The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, June 11, 2004

If you're Japanese, and you're procreating, and you've got a super-unique name in mind for the little bundle of joy, you may be in luck. Japan's Justice Ministry might expand the number of governmentally-sanctioned names allowed on the nation's familial registry, the downside of which might lead to some bizarre names:
Among those that were proposed this year at the public's request were characters for "turnip" and "strawberry." "Beetle," "frog," "sardine" and "spider" would also be permitted.

Some that might confuse are the word for "me" used by men or "who." There was also "agony" and "chew" and, more shockingly, "cancer" and "dung."
Requiring the state's approval of something so personal as a child's name seems rather authoritarian, but the justification seems solid enough:
Like mothers and fathers in other countries, Japanese parents agonize over the naming of a child. With tens of thousands of Japanese characters - or kanji, based on Chinese ideograms - to choose from, the possibilities would seem limitless.

And that's exactly what the government wants to avoid.

"The average person can only read and write between 2,000 to 3,000 characters. The government made the law because it would be too inconvenient not to be able to read people's names," Justice Ministry official Yoshikazu Nemura said.
Lest you think this is some sort of Japanese or Asian idiosyncracy, be aware that Great Britain has a similar system in place, although it's rarely enforced nowadays (I can't find a source at the moment, so you'll just have to trust me, or go searching yourself). The justification in the UK was to avoid what was perceived, about 200 years ago, as a steady incursion of French and Spanish names into the populace, which would lead to a dilution of English culture. I recall the article I read about it cited several modern British parents saddling their newborns with unfortunate names like "Fatso" and "Greenie".