The Baby Name Buff: Manga Edition

Guest blogger: Kevin Garton

In this edition of The Baby Name Buff, we’ll be going over some names from manga—Japanese comic books! As far as naming goes, manga is very cosmopolitan, including not only Japanese names but many names from the West, especially English, given the number of stories that take place outside of Japan or in fictional settings heavily inspired by historical Western countries. Some names are wholly invented for a setting with little basis in reality or taken from words that wouldn’t usually be names. Presented here is a collection of names that should touch on a number of different Japanese genres, including names that are common in Japan, names that may already be recognizable to English speakers, and names that are all but unique to the manga that made them popular. This collection also focuses on names from series I’m personally familiar with and my favorite characters from those series. So if you’re looking to name your kid with a pop-culture reference from the fringes of the mainstream, or if you’d like some comics to add to your reading list, this post may be a decent place to start!

A word on nicknames: Japanese uses an honorific system in which a person’s name is suffixed with a word indicating something about the speaker’s relation to them, called an “honorific.” Probably the best-known in the English-speaking world is “-sensei,” which indicates that the person referenced has a formal teacher’s relationship to the speaker. There are other, similar words that are used to indicate informal relationships: “-chan” and “-kun” are diminutives applied to girls and boys, respectively, and can be attached to any name to give it the feel of a nickname.

    1. Utena (oo-ten-uh): This is the name of the protagonist from Chiho Saito’s Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series best known for its anime adaptation. Her name literally means “calyx,” the leaves that protect an unopened flower bud and later the open flower’s underside; as a namesake, Utena stands for courage, independence, and defiance of gender norms. Having been rescued by a prince at a young age, Utena is inspired to become a prince herself. She eschews the scarf and skirt of her school’s girls’ uniform in favor of the blazer and trousers of its boys’ uniform—and attracts a large amount of attention from other girls by virtue of her dashing figure and prowess at sports. As such, Utena is a good option for parents who prize a revolutionary spirit that refuses to bend to tradition, a strong sense of justice, and athleticism. Options for nicknames include “Tenny” and the series title, “Revolutionary Girl.”

    2. Anthy (anne-thie): Anthy is one of the most important characters from Revolutionary Girl Utena, after Utena herself. The vessel of a supernatural power that motivates most of the conflict in the story, Anthy is fated to serve anyone who wins a duel to control that power. In this sense, Anthy stands for traditional feminine ideals: she is beautiful, subservient, and the key to enormous power that she is unable to wield herself. By the end of the story, however, it’s clear that Utena has succeeded in freeing her from her supernatural bonds and granting her autonomy. If there is any flower that Utena, the “calyx,” protects and nurtures as it blooms, Anthy is that flower. The prominence of rose imagery throughout Revolutionary Gril Utena and Anthy’s title of “The Rose Bride” provide solid links to the flower for parents interested in horticultural names. Given her journey from meek obedience to confident independence, naming your child “Anthy” is a hopeful sign that your daughter will be able to use the power handed down to her to seize the future and revolutionize the world.

    3. Rock (rawk): The name “Rock” appears in three different contexts (that I know of) in the world of manga: multiple times throughout the works of Osamu Tezuka; in the name of Rokuro Okajima, a character from Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon; and in the name of Rock Lee, from Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. Curiously, these characters represent between them a continuity of perspective that offers a parent a full array of values they could ascribe to the name and also allows room for their child to choose their own favorite association.

Osamu Tezuka is one of the most prolific and without a doubt the most influential mangaka of all time. Working over a period of just over forty years, it was he more than anyone else that defined the style of Japanese comics that we know today. A character named “Rock” appears in a number of his works, many times with a similar appearance and personality but never a narrative continuity. While Tezuka’s “Rock” does have some stints as a hero, he appears most often as an antihero who’s willing to use whatever brutal means are necessary to achieve otherwise positively-motivated ends. As a namesake, Tezuka’s Rock stands for guile, ambition, and perseverance, even in defiance of mainstream values. In this way, Tezuka’s Rock offers a similar flavor of namesake to Star Wars’ Sith.

