Yesterday I read an informative article about Japanese name trends called What to call baby? by Tomoko Otake. The part I found most interesting was…
[A] further headache awaiting many babies as they grow up is that an increasing number of parents are exploiting a loophole in the law that fails to dictate how kanji in names are to be read and pronounced using kana.
Since most kanji can convey numerous meanings, and so be read in numerous ways, parents trying to make their offspring stand out are opting for unconventional ways in kana to read the kanji used for their name. Consequently, they are often anointing them with a name that, when read in kanji, others can only guess at.
In other words, a single name (written down) can morph into multiple names (when said aloud). One popular boy name, for example, can be read as Hiroto, Haruto, Yamato, Daito, Taiga, Sora, Taito, Daito or Masato. Last year’s most popular girl name can be read as Hina, Haruna, Hinata, Yua, Yuua, Yuina or Yume.
Because Japan does not have a custom of putting kana alongside people’s kanji names in many official records, including the family register, this has caused untold confusion and has led to mistakes being made in identifying people by government officials, teachers and so on.
Yet some parents have taken the quest for uniqueness even further by assigning names whose kana pronunciation cannot even be guessed by anyone not told what it is.
This rarely happens with English names, but I do know of one case: a nurse friend of mine told me about a newborn baby girl named Cindy whose mother insisted the name was pronounced “Sidney.” Or perhaps it was Sidney pronounced “Cindy” — I can’t remember. Regardless, the written and spoken forms didn’t match up. I wonder how that worked out…
One more tidbit from the article:
Another consideration for the Toriis, as for many other parents in Japan, was to use kanji that would not involve too many strokes, because if they chose ones that were too heavy-looking, or congested, it would be time-consuming to write in school exams, which would leave less time for the child to tackle the questions.
I bet some English-speaking parents have bestowed short names for the same reason — potential academic edge, however slight.