Japanese with onyomi (sound reading) surnames

Onyomi means “sound reading,” of a kanji, an imitation of the Chinese pronunciation. The opposite is kunyomi, which means “interpretative reading,” which means they found an existing Japanese word that matches (to one degree or another) the kanji.

It doesn’t make sense for any Japanese people to have onyomi last names, because that would mean they didn’t have surnames before kanji was adopted. They would just find kanji that would match their surnames in meaning. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Japanese surnames are not onyomi. But strangely enough, some are. The ones I’ve encoutered:

Anraku (安樂)

Katoh (加藤)

Chinen (知念)


Itoh (伊藤)

Not really. Names like 加藤 and 伊藤 you picked up as examples are pretty common sirnames, and there are a lot more Onyomi names like that.


that is an interesting way to look at it. I have never thought that way.


Hey thanks for responding. Feedback from Japanese people is always good.

What proportion of surnames would you say are kun as opposed to on? About 90%?

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I thank you too. It is quite interesting when I look into it.

Based on info here

KUN and ON ratio is 80-20. And 85% of entire Japanese sirnames are derived from name of places.


There are a lot of interesting information in there, glad you shared.

I’ve noticed myself almost all Japanese names are landmarks.

I was surprised some people are named after their house numbers. I just encountered one:

What would you say the kun-on ratio for given names is? Seems closer to 50/50 to me.

Actually, common people in Japan didn’t have surnames until after the Meiji Restoration.

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“I’ve noticed myself almost all Japanese names are landmarks.”

Common people didn’t have surnames until after the Meiji Restoration (1868). Many people when choosing surnames probably chose a geographical location. For example, if you lived at the foot of a mountain, you might have chosen “Yamaguchi” 山口 as a surname.

Takasan already said 85% of surnames are place names.

Kristy Yamaguchi…Ow!

Based on above, 五十幡 is a variation of 五十畑, which literally means 50 fields. So this is also a land name.

I really don’t have an idea. I think there are a lot of study on sirnames, but given names are arbitrary. Japanese given names are very different from English one. There are quite common names like John, Michael and etc. Japanese names are far more variant. And recently young couples name their kids with キラキラネーム =bling-bling name, distinct feature of which is its kanji and pronunciation don’t really match at all. For example:

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