarashina (by her location) or as "Takasue's daughter" (her father's daughter). And so it goes.
Sarashina_reflected_moon_on_paddy_fields_300x198_1.jpg
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ltdomer98
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3:18 PM - Jun 05, 2015 #3

Kitsuno and I just recorded a podcast that talks about the importance of "name", following a reading of David Spafford's article last year in HJAS What's in a Name? House Revival, Adoption, and the Bounds of Family in Late Medieval Japan. We didn't go off on all the permutations and naming conventions, focusing mainly on the value of the ie or "house" name as Spafford discusses, but we did talk about the difference between an "uji" and an "ie" academically defined.

We've considered a more wide-ranging discussion on "names", so perhaps this is something we can bring you on to discuss as you develop your posts!

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J. L. Badgley
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3:38 AM - Jun 09, 2015 #4

Okay, so let's kick this off with a look at names in the Nara period.

At this point, we have people identified by a given name (Kamatari, Uruka, Makibi, etc.), as well as those who are known by religious names (Dokyo comes to mind). We also have people who are identified by jobs or titles, and it is unclear where one begins and another ends. For example, we have Fujiwara no Fuhito--Fuhito literally means "scribe", so was this just a famous scribe of the Fujiwara family, whose sons became major court nobles, or was he named "Fuhito"? I'm honestly not sure. As mentioned earlier, "Shotoku Taishi" just means "Crown Prince of the Shotoku rank", even though today it is treated as a name. I've seen speculation that Soga no Emishi's name refers to the family's origin outside the Yamato polity, but I don't know for certain. Regardless, names and positions are clearly mixed.

On the issue of family names, those come in several forms, and not everyone had one. For example, the family of the sovereign didn't have a family name--they didn't need one. While some will talk about the "Yamato" clan, there is no evidence that I've seen that the Imperial Family ever referred to themselves as the "Yamato" clan, though they might call themselves "of Yamato" (Yamato no), which could have the same effect.

In fact, the naming practices make it difficult, at times, to distinguish a simple locative from a surname, and it doesn't seem to have mattered. Besides family groups, there were occupational groups--usually distinguished with the -be suffix. These were groups that appear to have had some kind of familial connection, but were more properly associated with a particular occupation, like the Inbe, who were the court diviners that claimed a common descent from one of the dieties present when Amaterasu came out of the cave. There were also -be such as the "Fujiwara-be", which appears to refer to a group of individuals whose work supported the Fujiwara family.

Another complication is the number of families that were descended from the Korean peninsula. War drove many people to the islands of Japan, and some famous princes and nobles became the progenitors of their own houses.

Family names were extremely important in this period, and regulated by the government. In the Nihon Shoki you can read about "rectification of names", as people took names they weren't actually entitled to. An example is given of the Fujiwara, when the Sovereign makes a decree that basically disinherits a large number of people who were using the name, under the claim that they were actually descended from Nakatomi relatives of Kamatari, but were not directly descended from him. Later on, in the Heian and Kamakura periods, we see a similar thing happen in the north, with the Oshu Fujiwara--a branch of Fujiwara that may have never been Fujiwara at all.

One of the important aspects to these names, at least in the beginning of the Asuka and Nara periods, was the kabane (姓) system. Not unlike the "bone rank" system of Korea, the kabane system granted rank to families, rather than individuals, and thus the family's status rose or fell as a whole. Thus, if you were part of a family whose status was raised in rank, you reaped the benefits yourself, as well. Later on, the system was reformed, so that rank was based (nominally) on merit, with each individual rising through the ranks without dragging along their entire clan (though it certainly opened doors). This meritocracy was in place, briefly, before it was eventually corrupted into more of an aristocracy, once again, largely through the secret rites of the state combined with automatic granting of rank to the children of high ranking nobles.

Regardless, names are still quite fluid at this time, and could be changed as needed. This would continue on into the Heian period.
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Bethetsu
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5:01 AM - Jun 09, 2015 #5

J. L. Badgley wrote:On the issue of family names, those come in several forms, and not everyone had one. For example, the family of the sovereign didn't have a family name--they didn't need one.
The imperial family still does not have a family name, though since Meiji period everyone else does.
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nagaeyari
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1:39 PM - Jun 14, 2015 #6

J. L. Badgley wrote:I've seen speculation that Soga no Emishi's name refers to the family's origin outside the Yamato polity, but I don't know for certain. Regardless, names and positions are clearly mixed.


I am not familiar with this speculation. Could you elaborate? Is it along the following lines: Differentiating the Soga family from the central Yamato polity with the personal name of Emishi, which was also the name of an "outsider" group in northern Japan?

According to J-wiki, 蝦夷/毛人 would rather have been a pejorative (most likely after his death during the compilation of the court histories) used to attack his brash and forceful character, a trait he would have had in common with contemporaries' conception of the northern Emishi.

Since 稲目, 馬子, and 入鹿 do not seem to imply outsider status from the Yamato polity, the above pejorative theory seems likely.

