Having a unique name can be a blessing or a curse depending on the name. Names follow people throughout their lives and can affect how others perceive them. Some parents are playing it safe and naming their kids something classic like Ashley or Tyler, and that’s not exclusive to the West. Japanese parents also try to give their children names that are unique, but still meet the expectations of society. However, this rule does not apply to anime, where characters are often given names that are puns or based on their abilities, such as casts of my hero academia and Sailor Moon.
Japanese names are usually made up of kanji, which is one of three writing systems used to make up the language. Kanji can be combined to create more complex words and names. In Europe, surnames were usually based on occupations or to which the son belonged – Johnson, Wilson, Weaver, etc. Japanese names were usually based on where a person lived or what clan they belonged to. Many Japanese surnames come from nature and places found in Japan, such as Yamanaka (the middle of the mountain) or Kawaguchi (the mouth of the river).
Anime and manga allow this idea to be taken to extremes, but realistically many of the names found in anime wouldn’t be used in everyday life. Sailor MoonOne example is Tsukino Usagi. Her name is a pun on the legend that there is a rabbit that lives on the moon making mochi, with 月 tsuki being “moon”, 野 Nope meaning “field, civilian” and うさぎ meaning “rabbit”. Put together, the name could be translated as “lunar civil rabbit”. The pun comes from the sound the full name makes when said all together. Nope の is a possessive particle in Japanese, so the name sounds like Tsuki-no-Usagi — “moon rabbit”.
While there are definitely people who go by the name Usagi, it’s not something one would normally name their child. Another example of a name that sounds legit but is actually not realistic is Kurashita Tsukimi from Princess Medusa. Tsukimi 月海 is made up of the kanji for moon and ocean but is considered a “kirakira name”. The Kirakira names are not only unusual, but use kanji pronunciations that most people wouldn’t use or use at all. They are the Japanese equivalent of giving special spellings of common names in the West, such as spelling Caitlyn as Keightlynn. Kirakira is an onomatopoeia meaning “sparkle” or “shining”. Many anime names fall into this category because they can be considered weird or unusual.
Some of the most infamous kirakira names involve Pokemon. One child was named Pikachu 光宙, with the kanji for light and space being used. Another was called Mewtwo, written 弥有ニ. Some names have even been legally banned after parents tried to name their children using them, one of which was Akuma, which roughly translates to “devil”. Legislation against these names has increased over the years.
While it’s safe to assume that names like Vegeta and Luffy aren’t common or everyday Japanese names, some series set in more realistic settings make it difficult to determine whether a character’s name is a usual Japanese name or a name invented by the creator. For the most part, the majority of names found in anime and manga are not used as actual names, although there are a few exceptions. There will always be parents who try to give their children a special name to make them stand out, no matter where in the world they are.
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