To Each Their Own! Your One-stop Guide to Nanori in Japanese

Remember the guy who changed his legal name to Captain Awesome?

Or the little girl with the name “Moxie CrimeFighter?”

Those are pretty bizarre names.

…But guess what?

 漢字(かんじ) — kanji can form extraordinary names, too!

And each name has its own unique reading, known as 名乗り(なのり)— nanori.

Most likely, you already know that being able to read kanji adds tremendous value to your Japanese studies. But now, it’s time to take it a step further by learning how to read Japanese names specifically.

In this blog post, we’ll get into nanori and see what name readings for kanji are really all about.

Plus, I’ll share with you some fun resources to give yourself your own Japanese name!

So if you’re wondering what nanori is, how to use it and where to practice it, stay tuned.

What Is Nanori?

In the simplest terms, nanori is a way to read kanji specifically in relation to the names of people and places.

But there’s also some crossover with the other forms of kanji readings (we’ll get more into that, later!).

When it comes to names, kanji can be unpredictable!

There are so many possible name readings for kanji that it makes no sense to try to remember them all. So it only makes sense why familiarizing yourself with nanori is so important.

Plus, Japanese names can’t show their meanings when we use ローマ字 (ろーまじ)— romaji, a part of the Japanese writing system that only conveys sound.

So knowing how to read nanori is how we know that a name like Ryūichi can be written as 龍 一(りゅういち)— “the Dragon.”

Beat that, Captain Awesome!

To Each Their Own! Your One-stop Guide to Nanori in Japanese

What Does Nanori Mean?

Nanori means “to give a name.”

Keep in mind that the order of names is different in Japan than in most Western countries.

In the United States, the standard formula for giving a name is:

First name + last name

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:

(よし)— Yoshi (which means “good fortune”)

歩美(あゆみ)— Ayumi (which means “progress” and “beauty”)

Last names, on the other hand, may contain nature-related elements, like these two examples:

鈴木(すずき)— Suzuki (which means “bell tree”)

浜崎(はまさき)— Hamasaki (which means “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.

訓読み are native Japanese readings, whereas 音読み are native Chinese readings.

But when it comes to nanori, it’s important to know that nanori is separate from 訓読み and 音読み.

However, knowing the other readings can sometimes help.

Take this name, for example:

松本(まつもと)— Matsumoto

It uses the 音読み of (まつ)— “pine tree,” and the 訓読み of (もと)— “origin.”

But the kanji for also has another meaning:

(ほん)— “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)— “origin of the sun” (Japan)

How Can Nanori Readings Take on Different Kanji?

Earlier I mentioned the name (よし)— Yoshi, which means “good fortune.”

But the reading よし can also appear for (よし) or (よし) which can convey a similar meaning.

Kanji name readings for simple kanji like (いち)— “one,” can also be read as かず.

For example:

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.

Ateji is 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.

Take this for example:

My friend Michael is a dancer. In katakana, his name is:


The kanji he chose to represent his name is:

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 some resources later.

Kira Kira and Nanori

Japanese 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.

For example:

ビオレ(びおれ)— Biore (yes, the lotion)

光宙 (ぴかちゅう)— Pikachu

Where Can I Practice Nanori?

Wow, that was a lot to take in!

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.

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to really nail down nanori.

Diversify Your Nanori Knowledge By Networking

Want to know the ultimate secret for reading nanori?

Connect with native speakers and ask them how to pronounce their names!


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 very easy to read in Japanese like mine, you’ll probably be told the last one more than you’ll say it!

Look Up Nanori on 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)— handwritten kanji lookup.

It also has 小話(こばなし)— short stories to help you remember name readings!

And what’s even more awesome about this dictionary is that it gives you a short daily list of kanji used in names for you to practice.

Give Yourself a New Name in Japanese

Want your own Japanese name? You can use these websites for getting your own nanori!

This adorable Japanese name directory includes names ranked by popularity and a few other aspects. Plus, this one is more user-friendly if you’re not very familiar with kanji yet!

You can also check out Feel Baby Name for nanori research.

If you’re ready to challenge yourself in kanji, this site is perfect. It’s used by parents who are looking to pick names for their babies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to learn more about Japanese name readings yourself!

Find Specific Nanori with the Ultimate Japanese Dictionary

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.

Being able to read Japanese names is a big part of translation. So if you want to go into the translation field or find your dream job using languages, getting comfortable with nanori is a must-take next step!

Or if you’re already looking to take that leap, FluentU frequently hires language enthusiasts like yourself!


Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the world of Japanese names, go out there and give yourself one. And don’t forget to add your new name to your FluentU profile—or if you’re really feeling bold, your social media!

Will you be the next Captain Awesome?

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