Nevertheless, the Soga were most certainly from outside the Yamato polity. I am not debating that.
Last edited by nagaeyari on 2:17 PM - Jun 14, 2015, edited 3 times in total.
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J. L. Badgley
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9:32 AM - Jun 15, 2015 #7

That makes sense, and I may have been confusing and conflating the two assertions.
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J. L. Badgley
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11:03 AM - Jun 15, 2015 #8

The kabane system itself was officially overturned, as mentioned, in the Nara period, though some of the ranks continued to be used for quite some time, and we even see references to them in the Heian period, but my understanding is that the meaning had changed and it was much more personal in nature. Individual achievement became more important than the overall achievement of the family, to a certain degree. Familial ties continued to be hugely important, politically, and, as they say, "a rising tide lifts all boats", with political collusion between family members in the upper echelons of government no doubt assisting each other to rise in status.

The problem was that there was only so much room at the top, and these traditional familial groups, or uji, became too large. The Fujiwara family is the best known and documented uji of this time, as they really came to power during the Nara period with the four sons of Fujiwara Fuhito coming to prominence together, but even then, they each were the heads of their own "branch" of the family, indicating what looks, to me, like a sub-familial structure within the uji itself. In the Heian period, we'll see further delineation of the "houses" within the Fujiwara, which were vying with each other for power and jockeying for position. These houses are often named for where they reside, (literally, where their house is) so a house with a power base on the 9th avenue in the capital may become the "Kujo no Fujiwara", while a branch with their residence on the second avenue might become known as three Nijo no Fujiwara. The line of the founder of Saion Temple was known as the Saionji. The problem in reading through sources is that all these individuals can be called "Fujiwara", and usually were, at least until the Kamakura period. Even then, falling back on the more prestigious uji connection was often done in court settings. Likewise, if you want to emphasize the differences, you may decide to use the house name.

Thus it is when, during the Gempei War, when the authors want to differentiate between Minamoto from the line of Yoshitomo and their erstwhile cousins out in Kiso valley, they use "Kiso" as the family name for the latter. Thus, Minamoto Yoshinaka is also known as Kiso Yoshinaka.

Houses also appear from next to nothing, as new families gain some measure of affluence and power. It appears to be an unregulated social structure, though most such families will still claim decent from one of the uji, or another prominent family.

Here, someone like Hashiba Hideyoshi is notable. His original family name of Kinoshita (lit. "under the tree") is probably just something to distinguish himself, and it is generally believed that he was of peasant stock that managed to work his way into service as an ashigaru. Oda Nobunaga granting him the name "Hashiba" acknowledged him as someone who was worthy of their own house, even though it was created on the spot. Later, as he rise above even his fallen liege, the court would recognize him by creating an Uji for him and his descendants, which was Toyotomi. As we can see, the concept off the "uji" was still alive and well, and it was, technically, related by the imperial court, even then, though it's meaning was much more symbolic than in the past.

However, I how that had gone some way to explaining why the same person might have different family names by which they are referred to, even if it doesn't clear up who is who, all the time.
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Tatsunoshi
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2:09 PM - Jun 15, 2015 #9

Kiso Yoshinaka also shows how what name/form of address would be used, by whom, and for what purpose. 'Kiso' was deliberately used both at the time and later by Yoritomo's supporters to undermine any validity that Yoshinaka may have to being the leader of the Minamoto line. Basically, 'Kiso' gave him the image of being a rustic hillbilly or an unrefined, uncultured hick. The Hojo regents and their supporters really played this up in the Azuma Kagami and other Kamakura era documents to help insure their positions (since even though they basically were responsible for eliminating Yoritomo's line, their legitimacy depended on him being the rightful leader). It's also why Yoshinaka seems to be the only warlord of the time with female warriors fighting for him-and one of the reasons Tomoe Gozen and Aoi Gozen are almost certainly mythical (invented to cast aspersions on Yoshinaka's masculinity-something Yoshinaka even comments on in the Heike Monogatari right before he dies). Then even take it so far as to have Yoshinaka huddled up with his women in Kyoto while his troops are falling to Yoshitsune at the Uji River.

And of course, speaking of place names as substituting for names, Yoritomo was almost always referred to as 'Lord Kamakura' by his close vassals.
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J. L. Badgley
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9:52 AM - Jun 16, 2015 #10

Job titles are commonly used in place of names, often using the family name of differentiation is needed (which you wouldn't with "Lord Kamakura"). Fortunately for most English readers, it is common for translators and historians to take their most well-known name and use that throughout. It can still cause some confusion between works, however, particularly when a translator of work "A" uses one name (e.g. Kiso Yoshinaka) while in work "B" you find another (Minamoto Yoshinaka), based on either what they know our just personal preference.
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J. L. Badgley
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8:04 PM - Jun 28, 2015 #11

Before getting into personal names and nanori, I'd next make a quick mention of the use of no in names. People may notice that some names commonly utilize the Japanese particle no (Soga no Iruka, Abe no Seimei, Kiso no Yoshinaka, Sugawara no Michizane) while other names do not (Takeda Shingen, Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu). So what is going on here?

