The Japanese names Miyoko, Misao & Shuhei

The book "Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat" (2011)

A couple of weeks ago, photographer Chase Jarvis blogged about the photo book Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat by Miyoko Ihara. The book features adorable images of Miyoko’s octogenarian grandmother, Misao, and Misao’s odd-eyed cat Fukumaru.

The book’s description states that Fukumaru’s name is made up of the words fuku, “good fortune,” and maru, “circle.”

That made me wonder about the meaning of the Japanese names Misao and Miyoko.

Turns out Miyoko means “beautiful generations girl” or “beautiful generations child” — mi means “beauty” or “charm,” yo means “generations,” and ko means “child.” (Miyo, “beautiful generations,” is also a name.)

Misao comes from a word that means “chastity” or “fidelity.” One of my sources connected the word misao to women specifically — “honor, chastity, virtue, fidelity of women” — but apparently it’s used as a male name as well. For example, there’s the artist Yokoyama Misao (1920-1973):

He was an illegitimate child who was adopted soon after his birth by Yokoyama Shuhei and his wife. According to people who knew him, it was only at the time of his conscription in 1940 that he learned, to his shock, about his real parents. At the pinnacle of his popularity Yokoyama began telling people that he was the son of his father’s mistress and that his stepmother had named him Misao, which means chastity, as retribution for her husband’s infidelity.

And what about the name Shuhei? Definitions I’ve found include “guards,” “garrison,” and “troops under one’s command.”


  • Conant, Ellen P., Steven D. Owyoung, and J. Thomas Rimer. Nihonga: transcending the past: Japanese-style painting, 1868-1968. St. Louis: St Louis City Art Museum, 1995.
  • Hepburn, James Curtis. A Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary. 2nd ed. London: Trubner & Co., 1887.

Image: Cover of Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat (2011)

[Latest update: Jul. 2024]

13 thoughts on “The Japanese names Miyoko, Misao & Shuhei

  1. It’s impossible to know the meaning of a Japanese name without knowing the exact Chinese characters used to spell it. Miyoko, Misao, and Shuuhei can have dozens of possible meanings!

  2. @Rita – Thanks! Yes, that’s true. We’d need to see the characters to be precise about it.

    That said, those were the only definitions I was able to find for Miyo(ko), Misao & Shuhei. And I checked a lot of places. :)

    This leads me to believe that any other forms of these 3 names (that are used as names–not just theoretical combinations) are either very rare or don’t exist.

  3. I have a file of Japanese girls’ names which contains 45 kanji spellings of Misao and 62 of Miyoko. These are all actual spellings recorded in use. (Unfortunately I don’t have a similar file of boys’ names…but there are undoubtedly more than three potential spellings of Shuuhei).

    That said, the meanings mentioned (Miyoko ??? and Misao ?) are certainly among the most popular and the most intuitive for those names. I was able to find a Japanese-language site for the author Miyoko Ihara and verify that her name is written ???, “beautiful generations child.”

    I tried but could not find kanji for Ihara’s grandmother’s name, Misao. It appeared written in hiragana (phonetic script) and it is entirely possible that her name does not have kanji; giving girls names in hiragana only has been common for a long time.

    With Misao, however, another factor comes in to play, namely, that as a vocabulary word it will also connote something of its original meaning even if other characters or one of the Japanese phonetic scripts are used to write it as a name.

  4. The kanji I posted did not show up! Sorry for the odd question marks; they were originally three characters for Miyoko and one for Misao.

  5. Thanks so much for all the extra information, Diane!

    I was completely unaware that there were *that* many ways to write — and, hence, define — those names. Amazing. (I really need to find some better sources for Japanese names!)

  6. It’s not easy to find a good English-language source for Japanese names. I was lucky enough to download a copy of a Japanese girl’s name website (an exhaustive list of 100,000+ names and their kanji) before it was taken offline. It is entirely in Japanese. The info you can find in English online is generally for the most common spellings, which is still helpful, as long as one realizes they aren’t the only ones.

  7. Hi,I’m looking for a Japanese name that has the letters C-H-A-S-E in it but that means something (if you don’t know any its ok)

  8. One that comes to mind is Sachie (girl’s name), pronounced sah-chee-ay. One potential meaning is “happy blessing.”

  9. Thxs for the reply,But do you happen to know another Japanese name (a girl’s one this time) but one that has something to do with ocean (it’s ok if you can’t think of one)

  10. Do you mean a Japanese girl’s name that means “ocean” that also contains the letters CHASE? That would be a tall order, I’m afraid. If you just want a name meaning “ocean” I could suggest some.

  11. Okay, here are a few which might be written with the characters for “ocean” or “sea”:

    Youko (usually spelled Yoko in English), Youka, Kayo or Kayoko, Sayoko
    Minami, Namiko (refers to a wave)
    Anything with “Hiro”: Hiroe, Hiromi, Hiroko, Hiroyo, Chihiro, Mihiro
    Anything with “Kai”: Kai, Kairi, Kaina
    Anything with “Mi”: Aimi, Yumi, Asumi, Ayumi, Eimi, Kumi, Konomi, Naomi, Natsumi, Nanami, Rumi, Miu, Miyo, Mina, Mika, Miki, Mio, Miho–there are hundreds of them.

    Just keep in mind that the meaning of a Japanese name depends on the characters used to write it, and there are many possibilities. Many people who have the names I mentioned DON’T use any characters meaning “ocean.” But potentially they all could.

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