The Complete Guide to Nanori: What It Is, How to Use It and More
Most likely, you already know that being able to read kanji ( 漢字 – かんじ) adds tremendous value to your Japanese studies.
But now, it’s time to take it a step further and learn how to read Japanese names specifically.
That’s where 名乗り （なのり）— nanori, or the unique reading for names in kanji, comes in.
In this blog post, we’ll get into nanori and see what name readings for kanji are really all about.
- What Is Nanori?
- What’s the Difference Between Nanori, Kun’yomi and On’yomi?
- How Can Nanori Readings Take on Different Kanji?
- What Are Ateji and Kira Kira Names?
- Where Can I Practice Nanori?
What Is Nanori?
Simply put, nanori is a way to read kanji in relation to the names of people and places. The characters for nanori literally mean “to give a name.”
There are so many possible name readings for kanji that it makes no sense to try to remember them all.
Plus, Japanese names can’t show their meanings when we use ローマ字 （ろーまじ）— romaji, a way to write Japanese that makes it readable for those who use the Latin or Roman alphabet (hence the name “romaji”).
In other words, knowing how to read nanori allows us to know that, for example, a name like Ryūichi can be written as 龍 一 （りゅういち）— “the Dragon.”
Keep in mind that the order of Japanese names is different from Western ones. In the United States, the standard formula for a name is:
First name + last name (e.g. John Smith)
But in Japan, it’s:
名字 （みょうじ）— family name + 名前 （なまえ）— given name
Given names in Japanese culture commonly express positive personality traits. For example:
吉（よし）— Yoshi or “good fortune”
歩美 （あゆみ）— Ayumi or “progress” and “beauty”
Last names, on the other hand, may contain nature-related elements, like these two examples:
鈴木 （すずき）— Suzuki or “bell tree”
浜崎 （はまさき）— Hamasaki or “beach” and “cape” (the geographical one, not the one that heroes wear!)
What’s the Difference Between Nanori, Kun’yomi and On’yomi?
Sometimes, nanori shares readings with 訓読み （くんよみ）— kun’yomi and 音読み （おんよみ）— on’yomi. Kun’yomi are native Japanese readings, while on’yomi are native Chinese readings.
It’s important to know that nanori is separate from kun’yomi and on’yomi. However, knowing the other readings can sometimes help.
Take this name, for example:
松本 （まつもと）— Matsumoto
It uses the kun’yomi of 松 （まつ）— matsu or “pine tree,” and the kun’yomi of 本（もと）— moto or “origin.”
But the kanji for 本 also has another meaning:
本 （ほん）— hon or “book”
In the case of names, it takes on a different reading—such as in the name for Japan:
日本 （にほん・にっぽん）— nihon or nippon “origin of the sun” (Japan)
How Can Nanori Readings Take on Different Kanji?
Earlier I mentioned the name 吉（よし）— Yoshi, which means “good fortune.”
But the reading よし can also appear for 義（よし） or 善 （よし） which can convey a similar meaning.
Kanji name readings for simple kanji like 一 （いち）— ichi or “one,” can also be read as kazu or かず .
一仁 （かずひと）— Kazuhito, which is also written as 和仁（かずひと）
Remember, you don’t have to memorize these name readings. There might be just as many as there are people in Japan!
What Are Ateji and Kira Kira Names?
Ateji and Nanori
The Japanese language may refer to borrowed words with 当て字 （あてじ）— ateji. Essentially, ateji are kanji that correspond to sound, not meaning. It was how the Japanese language incorporated non-Japanese words before katakana became more widely used.
While this may not be the same as nanori, it’s still a good way to think about how Japanese syllables correspond to kanji.
For example, my friend Michael is a dancer. In katakana, his name is:
マイケル （まいける）— maikeru
The kanji he chose to represent his name are:
舞気流（まいける）— “Dance,” “Spirit” and “Flow.”
You can even find the phonetic equivalents of your own name! I’ll share resources on this later.
Kira Kira and Nanori
キラキラネーム （きらきらねーむ）— Kira Kira names are non-traditional names. They may come from popular キャラ （きゃら）— characters or brand names.
ビオレ （びおれ）— Biore (yes, the lotion)
Where Can I Practice Nanori?
Now that you know what nanori is, don’t let that knowledge slip away! To really master nanori, you need to practice it in real-world environments, like the following.
Diversify Your Nanori Knowledge By Networking
Want to know the ultimate secret to reading nanori?
Connect with native speakers and ask them how to pronounce their names!
For example, you can find language partners online through language exchange apps like HelloTalk or Tandem.
You can ask your language partner:
What’s the reading of your name?
Once they’ve answered, you can reply with:
That’s a nice name.
Or you can say:
What a unique name!
If your name isn’t easy to read in Japanese like mine, you’ll probably hear the second one more often.
And if you want more examples of nanori in action, you can watch authentic Japanese videos on a language-learning platform like FluentU.
FluentU features native material that uses your target language like movies, clips, trailers, newsreels and the like. Whenever you see or hear anything on the video that you don’t understand, you only need to click the interactive subtitles to get information like the definition, pronunciation, example sentence and tips on how to use a certain word or phrase.
Look Up Nanori via Online Resources
Japanese Kanji Names Dictionary
This frequently-updated database of nanori offers 手書き漢字入力 （てがきかんじにゅうりょく）— tegaki kanji nyuryoku or handwritten kanji lookup.
It also has 小話 (こばなし) — kobanashi, short stories to help you remember name readings!
And what’s even more awesome about this dictionary is it gives you a short daily list of kanji used in names for you to practice!
Japanese Names .info
Want your own Japanese name? This adorable Japanese name directory includes names ranked by popularity and a few other criteria. Plus, this one is more user-friendly if you’re not very familiar with kanji yet!
Save this great online dictionary to your bookmarks! It includes real-life examples of people and places. Celebrities, temple names, landmarks—you name it! And the lookup tool is really simple, too.
Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the world of Japanese names, go out there and give yourself one!