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Japanese Names

Japanese personal names are a bit tricky when you first start learning the language. Although most people in Japan use their last names, as you make friends, you will get to know people by their first name, and you’ll also hear about people. So it’s very useful to be able to tell, based on the name, if you’re dealing with a man or a woman.

It’s also, unfortunately, not entirely simple. If you can read Japanese, you can usually tell based on the characters, called Kanji, if the person is a woman or a man. Otherwise, you have to go through a process of elimination. This isn’t quite foolproof, but it does work most of the time.

• If the name ends in "ko", as in Akiko, Kazuko, Kikuko, Hiroko, or Emiko, it is almost certainly a woman's name.

• If the name ends in "mi", as in Hiromi, Megumi, Emi, or Naomi, it is almost certainly a woman's name (note that Hiromi and Naomi sometimes can be a man's name).

• If the name ends with "a", as in Akina, Nana, or Hana, it's usually a woman's name.

• If the name ends in "e" with a vowel before the "e", as in Hanae, Kikue, or Momoe, it's almost always a woman's name (but see below for "e" with consonants before it).

• If the name ends in "ro", as in Ichiro, Taro, Saburo, or Jiro, it's almost definitely a man's name.

• If the name ends in the vowel "u", as in Masakazu or Toru, it's a man's name

• If the name ends in the vowel "e" with a consonant before it, as in Daisuke, it's a man's name.

• If the name ends in "i" with a consonant before it (other than "m"; see above), as in Kazuichi, Naoki, Hiroshi, Takashi, or Miki, it is a man's name most of the time.

• If the name ends in "o" with anything other than "k" before it, as in Masao, Tetsuo, or Yasuo, it is probably a man's name (note the exception Sachiyo; the "yo" at the end of a name is used in both men's and women's names).

All modern Japanese first names end in vowels (a, i, u, e, o). Also, most women's names are two or three syllables, so a name that is four syllables, such as Kensaburo or Yasuhiro, is a man's name with virtually no exceptions.

There are many classical names which end in “n”, the only final consonant in Japanese. These are almost without exception men’s names. A few of these names have crept into modern Japanese as, for instance, stage names for Kabuki actors or character names in anime. Doraemon, the alien robot cat of anime fame, is probably the best known.

There are also many "new" names, ones that have not previously been seen much, and the rules above may not apply. But take comfort because Japanese people themselves can be confused by them.

So good luck using this little system. It's a lot easier than learning the language, and it does work.

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