What's in a Name


Every summer, Japanese American National Museum volunteers attend a series of Summer Institute for Volunteers (SIV) classes about cultural identity, history of the community, the museum and films. This one particular class led by Patricia Wakida, Associate Curator of History here at the museum, was a writing exercise about either the story of your name or elaborating about a picture that you brought in. All but a few volunteers chose to write about their names. Volunteers interpreted this assignment in a variety of ways, giving little anecdotes about their first names, last names, and nick names. This album is a collection of these fascinating stories!

Slides in this album 

Lee Hayashi

My father came to American from Japan at about the age of 16. His parents had left him in the care of Grandparents when they emigrated to San Francisco and started a laundry business. They had my father come to America, perhaps to avoid conscription in the Japanese army.

My …

Story of a Name: Lee Hayashi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Yae Aihara

I was born on August 18th .  In Japanese it is written with 2 Kanji.  8 and “Kasanaru” means “one over the other”.  I have asked other Nisei girls with the same name and their reason for the name is that it is the prettiest variety of cherry blossom and …

Story of a Name: Yae Aihara
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Kihachiro Tajima

My father was born in Idaho and stayed in LA when he was 20.  He signed his last name as “Tashima” but when I came from Japan the officer of prefectural government said that I should sign “Tajima”, since then I have been using my family name as Tajima.

In …

Story of a Name: Kihachiro Tajima
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Nao Magami

My name is “Naoharu”. Nao means honest and straight fist. Haru means “fine sunshine” which my father gave to me. But Naoharu is too long. Everyone called me “Nao-chan” when I was in Japan. After I came to this country, people called me “Nao”. But it still sounds uncommon to …

Story of a Name: Nao Magami
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Oko Sakata

My name is Oko. Oko is an unusual name in Japan. “O” means “Europe” in Kanji. “Ko” means “child” in Kanji. We have each meaning of Kanji because I was born in Paris. That’s a simple reason! I like my name, but sometimes its annoying. When the Japanese people know …

Story of a Name: Oko Sakata
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Bob Moriguchi

First name, Robert. Very ordinary. No middle Japanese name, very unusual. Even my younger brother, Richard, was given a Japanese name, Hideo. Last name, Moriguchi. In Kanji, Mori is made up by 3 trees, or forest. Guchi, or Kuchi, in Kanji is mouth or entrance. Therefore Moriguchi translates to entrance …

Story of a Name: Bob Moriguchi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Kyle Ishii

When I asked my mother how she and my father settled on naming me Kyle, the answer I received was one that I consider a lesser of many evils. At the time of my birth, Brandon and Matthew were among the popular names within my parents circle of family and …

Story of a Name: Kyle Ishii
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Kent Hori

After I was born, my Dad wanted me to be named Ken, a name that could be seen as either English or Japanese. My Dad is a shin-Issei who came over to the US after the war. He became a US citizen. He still had a love for his Japanese …

Story of a Name: Kent Hori
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Roy Sakamoto

My first name, Roy, and why I was given it has always been a mystery to me.  Why my Issei parents would choose a name they could not pronounce was the first mystery – during my primary school days, my teachers thought my name was “Loy” at first.  My uncle …

Boy Kokeshi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Sid Okazaki

I was born Masashi Okazaki in 1925. Before World War II, I was known as “Mas” but in camp I was “Sid”. Taken from a band master in high school who had unkept hair (like me) so my group of friends teased me and the name stuck. I can tell …

Story of a Name: Sid Okazaki
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Tohru Isobe

The word “Isobe” means “by the sea shore”, so I assume my ancestors lived their lives by the Suruga Bay at the foot of Mt.Fuji.  The name is not uncommon in the area of Yui-Kanbar which is now a part of Shimizu-ku, a city of Shizuoka prefecture.

My first name’s …

Story of a Name: Tohru Isobe
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Tom Shiokari

I have an unusual name because the name only exists with me and an older brother. This came about when my father was killed in a farm accident when I was about one-year-old. When I was about 5 years old, I recognized my father had a different name. This was …

Story of a Name: Tom Shiokari
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Richard Murakami

My cousin is also named Richard.  He was born six months before me.  I never knew the reason why I was named Richard.  Never asked my mother why they gave me same name as my cousin. 

