More “Year of the Dragon” baby names

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

Chinese New Year is coming up! We will soon be transitioning out of the Year of the Tiger and into the Year of the Rabbit.

And, while I don’t have anything to say about tigers or rabbits, I do I have something to say about dragons.

I wrote about Dragon year baby names (like Long and Ryu) a few years ago. Since then, though, I’ve discovered a whole new set of dragon-names that I missed the first time around — probably because I was too focused on data from the second half of the 20th century.

These new-to-me names all feature the element tatsu, which, like ryu, is a Japanese word for “dragon.” Interestingly, both of these words are represented by the same kanji:

Kanji for "dragon" (simplified form)

Ryu is the on’yomi (Sino-Japanese) reading of the ideogram, while tatsu is the kun’yomi (native Japanese) reading.

Turns out that, during the Dragon years of the early 20th century, names with the element tatsu saw higher-than-expected usage in places with large numbers of Japanese-Americans, particularly the territory of Hawaii:

of Hawaii
Japanese population
of Hawaii
1950499,794184,598 (36.9%)
1940422,770157,905 (37.4%)
1930368,300139,631 (37.9%)
1920255,881109,274 (42.7%)
1910191,87479,675 (41.5%)
1900154,00161,111 (39.7%)

So, what names are we talking about?


The tatsu-name that emerged first in the U.S. baby name data — and the one that was the most popular overall — was the male name Tatsuo, which saw discernible spikes in usage during the Dragon years of 1916, 1928, and 1940:

Graph of the usage of the baby  name Tatsuo in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Tatsuo

Here’s the data on Tatsuo for those specific years:

  • In 1916, 57 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.
    • Tatsuo was the fastest-rising boy name.
    • Tatsuo ranked 833rd nationally.
    • 41 [72%] were born in Hawaii, 12 in California.
  • In 1928, 39 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.
    • 20 [51%] were born in Hawaii, 14 in California.
  • In 1940, 6 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.

Tatsuo saw its highest-ever usage in 1916 — the one and only year it managed to rank inside the U.S. top 1,000.

Tatsumi, Tatsuro, Tatsuko, Tatsue

Tatsuo wasn’t the only tatsu-name seeing usage during the first decades of the 1900s.

In 1916, Tatsuo was joined in the data by the girl names Tatsuko and Tatsue and the boy names Tatsumi and Tatsuro:

*Debut, †Peak usage

Many of the babies named Tatsuko (which was one of the top debut names of 1916) and Tatsumi were born in Hawaii. This is probably true for Tatsue and Tatsuro as well, but their usage was too low to register in the SSA’s state-by-state data.

Tatsuro was a one-hit wonder, but the other three were back in the data in 1928:


Other tatsu-names were also being bestowed during these years. In the Social Security Death Index, for instance, I found dozens of people — many born in either 1916 or 1928 — with names like Tatsuharu, Tatsuhiko, Tatsuichi, Tatsuji, Tatsukichi, Tatsunobu, Tatsunori, Tatsushi, Tatsuwo, and Tatsuyuki.

For the next three Dragon years (1952, 1964, and 1976), tatsu-names were absent from the data.

Mid-century anti-Japanese sentiment following the late 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor may have had something to do with this. It’s likely that, during this period, many Japanese-Americans did not give their babies conspicuously Japanese first names — reasoning that this would help their children assimilate and/or reduce the risk of discrimination.

Tatsuya, Tatsu, Tatsuki

Starting in the late 1980s, we see three new tatsu-names emerge in the U.S. baby name data. Each one debuted during a Dragon year:

  • The male name Tatsuya first appeared in 1988.
  • The male name Tatsu first appeared in 2000.
  • The male name Tatsuki first appeared in 2012.

Tatsuya remained in the data for several decades (though, curiously, it did not see a spike in usage in 2000). The other two, on the other hand, were one-hit wonders.


The Year of the Dragon comes around again early next year, on February 10.

Which dragon names, if any, do you think we’ll see in the data in 2024?


Image: Imperial Dragon by Joey Gannon under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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