Accepted Paper:

New Japanese naming practices: reflecting changes in ideals for children  


Giancarla Unser-Schutz (Rissho University)

Paper short abstract:

By looking at parents’ messages to children, I consider how new Japanese names reflect changing ideals. While new names appear burdensome, I suggest that parents may create positive social identities by paying attention to whether the names are easy to say and by selecting kanji with positive images.

Paper long abstract:

Naming practices in Japan appear to be in transition, with 'traditional' forms like the ending -ko for girls largely out of use. Instead, they are being replaced in popularity by new types of names which manipulate orthography in ways that make them difficult to read (Satō 2007). As Goodenough (1965) describes, naming practices reflect what the giver wishes to emphasize or is concerned about in the receiver's identity, suggesting that these practices relate to changes in parents' desires for their children. By looking at parents' messages to children in one community newsletter, I will consider how new names reflect parents' changing ideals and what kinds of identities are forged through their use. Although Kobayashi (2009) has argued that these naming practices reflect a new currency of uniqueness licensed by lowered consciousness of the public sphere, parents' comments hint at a more nuanced concern about children's social identities, with frequent comments on 'being loved by everyone' and 'being considerate of others' emphasizing outside relationships. These new customs thus appear to have contradictory interpretations: while their use of orthography may present a burden to others, parents' own comments emphasize a strong interest in their children developing positive social relations. Instead of interpreting these naming practices as inconsiderate of others, I will suggest that parents may be attempting to address these concerns in other ways, such as by paying attention that the names are easy to say, and, denotationally, by selecting kanji (Chinese characters) with positive images.

Panel P140
Ethnographies of (dis)connection: marriage, families, households and homesteads in contemporary communities