The Baby-naming Ceremony

I don’t want this to turn into a baby blog, but Japan does have some interesting baby customs that I’d like to write about.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife got out her old calligraphy set from junior high school to make a meimeisho (Japanese: 命名書). When a baby is seven days old, many Japanese families have a ceremony called a shichiya (Japanese: 七夜)where the baby is officially named and they write one of these posters with the baby’s new name on it.

meimei1

This is my baby’s name, Matthew. In Japanese, it’s pronounced Mashuu. It’s not a real Japanese name, but people often use “ateji,” which are characters that  phonetically represent foreign or native words. The character we chose for “ma” is “miyabi,” which means “elegance” or “refinement.” Since he was born in fall, we chose “aki” for “shuu,” which is the character for “autumn.”
I was a little worried about giving him a foreign-sounding name, but it seems that unusual or foreign-sounding names are becoming somewhat more common these days, and the characters can also be pronounced as “Masaaki,” which is a common Japanese name, if he decides he doesn’t like Mashuu.

meimei2

Here’s the finished product. I’m no calligraphy expert, but I think my wife did a really nice job.

meimei3

The meimeisho is usually displayed in a family shrine or over the baby’s crib, or given as a present to the person who named the child. You can buy them at a stationery store for just a few hundred yen.

At the top right is Matthew’s footprint. His name is in the center, and at the right is his date and time of birth – Sept. 8, 2009 at 1:12 AM.

0 replies
  1. toranosuke
    toranosuke says:

    Gorgeous! I wish we had such elegant baby naming customs.

    Also, I didn’t know that “ga” (as in Ike no Taiga 池大雅、gagaku 雅楽) could be pronounced as “ma”. Interesting. Thanks!

  2. Keith Perhac
    Keith Perhac says:

    Very interesting!
    I’ve lived here in JP for a while, but was not aware of the 七夜 custom. You learn something new every day!

    My wife and I are currently expecting our first child, and had a lot of similar discussions about the names for our baby. We needed something that worked both in English and Japanese, but with the complexity of my last name パーハック, I wanted to make sure that they had a very “authentic” (whatever that means 😉 Japanese name.

    We found that there are many nice girls names that work both ways, but very VERY few boys names. We finally just gave up and went with Ken if it’s a boy. :/

    My wife suggested Ryu, and I countered with Blanka… but neither of those really stuck. 😉

    Anyhow, congratulations on the baby!

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