The Rock from Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon is a much more ambivalent namesake. Originally named “Rokuro Okajima,” this character is a burnt-out Japanese office worker who discovers he’s been accidentally caught up in a corrupt criminal operation perpetrated by his employers. He gains the nickname “Rock” once he falls in with a band of expat American mercenaries operating out of Thailand. Caught between his milquetoast rearing and the brutality he’s thrust into, Rock’s struggle is to reconcile the ideals of his affluent upbringing and the heartless reality he’s forced to stare down. Ultimately, he manages to carve a niche out for himself, straddling the divide between the two worlds. Being the product of such conflicting forces and ideals, Hiroe’s “Rock” provides a namesake who stands for adaptability, creativity, and bravery—bravery both to accept the hard fact of compromise and to stare down the barrel of a gun if that’s what it takes to keep his ideals alive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Tezuka’s Rock is Masashi Kishimoto’s Rock Lee, from the super-popular title Naruto. Rock Lee is the incorruptible “good boy” of the Naruto universe. Unable to use almost all of the supernatural abilities that define the fighting in the combat-oriented series, Kishimoto’s Rock is determined to make up the deficit with hard work and discipline. While he lacks social graces (proving particularly inept around his romantic interests), and though other characters frequently poke fun at his dorky appearance, he is utterly dependable and committed to fighting the good fight. His raw effort and dedication make him a namesake that stands for integrity, honest work, and a blindness to obstacles.

Though they run a gamut of perspectives, all three of these Rocks possess a strong philosophical anchor. They all share a willingness to do whatever it takes, whether a willingness to resort to extreme means, a willingness to compromise where you have to so you can hold fast in other places, or a willingness to work that much harder to accomplish your dreams. Thus, no matter which of these Rocks you decide to attribute your child’s name to (or that they later decide they’re named after), they’ll have a legacy of steadfastness and commitment to ideals to live up to.

TBNB Note: The name Rock has actually been in the top 1,000 before. But our guest blogger didn’t know that, and his information on this name was just too cool to omit, so I made an exception.

    4. Revy (rev-vee): Revy is another nickname from Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon. A member of the same expat American mercenary gang Rock joins, Rebecca “Revy” Lee is a gutsy gunslinger who’s famous for wielding a pistol in each hand at the same time. A mercenary punk who takes no guff, her nickname “Revy” represents a namesake for daring, extreme skill, and good, old-fashioned kick-ass. Through the brief flashes we see of her traumatic past, she also represents a cautionary tale that you can’t run away from your problems forever. Because Revy is a nickname, it offers flexibility: you can name your child Rebecca in order to provide a normal fallback while using the nickname Revy (probably until the teenage years when a new identity, distanced from mom and dad’s weird Japan stuff, might become desirable).

    5. Syaoran (shau-ron): The final “Lee” on this list is Syaoran Li from CLAMP’s CardCaptor Sakura. Syaoran (written 小狼 Xiǎoláng, meaning “little wolf”) first appears asserting that, by right of blood,  he should take over the supernatural duties bestowed on Sakura, the title character. Over time, Syaoran comes to recognize Sakura’s strength, decides not to contest her claim to the title, and instead supports her efforts. Thus, Syaoran provides a namesake that represents strength that isn’t overbearing, a willingness to revise one’s beliefs in the face of evidence, and a strong desire to do the right thing—even if it means stepping out of the spotlight. As the title character’s ultimate romantic interest, he also represents a love that does not make demands or set limits but a love that provides support and helps to create possibilities. Syaoran’s name is Chinese, the character having been born and raised in Hong Kong, adding a distinctly Chinese cosmopolitan twist. Its meaning also provides a good nickname in “little wolf.” It could also be shortened to “Ron” in case your child decides they’d rather not draw attention from an unusual name.

