Japanese Catholic Naming Customs

2
“Japanese Catholic naming customs” is locked Japanese Catholic naming customs" by Kate Towne (CatholicMom.com)

By Japanese artist, unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m always excited when a story with Catholic characters/themes catches the attention of major Hollywood actors and directors, and Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence has certainly done so. Have any of you yet seen Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of it? I haven’t yet, but I loved reading that the two leads, Andrew Garfield (“raised in a secular Jewish household” and known for having played Spiderman) and Adam Driver (“raised in a Baptist family” and known for having played Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens), went on a silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house, and that well known Fr. James Martin, SJ, was even commissioned to help them prepare for their roles. (For more on the movie and its portrayal of the faith and the faithful, you might like Bishop Robert Barron’s review [though be warned it contains spoilers]).

I’ve long been interested in the Japanese Catholic Church — we love St. Francis Xavier in my family (and the CCC movie Francis Xavier and the Samurai’s Lost Treasure is a favorite), and this bit from The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent is amazing and so moving:

There is not in the whole history of the Church a single people who can offer to the admiration of the Christian world annals as glorious, and a martyrology as lengthy, as those of the people of Japan.”

Indeed there are huge lists of Venerables, Blesseds, and Saints who were born in Japan and died in Japan and — being that I’m always looking through the lens of Catholic names — I’ve always been interested by the fact that every single one of them has a familiar saint’s name for a first name. I know there are Japanese Catholics with Japanese names (like the aforementioned Shusaku Endo; I did actually look to see if he also had a Christian name but didn’t find one), so I’ve wondered how the idea of “Christian names” fits into the naming traditions of Japanese Catholics.

I found this helpful article about Japanese naming practices in general, and it seems that names are chosen strictly for meaning, which is different than our familiar practice of often naming *for* someone (the traditional understanding of “Christian name” — i.e., the name of a saint), but isn’t necessarily different in the sense of using virtue names nor in avoiding names that are foreign to Christian sensibility. You know?

I also found this on Quora, which I posted on my blog:

Here in Japan there is no tradition of giving a middle name, so it is common for parents to name the child a normal Japanese name, and then the child is given a Saint’s name at baptism. The baptismal name is generally only used at the parish for official things, and not in every day life – though a lot of my friends use their baptismal name in their email addresses. 

Occasionally the parents will give a Saint or Christian based name as a given name, but not as a rule. There aren’t that many Saints names that go well with Japanese, but there is a little girl at our parish named Kurara (the Japanese for Clara/Claire). Some parents choose given names such as Ai (love), Megumi (grace), Nozomi (hope), etc.”

And one of my readers responded:

Ohhhh. This answered an age-old question for me. I always wondered why my Japanese (born in US but returned to Japan after WWII internment) grandmother’s legal name was Yoshika, but went by Margaret. I always thought it was just their way of “Americanizing” their names to assimilate. Turns out that Margaret was indeed the name given to her at baptism! Her siblings (Michael/Masaaki and Thomas/Michihiko) also use their baptismal names.”

I love hearing stories like that!

“Japanese Catholic naming customs” is locked Japanese Catholic naming customs" by Kate Towne (CatholicMom.com)

By Abraham (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m also interested in the names of the Catholic churches in Japan — I follow @catholicjapan on Instagram,* and the featured churches often have names like Chuchi Catholic ChurchTsuwano Catholic Church, and Aokata Catholic Church, which I think are geographic names. All of them have patron saints that aren’t part of the churches’ names (St. John GotoSt. Teresa of the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family, respectively), which is so different from how American Catholic churches are usually named. (Be sure to check out the web site I linked to for the saints’ names in the previous sentence — it’s the site of the Daughters of St. Paul in Japan, and there’s a listing on the site of all the beautiful Sisters and their names — you can click on each one for their stories!)

I love finding out different naming traditions in different cultures, especially as they relate to our faith! Do any of you know anything more about Japanese naming customs, especially among Catholic families? 

*I also follow @ruriruri on Instagram, which focuses on images of Our Lady in Japan — I find the pictures so inspiring, definitely worth a follow!

Copyright 2017 Katherine Morna Towne

Share.

About Author

Kate is a writer, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 3 to 13. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.

2 Comments

  1. I am so happy to have found this. After reading Endo’s novel (I have not seen the movie yet) and reading up on the Japanese Catholic history, I’ve become endeared to the Japanese Catholics, and to Japanese culture in general. God bless your Japanese relatives. I have written a number of posts on the novel on my literature blog. If you’re interested, here:
    http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/2017/01/silence-by-shusaku-endo-part-7-in.html

    That’s the latest of my posts on the novel. If you click the tag for it on the bottom, you can find all the posts.

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.