This becomes particularly complex as you will often see that some names are written with or without the no: Sugawara no Michizane is sometimes just Sugawara Michizane. Fujiwara Michinaga is sometimes written as Fujiwara no Michinaga. In addition, when you look at the Japanese, the no is only indicated in the (often modern) furigana. So what is going on?

Well, this is an interesting piece of onomastic history; the no was a relic of early naming practice, and it makes sense. After all, "Iruka of [the] Soga" makes sense, and we have evidence that this was how early names worked. It is not dissimilar to how "John the Smith" became "John Smith", etc. By the Sengoku Period, it had mostly been dropped in names. The question remains, however, as to when, exactly, the practice changed. In dealing with eras in between the Nara Period and the Muromachi Period, I've not seen any clear evidence of where the cultural shift took place. As such, it makes it difficult to determine how best to translate a name.

On top of that, translators may always choose not to add the no, as it isn't necessary for comprehension and leaving it out may be easier on the reader (just like most people use the modern pronunciation "Himiko" rather than the likely contemporary pronunciation of "Pimiko"). It is almost always acceptable to leave out the no in translation, and it is also almost always appropriate to use it for names from the Heian Period and earlier.

I believe it may have continued to be used with imperial court titles, but I'm not sure. Does anyone else have a good source on that?

Regardless, if you see it, don't get alarmed, and just realize that it is an artifact of the evolution of Japanese naming practices.
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Bethetsu
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8:47 AM - Jun 30, 2015 #12

J. L. Badgley wrote:I believe it may have continued to be used with imperial court titles, but I'm not sure. Does anyone else have a good source on that?
"No" is still used with "miya 宮" which is the normal title used for an imperial prince or princess. For instance, 三笠宮崇仁親王 (H.I.H. Prince Takahito Mikasa) is normally referred to as "Mikasa no Miya" (in English as Prince Mikasa).
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8:33 PM - Sep 27, 2015 #13

Here's a question in regards to this discussion:
The convention of naming the heir of a clan the same name as the old ruler, for instance the Saiga (Suzuki) and Hattori are famous for this. Is there a term for this that I am not immediately aware of?
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J. L. Badgley
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11:39 PM - Sep 27, 2015 #14

I'm not sure if there is a specific name, but it is something we find inside and outside of Japan (think of the naming of Kings of England, or George Foreman's kids, for that matter). You particularly see it in art lineages. Most of the time, though, the nanori simply shares a character.
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Dickjutsu
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12:18 AM - Sep 28, 2015 #15

Yeah, I recently did a video on it and only after it was said and done did the wife ask me if there was a term for it, since I had brought up the term 'Youmei' for a childhood name. With the likes of youmei, yobina, nanori...I just figured there might be a specific term for having your son Masatomi change his name to Hanzo the 349th or such. Lol.

Thank you.
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Bethetsu
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2:50 PM - Sep 28, 2015 #16

Inheriting a yobi-na or tsûmei 通名 from the family or especially in a profession is called shûmei 襲名. For instance, most of the daimyo of the main line of the Hosokawa descended from Hosokawa Tadaoki took the name Etchû no kami. There were often cases where a child had his father’s childhood yobi-na (yômei). But this seems different from western-style naming. We have Edward V, son of Edward IV, or X and X, Jr., but in the case of Japan, two people did not have the same yobi-na at the same time. The other person had already changed his yobi-na or was dead.

I don’t think one would say Hattori Masatomi change his name to Hattori Hanzo. Rather he would have had a yobi-na like Jinichirô and changed from Hattori Jinichirô Masatomi to Hattori Hanzô Masatomi.
“Formal” names like Masatomi often had one character used a lot in the family or given by the lord, but were not normally fully duplicated, as J. L. Badgley mentioned above.
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J. L. Badgley
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3:11 AM - Sep 29, 2015 #17

Hmmm... I would think that Etchû no kami is slightly different. First off, that is a title, which became a name, in its way, but it sounds more like they were passing the title from one person to the next (whether or not they had Etchû or even the authority to grant such a title). This strikes me as different from the Nakamura-za passing the name "Kanzaburou" down their lineage.

On the Masatomi issue--I agree. You often find that people use different parts of the name depending on what they want to emphasize. Actual name changes are found, though; particularly the family name. A good example of actually changing names is Tokugawa Ieyasu, who went by many different names, throughout his life.
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Tatsunoshi
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11:56 AM - Sep 29, 2015 #18

J. L. Badgley wrote:Hmmm... I would think that Etchû no kami is slightly different. First off, that is a title, which became a name, in its way, but it sounds more like they were passing the title from one person to the next (whether or not they had Etchû or even the authority to grant such a title). This strikes me as different from the Nakamura-za passing the name "Kanzaburou" down their lineage.

Yes, the title could be used in lieu of a name, but wasn't a name in and of itself. Hereditary offices (especially in the Edo period) often included passing the title to the heir along with the associated duties and status of the office.
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