    6. Riza (ree-zuh): Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye is a character from Hiromu Arakaway’s Fullmetal Alchemist. As a crack sniper, she represents discipline and highly refined skill; as a member of an insurrectionist clique of the military intent on overthrowing a corrupt regime, she represents something more sophisticated. She acts as a subordinate to the clique’s leader but never follows his instructions without question. Her discipline does not manifest as blind, immediate obedience but rather as the ability to think critically under high pressure and make incisive judgments at critical moments. She is not afraid to critique her superior and is willing and ready to point a gun at him in order to force him to acknowledge when his motivations are sliding off the rails. Riza provides a namesake that represents willfulness that binds people together, combined with the discipline and bravery to act decisively when the situation demands it. Parents wishing to instill in their children a sense of purpose, even without regard to acclaim and recognition, have a fabulous namesake in Arakawa’s “Riza.” Her surname, “Hawkeye,” could serve as a nickname, a middle name, or both. Daring parents may even use “Hawkeye” as a given name.

    7. Kagami (kah-gah-mee): 鏡kagami is an everyday Japanese word meaning “mirror” that is also used as a female given name. I was introduced to this name through the character Kagami Hiiragi from Lucky Star, who shares a name with this title’s author, Kagami Yoshimizu. Both the author and the character write their name phonetically as かがみ, without using the Japanese character for mirror. Throughout the everyday snapshots of high school life that constitute Lucky Star, Kagami lives up to her name and acts as a metaphorical mirror; she’s quick to hold other characters’ flaws and idiosyncrasies in their face, sometimes as a playful tease and sometimes as an exasperated henpeck. Because of her tendency to ground her friends’ flights of fancy and serve as a reality check, her name stands for realism and a down-to-earth sensibility,  a symbolism reinforced by the name’s meaning. Her pestering leads her friends to take great pleasure when they’re able to call her out on some hypocrisy of her own—an important reminder that a mirror always possesses flaws of its own, and its reflections are never exact. In the source material, Kagami is frequently called “Kagamin” (kah-gah-meen) by one of her friends as a nickname; an example of the practice, especially among teenage girls, of creating nicknames by adding cutesy sounds and syllables onto the ends of names.

    8. Miyako (mee-yah-koe): Miyako is the main character of Erica Sakurazawa’s Makin’ Happy. This name is written 都, a character meaning “large city” or “metropolis.” Miyako’s story centers around two metropolises, Tokyo and New York City, between which Miyako is constantly shuttling after she wins the lottery and embarks on a life of glamour. Her efforts at navigating cosmopolitan high society and balancing affairs with exotic American and upscale Japanese men lend this name an air of the sultry night life and opulence you can’t find anywhere but the big city. Once Miyako spends the last of her windfall bringing a luxury perfume bearing her name to market, she falls out of the lifestyle as easily as she came into it, richer in experience if not financially. (Her perfume fails to generate much return on her investment.) Her origin as an everywoman and her return there at the end of her journey provides a counterpoint to the fast-and-hard lifestyle she lives during her time of financial bounty and thus a name with more plebeian shades—both a hope for something greater and the knowledge that getting such a wish might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Nicknames might include riffs on the meaning of the name, like “city girl” or “big city woman.”

    9. Hikaru (hee-kah-roo): Hikaru is a relatively common name in Japan and is given to both boys and girls. This name is commonly written 光, meaning “light.” Hikaru appears in the name of the title character of Yumi Hotta’s Hikaru no Go, in which the protagonist channels a ghost to win at a traditional board game. Hikaru is also the name of a supporting character in Bisco Hatori’s Ouran High School Host Club, in which the main character cross-dresses as a boy to draw female clients to her high school’s stable of otherwise male entertainers. Given this name’s popularity, it undoubtedly appears in many other manga. I associate this name most strongly with Hikaru Shidou from CLAMP’s Magic Knight Reyearth. Reyearth’s Hikaru comes into possession of magical powers while on a school field trip and must use a giant magical robot to fight to defend a magical realm from existential threats. Her journey is very much like Utena Tenjou’s, described above. She relies on her peppy verve and stubborn determination to refuse a false choice that’s presented to her as inescapable, changing the fundamental nature of the world in the process. However, while Utena spends most of her time in a setting that’s essentially realistic with some supernatural elements, Hikaru spends her adventure in another world full of magic, strange creatures, and super-powered ancient technology, making this name a better choice for parents who favor the mystical. In fact, Hikaru’s magical powers are associated specifically with the element of fire, providing an alchemical shade to her name, as well as a suggestion as to the source of her “light.” Additionally, she’s often drawn with cat ears to symbolize her warm, gregarious personality, lending her name a naturalistic bent as well. Nicknames might play on the meaning of the name, with options like “light,” “bright,” or “shiny.”

