However, many Japanese when writing English prefer to write in the western style with the personal name first and the family name last. So you may see Japanese names in the form Akira Kurosawa, which means Akira of the Kurosawa family.
This can make you confused. The names of historical figures are almost always written in family-personal name order, but the names of modern people are usually written in personal-family name order.
Some people capitalize their family name. For example Gen'ichi NISHIO, Gen'ichi of the Nishio family.
Japanese people never have middle names today. However, historical figures from before the 19th century often had many middle names, representing their occupation, etc.
The emperor has no family name. He has only a personal name, such as Hirohito, Akihito and so on. Members of the royal family also don't have family names. When a woman marries a member of the royal family, she loses her family name.
Modern Japanese names are very different from those of 200 years ago. So I'll explain each of the two.
Until the 19th century, only the aristocracy and bushi (武士) (samurai) had family names. Everyone else, including farmers, merchants, and craftsmen, had only personal names. When the Edo Shogunate fell in 1853, the new Meiji government decided that all people must have family names. Until then, 80% of Japanese people had no family names.
Most women didn't have their own family names either. Even a daughter of bushi had only a personal name. This was because a woman couldn't be a successor to her house.
There are several famous bushi houses.
Here are some family names that existed in feudal Japan:
Kaga, Date, Maeda, Kuki, Asai, Shibata, Kato, Takeda, Saito, Honda, Ii, Tanuma, Ooka, Miyamoto, Suwa, Hattori, Chosokabe, Ukita, Mori, Ishida, Fukushima, Oda, Kuroda, Hachisuka, Okubo, Watanabe, Takigawa, Murakami
Konoe, Takashi, Kujo, Ichijo and Gojo were the five major noble houses called Gosetsuke. Hirohata, Daigo, Kuga, Oimikado, Saionji, Sanjo, Imaidegawa, Tokudaiji, and Kaoin were ranked next. There were also other noble houses such as Masachika, Shigenoi, Anenokoji, Shimizudani, Kawashi, Nakayama, Nanba, Asukai, Nomiya, Konjo, Matsuki, Jimyoin, Shijo, Yamashina, Aburakoji, Washio, Minase, Reizei, Kajuji, Karasuma, Inokuma and Rokujochigusa.
For a high-ranked bushi, such as a shōgun, daimyō, or other high officials of the shogunate, two kanji characters with noble images were combined and used.
Choose two from the list below and combine them.
Sane-, -Yoshi-, -Tada-, -Ie-, -Tsuna-, -Yasu-, -Yori-, -Mochi-, -Taka-, -Kane-, -Tomo-, -Nobu-, -Naga-, -katsu-, -Toki-, -Masa-, -Mitsu-, -Hisa-, -Hide-, -Toshi-, -Sada-, -Kuni-, -Aki-, -Shige-, -Nori-, -Mune, -Uji, -Mori, -TsuguFor example, Yorihisa, Kanemori, Sanetoki
There was a wide variety for a low-ranked bushi. Ichiro (the first son), Jiro (the second son), Saburo (the third son), Shiro (the fourth son), Goro (the fifth son), and variations such as Chojiro, Kanzaburo, Heishiro, Daigoro etc. were commonly used. -Emon, -Ji, -Zo, -Suke, -Be are also common such as Kuemon, Hikozaemon, Goemon, Heiji, Heizo, Kinnosuke, Kanbe, Hyobe, Denbe etc.
Their names were similar to those of low ranked bushi.
Sei, Shizuka, Tomoe, Masako, Ichi, Yodo, Kasuga, Nene, Koi, Tsukiyama, Matsu, Tama, Tara, Man, Sen, Yoshi,The word hime means "princess", so a woman named Koi could be called Koihime if she was noble and not married yet. The suffix gozen was used for a wife of a Bushi, such as Shizuka-gozen.
In is a suffix used by nuns. When a bushi died, his widow usually became an ama (nun) in an amadera (convent). Such a widow renamed herself, and put the suffix on her new name. Here are some famous nuns in Japanese history:
Hoshun-in, Kenbai-in, Kensei-in, Koudai-in
Edited from material found at http://www.io.com/~nishio/japan/names.html.
Copyright © 1994-2020 Ben Bullock