Wordwise 126 A2854

What’s in a name?

  • 2014.07.26

賢一, the wisest, 虹子, daughter of the rainbow…when Japanese parents choose a name for their children, they don’t only go for one that goes phonetically well with their surname or that has a ‘lucky’ number of strokes, they choose a meaning.

In the 13 years I have been in Japan, I have been asked a number of times what my name means, and I’m ashamed to say that, until today, I hadn’t had the curiosity to google it. In fact, most people in Western countries have no idea where their first name comes from. “So, how do parents choose a name for their children?” you may ask. Well, most of the time, they opt for a name whose sound they like or one that reminds them of an old friend or of one of their idols, provided it doesn’t ‘clash’ with the family name. For example, the first name Thomas was never an option for my parents to pick for me or my siblings although it’s a very nice name. Can you imagine Thomas Thomas? I’m still not entirely sure why they decided to name me Sebastien, but now that I’ve checked the original meaning of my name, I’m not sure it suits me very well. As a matter of fact, Sebastien comes from an old Greek word, sebastos, which mean “august” (恐れ多い). Hardly my most obvious trait, wouldn’t you say?

While I was at it, I also checked the origins of the names Garry and Adrian. Of the three of us, it’s Garry who has by far the coolest name. It comes from the old Germanic word ger, meaning “spear”. As for Adrian, his name literally means “the one who comes from Hadria”, an ancient town of the Roman Empire. While I’m fairly sure that Adrian has never been to Hadria, he still has a lot to live up to as his name was born by a Roman Emperor, Hadrianus, and six popes.
Good luck Adrian!