While Japanese media provides a wealth of excellent namesakes and Japanese writing allows for a single name to express a wide range of meanings, there are some names from popular Japanese media whose meanings are unenviable and difficult to explain away. Parents should therefore exercise caution when assigning their child a name from manga or any Japanese media. In the interest of the preservation of dignity, here are two of the popular series that provide names that might be best avoided:

    10. Naruto: One of the most popular manga and anime of the 2000s and onward, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto has an eponymous character with something of a joke name: “naruto” is the name of a fish cake that’s commonly served in noodle soups. Its longer name, narutomaki, or “naruto roll,” reflects its method of production: ground fish are pressed into a sheet and then rolled up like a sleeping bag, giving every slice of the resulting log a distinctive spiral shape in the middle. This is reflected in the character’s full name, Naruto Uzumaki, “naruto spiral.” It’s also a reference to the foodstuff’s own namesake: the whirlpools that form in the Naruto Straight, off the coast of the southerly town, also named Naruto.

    11. Names from Dragonball Z: Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball Z is one of the few franchises whose popularity rivaled Naruto’s even at its peak. It’s been one of the most recognizable Japanese media franchises outside of Japan for about twenty years, and its large cast of characters provides a large number of names to choose from. The main character, Goku, takes his name from the main character of Journey to the West, a Chinese myth about the migration of Buddhism from India to China; other characters have names with less illustrious pedigrees. Goku’s son Gohan is named for white rice, and Gohan’s daughter, Pan, is named after bread; in fact, many of the characters who share Goku’s extra-terrestrial bloodline are named after food, including his rival Vegeta(ble), Vegeta’s comrade Nappa (as in the cabbage), and the legendary (cu)Cunber. Even Goku’s own original, alien name, “Kakarot,” includes the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “carrot.” Some of these names were slightly concealed during English adaptation; the name of the alien overlord “Freiza” looks and sounds intimidating, perhaps Germanic; when you take into account he’s descended from people named “Chilled” and “King Cold,” and his brother is named “Cooler,” it becomes easier to see how in the Japanese pronunciation, Freiza cleaves to his family’s appliance theme, sounding identical to the English word “freezer.” The native Earthlings have perhaps the least glamorous names. The English version of the name of Vegeta’s wife, “Bulma,” is a generous adaptation of the original “Buruma,” after bloomers, the undergarment. The similarity is reinforced when taking into account her sister’s name, “Tights,” and the fact those names were given by their parents “Dr. Brief” and “Panchy.” And there can be no doubt as to the dubious tradition Bulma passed on to her son, “Trunks.” Some characters have names that are borrowed from English, but are still perfectly serviceable names: Piccolo, after the musical instrument, for example, or Oolong, after the tea (for a relatively refined food reference). But outside of such obvious winners, I recommend making it a point to investigate any name from Dragonball Z before passing it on to your child for the rest of his or her life.

Photo credit: Zulio

Author: thebabynamebuff

Hi, I'm Vickie. I'm a baby name enthusiast, and I'm excited to share and discuss with others the unique baby names I find. Besides talking and writing about baby names all day long, I also enjoy spending time with family, hiking, astronomy, reading (mostly science fiction and dystopias), and all things Star Trek. (Are you noticing a theme?) I currently live in Champaign, IL with my husband, Kyle, and my son, Felix.

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