Story of a Name: Richard Murakami
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Masako Murakami's Photo Story

The first photo was taken in Tule Lake (1945). The four of us were friends who lived in block 22. I was 11 years old. After camp, one went to Seabrook, NJ, one to Central California, another to Los Angeles, and I to San Francisco.

We have maintained contact over the years and …

Picture Story: Masako Murakami
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Mas Yamashita

As far as I know, Yamashita means bottom or base of a mountain.  When I was about 15 or 16, the other kids decided to call me “Yam” because there was another boy named Mas but because he was a little older, he was “Mas” and I was “Yam” (short …

Story of a Name: Mas Yamashita
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Mary Karatsu's Photo Story

This is a photo of my first great grandson taken this past Easter.  I can remember similar photos taken with my granddaughter (baby’s mother) and it seems like only yesterday. 

Isaiah is the most personable 6 month old who seems to understand everything we are saying, always so alive and …

Mary Karatsu's Photo Story
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Lilly Yanagita

Curiously, my name is now very popular.  Lily is now common, but most of my life, Lily was rare and old-fashion, and I didn’t like it.  Lilly (with two L’s) is apparently an American version according to a name book, but I’ve often thought about changing it to one L …

Story of a Name: Lilly Yanagita
Contributed by: mkochiyama

June Aoki

My name is June Michiko Aoki.  Since I was born in the month of June, my parents’ friend suggested June as my first name.

My middle name is “Michiko”.  When written in Japanese characters, they were taken from my dad and mom’s Japanese name.  Characters “Yoshikazu” and “Chiyoko” although “Chi” …

Story of a Name: June Aoki
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Janet Maloney

Interesting oral history passed down from my father about my maiden name: Chikami.  According to “Jeto” – his father, my grandfather, was adopted by a famous sumo wrestler in Japan – he was like a movie star in Hollywood!  “Chikami” had no children and felt it was his wife’s fault …

Girl Kokeshi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Joyce Moriye

My name is Joyce Moriye.  My parents never mentioned who I was named after as there weren’t any other Joyce or Moriye’s in the family at that time.  For most Nisei and Sansei born in America what is almost universal is that the Issei may have given their children all …

Girl Kokeshi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Joyce Layne

I like my name because it confuses most people!  If they are looking at me and hear my name, they are confused about my identity: who is this Asian person with a non-Asian name!  Of course Layne is my married name.

My parents were Nisei, so they followed a “tradition” …

Story of a Name: Joyce Layne
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Ike Hatchimonji

Ike is a nickname taken from a 1920’s comic strip: Ike, Mike and Mustard .  My twin brother has the nickname of Mike.  So, our Auntie labeled us Ike and Mike either late in the 20’s or early in the 30’s.

Tasuke, my given name means “help” in Japanese, given …

Story of a Name: Ike Hatchimonji
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Icy Hasama

My full name is Isao Jack Hasama.  My nickname is Icy.  My parents were running a forty unit apartment on Maple Ave and eighth street in downtown LA in the 1930s.  Each apartment had a wooden icebox which held a 20 pound block of ice.  During the hot summertime the …

Story of a Name: Icy Hasama
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Hiram Ohta

Both of my parents are non-English speakers.  I was their first child.  My mother gave birth to me about six months after arriving in Honolulu. 

During the time of my coming to this world, my father was doing business on another island and because of the poor communication, he did …

Story of a Name: Hiram Ohta
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Frank Omatsu

Omatsu – family name written in Chinese characters means “big pine”.  Kei, my middle name, means “respect”.  I’ve been told by my Japanese friends that Frank is Frank.  Our family crest “Sangaimatsu” is 3 levels of pine branches.

Story of a Name: Frank Omatsu
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Cedrick Shimo

My mother took the name of England’s Child Lord named Cedric Fauntleroy.  Mother added a “K” after Cedric.

Story of a Name: Cedrick Shimo
Contributed by: mkochiyama

Carol Miyahira

Carol – My dad wanted to name me Pearl or Matilda.  Thank goodness my mom was more conscious of names.  She named me Carol after her best friend.

Miyako – I always battled weight.  I can remember always being on a diet.  One day I asked my mom what my …

Girl Kokeshi
Contributed by: mkochiyama

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mkochiyama — Last modified Jun 28 2021 1:49 a.m.

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