The Japanese have more than one kind of surname, more than one kind of Christian (or should we say heathen?) name, besides nicknames, pseudonyms, and even posthumous names. The subject is a labyrinth. We merely sketch out the following as a clue to guide the student in threading his way through it. He will find, then, that there are:-
1. The kabane or sei, a very ancient and aristocratic sort of family name, but now so widely diffused as to include several surnames in the narrower sense of the word. The grand old names of Minamoto, Fujiwara, Tachibana, are kabane.
2. The uji or myōji our surname, and dating like it only from mediæval times. Most names of this class were originally nothing more than the names of the localities in which the families bearing them resided, as Yama-moto, "foot of the mountain;" Ta-naka, "among the rice-fields;" Matsu-mura, "pine-tree village." Down to about 1870, surnames were borne only by persons of gentle birth, common folks being allowed but No. 3, much as in Europe during the middle ages.
3. The zokumyō or tsūshō, literally, "common name." It corresponds pretty closely to our Christian name. Very often such names end in tarō for an eldest son, in jirō for a second, in saburō for a third, and so on down to jūrō for a tenth son, as Gentarō, Tsunajirō, etc.; or else these distinctive terminations are used alone without any prefix. They mean respectively "big male," "second male," "third male," and so on. Other zokumyō, end in emon, suke, nojō, bei,-words fomerly serving to designate certain official posts, but now quite obsolete in their original acceptation.
4. The nanori or jitsumyō, that is, "true name," also corresponding to our Christian name. Examples of it are Masashige, Yoshisada, Tamotsu, Takashi. Until recently, the jitsumyō had a certain importance attached to it and a mystery enshrouding it. It was used only on solemn occasions, especially in combination with the kabane, as Fujiwara no Yoritsugu (no="of"). Since the revolution of 1868, there has been a tendency to let No. 1 retreat into the background, to make No. 2 equivalent to the European surname, and to assimilate Nos. 3 and 4, both being employed indiscriminately as equivalents of the European Christian name. If a man keeps No. 3, he drops No. 4, and vice versâ.
5. The yōmyō, or "infant name." Formerly all boys had a temporary name of this sort, which was only dropped, and the jitsumyō assumed, at the age of fifteen. Thus the child might have been Tarō or Kikunosuke, while the young man became Hajime or Tamotsu. The classes of names next to be mentioned, though all existing in full force, are less important than the preceding classes.
6. The azana, translated "nickname," for want of a better equivalent. Such are Mokei, Bunrin, Sotan, Shisei. Chinese scholars specially affect these, which are not vulgar, like our nicknames, but on the contrary, highly elegant.
7. The gō. "Pseudonym" is the nearest English equivalent, but almost every Japanese of a literary or artistic bent has one. Indeed he may have several. Some of the Japanese names most familiar to foreign ears are merely such pseudonyms assumed and dropped at will, for instance, Hokusai (who had half-a-dozen others), Ōkyo, and Bakin. Authors and painters are in the habit of giving fanciful names to their residences, and then they themselves are called after their residences, as Bashō-an (" banana hermitage"), Suzunoya-no-Aruji ("master of the house with a bell"). Such names often end in dōjin, sanjin, koji, okina, that is, "hermit," "mountaineer," "retired scholar," "aged man."
8. The haimyō and gagō. These are but varieties of the gō, adopted by comic poets and by painters.
9. The geimyō, "artistic name," adopted by singing and dancing-girls, actors, story-tellers, and other professional entertainers of the public. Thus, Ichikawa Danjūrō was not the real name, but only the hereditary "artistic name," of the most celebrated of modern Japanese actors. To his friends in private life, he was Mr. Horikoshi Shū (Horikoshi being the myōji, No. 2; Shū the jitsumyō, No. 4).
10. The okuri-na, or posthumous honorific appellation of exalted personages. These are the names by which all the Mikados are known to history,-names which they never bore during their lifetime. Jimmu Tennō and Jingō Kōgō are examples.
11. The hōmyō or kaimyō, a posthumous appellation chosen by the Buddhist priests for each believer immediately after death, and inscribed on the funeral tablet. Such names end in in, koji, shinji, shinnyo, dōji, etc., according to the age, sex, rank, and sect of the deceased. It is characteristic of Japanese ways that the native friend who assisted in the above classification never thought of mentioning women's names (yobi-na), which we will call No. 12. These are generally taken from some flower or other natural object, or else from some virtue or from something associated with good luck, and are preceded by the word O, "honourable." Thus we find O Kiku, "Chrysanthemum;" O Take, "Bamboo;" O Gin, "Silver;" O Haru, "Spring-time," O Kō, "Filial Piety," O Mitsu, "Abundance," etc., etc. But if the name has more than two syllables, the honorific prefix is omitted, as Kaoru, "Fragrant." Of late years it has become fashionable among the upper classes to drop the prefix O, "honourable," and to use the suffix ko, literally "child," instead, thus Take-ko, Mitsu-ko.
It was formerly the custom for a man to alter his name at any crisis of his career. Even now, adoption and various other causes, frequently entail such changes. The card is brought in to you of a Mr. Abō, of whom you have never heard:-the man himself walks into the room, when lo and behold! it is your old friend Hayashi. A teacher in mid-term suddenly loses track of a student named Suzuki, and has to pick it up as best he may in an apparent new-comer called Mitsuhashi. Not human beings only, but places exhibit this fickleness. Hundreds of place-names have been altered during the present reign, to the dire confusion of geographical and historical studies. The change of Yedo to Tōkyō is only the best-known of these. The idea, which is an old Chinese one, is to emphasise by the adoption of a new name some new departure in the fortunes of a city, village, mountain, school, etc. It is as if we should have changed the name of London and other places at the Reformation, or of Eton when the new Latin grammar was introduced. Bureaucratic readjust ments have acted extensively in the same direction, hamlets, for instance, being grouped together and receiving a general name, which may be either totally new or else that of one or other member of the group. In the former case, one is entirely at sea; in the latter, one is confused between the larger and the smaller entity.
Another peculiarity is what may be termed the transmission of names. A teacher, for instance, hands on his own pseudonym to a favourite pupil, in order to help to start him in popular favour. In this manner a bit of faience may be signed "Kenzan," and yet not be by the original potter Kenzan at all. In many cases only a part of the name is given or adopted. The Shōguns of the Tokugawa dynasty offer a good example of this remarkable custom. The name of the founder of the house being Ieyasu, his successors styled themselves Iemitsu, Ietsuna, Ienobu, and so on.
Now were we, or were we not, right in the statement with which we set out, that Japanese names are a labyrinth?
Books recommended - For women's names, see one of the articles included in Lafcadio Hearn volume entitled Shadowings; also R. Lange Über japanische Frauennamen, published in Jahrgang IV, Abtheilung I of the Mittheilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen zu Berlin.