Where did the baby name Mako come from?

Actor Mako in the musical "Pacific Overtures" (1976).
Mako in “Pacific Overtures

The curious name Mako debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1977:

  • 1979: unlisted
  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 5 baby boys named Mako [debut]
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: unlisted

Why?

The influence seems to be Japanese-American actor Makoto Iwamatsu (1933-2006), who was usually credited mononymously as “Mako.”

He’d been appearing in films and on TV since the late ’50s, but in the mid-’70s he starred in the Broadway musical Pacific Overtures (1976) by Stephen Sondheim. His portrayal of several characters in the play earned him a Tony nomination for ‘Best Actor in a Musical.’

In one 1976 newspaper interview, he described the origin of his stage name:

I picked up the single name of Mako when I was in basic training [U.S. Army] in South Carolina. The sergeant could never pronounce my name correctly at mail call. On principle, I never answered.

Next he tried calling me Shorty. When that didn’t work, he finally shouted: ‘Hey, you damn Yankee.’ That was the first time I really felt like an American. That broke the ice. We compromised, and I agreed to answer to Mako.

In Mako’s case, the first name Makoto is written with a kanji character that means “sincerity” in Japanese.

What are your thoughts on the name Mako?

Sources:

  • Lewis, Emory. “Asians can act, too: Mako.” Record [Hackensack, NJ] 4 Apr. 1976: 58.
  • Mako – Wikipedia

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Mako come from?

  1. More recently, up until his death mid-series Mako was the voice of Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender! Since a handful of ATLA names have been picked up in the charts, I wonder if Iroh has surfaced as well? Have you covered names from this series yet?

  2. Oh I didn’t know that! Thank you!

    I do have a draft of Airbender names (Azula, Katara, Zuko, etc.) going, but it’s not finished yet.

    Until then, though, here’s the graph for the baby name Iroh, which debuted in 2011 and saw a pretty steep rise in 2020.

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