Nikkei Chronicles #3 — Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João?

What’s in a name? This series introduces stories exploring the meanings, origins, and the untold stories behind personal Nikkei names. This can include family names, given names, and even nicknames!

For this project, we asked our Nima-kai to vote for their favorite stories and our editorial committee to pick their favorites.  

Here are the selected favorite stories. 


 Editorial Committee’s selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series:

#1: ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture
#2: Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~
#4: Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values 
#5: Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture 
#6: Itadakimasu 2!: Another Taste of Nikkei Culture
#7: Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

identity en ja es pt

Becoming Yumi

I grew up hating my name. I wanted to change it to “Amy.” Amy sounds cute and it sounds white, and I wanted to be both. All my friends and Barbie dolls were white, and I wanted to match. I remember having an aching feeling at 7 years old, wishing with all my might that I could change my name. Not surprisingly, when I approached my parents with the idea, they laughed.

I was the third of four kids in my family, born in 1960’s suburban New Jersey, with no other Asian family in sight. My parents gave me ...

Read more

identity en

What’s In a Name? For Me, Someone Liked Ike

All parents ruminate on what to name their child.

They go through baby-naming books. Suggestions from family and friends. Fads of the day. Boy, girl, the process is nearly ceaseless. Sleepless nights. And even after the baby is born, there are still days, perhaps weeks that go by with nary a name but the sex of the child.

I have the extra benefit of being Japanese American. Traditionally, many third and fourth generation JAs had a Japanese middle name. It was optional. A number of my cousins did not.

My mom wanted a girl. She professed to me as an ...

Read more

identity en

Does a Name Have Any Power?

A few years ago, I was working at a company in Tokyo and had a chance to be a conversational partner of some Japanese English learners. If it had been a job at a regular English school (or an eikaiwa—English conversation—school), I would not have gotten the opportunity in the first place, mainly because of my all-too-Japanese look which would make the student feel that she is talking to a girl next door or a distant relative whom she’s meeting for the first time.

To this day, for the great majority of Japanese people, including my parents ...

Read more

identity en ja es pt

The Chosen Names

Who is Mary Mieko Sunada? It begins with my birth certificate. A baby girl is born Mary Mieko Nakata on January 1, 1948 at 1 a.m. at 1-4 Tanaka-machi Askusa Daito-ku, Tokyo, Japan. My parents are Yoneto Nakata from Sanger, California, U.S.A. and Yaeko Niikura from Gumna-ken, Japan.

My father, Yoneto, became the last of the Nakata family. He had no brothers or sisters. His mother got sick after giving birth to him and the family moved back to Japan. He returned to the U.S.A. after both parents had passed away. He was drafted into ...

Read more

identity en ja es pt

A Discordant Name Match

My birth certificate says Jimmy Seiji. When they hear my name, many of my friends have asked me, “Is your real name Jimmy or James?” And I tell them that my name is Jimmy; that’s how it appears on my birth certificate.

When I asked my parents about the reason for my name, they told me that when I was born they had no time to think of a name (since all they cared about was that their only male child was born healthy). After my birth—since they hadn’t thought of a name—the best idea they ...

Read more