Kanji readings for given names that don't make sense

So now that I have a modest amount of kanji under my belt, I’ve been seeing how many Japanese names I can read. But I’ve found that some names seem to have weird kanji readings that I can’t find in the dictionary.

One example off the top of my head is 和子. This name is pronounced as かずこbut from what I can tell that should be pronounced as わこ. I looked up the kanji and don’t see any readings even close to かず.

That’s just one example. I’ve run into many names that I get nowhere even close to being able to read even if I know the Kanji. Is this a common problem with names that I’ll just have to pick up as I go along?


Yeah names don’t really “make sense” too often. People like to be creative with what kanji are used to represent certain names, lots of names have been around for a long time so they used old readings, and there’s a whole class of readings specifically for names. (I think that’s what namori readings are? Someone will probably correct me on that) You kinda have to learn them as you go. Even natives may not immediately know how to read a name unless it’s a common one - and those you should eventually pick up with enough exposure. It’s not uncommon in books for names to be introduced with furigana that then gets dropped from then on.

Edit: It’s nanori, namori is the name of a manga artist. Oops.


You also need to look up nanori (name) readings, not just onyomi or kunyomi (though they can also be used).

For instance, here they are in Jisho.

Such lists are too long to actually be helpful in reading most names, I think. But if all you wanted to do was find evidence that かずこ is “possible” then that’s where you can look.


That’s precisely correct.

In this case, かず happens to be one of the nanori for 和 - the full list, if you’re interested, is
あい、 いず、 かず、 かつ、 かつり、 かづ、 たけ、 ち、 とも、 な、 にぎ、 まさ、 やす、 よし、 より、 わだこ、 わっ

Even native speakers frequently have to be told how to read someone’s given name on meeting them for the first time, so don’t feel distressed if you’re struggling. It’s why business cards and official forms come with a space for the furigana.


Though in this case, I showed it to my wife and she instantly said かずこ.


Oh! Eh, I’m not often on the forums these days, so it might be old, but congrats!
(Also sorry for derailing)


Haha, thanks… I didn’t exactly announce it, so yeah. Still waiting to have a ceremony when everything settles down :slight_smile:


Don’t think it’s too old. The earliest post I can find of Leebo using the word “wife” that’s not in reference to someone else’s is eight days ago. :slightly_smiling_face:


Appreciate all the replies. It has been very informative if not a little disheartening that in addition to the numerous on and kun readings that there are more to know that are specific to names. I guess I’ll just have to not worry about them and pick them up gradually.

One other question though… these nanori readings, can they apply to all proper names (such as the names of places) or is it just a phenomenon you’ll see with the names of people?

I’m sure it’s possible for place names to use these readings as well, since nanori readings are basically just “more Japanese-origin readings, but ones that tend to be used in names” and so there’s nothing stopping them from showing up in place names.

Place names are different though in that they have long histories intertwined into them. So you can get spelling or sound shifts, fossilized classical grammar, and whatnot as well.

They’re also hard to read, but just usually for slightly different reasons.

I live near 十三駅. No, it’s not じゅうさんえき, but rather じゅうそうえき. Haven’t looked into the details of that one.

If that frustrates you wait till you find out about “kira kira” names where they write 騎士 and pronounce it ないと or 空 and pronounce it すかい



That’s the right way to go, I’d say.

The same way with Wanikani and practice reading you’ll internalize the patterns for word readings, and even though there’ll still be exceptions it’ll still help a lot and more and more of your word reading guesses will at least be informed ones instead of complete befuddlement, over time encountering names you’ll start internalizing the patterns for name readings too… it just happens that the patterns are different from the ones for words.

I’d seen 和 as かず in at least one other name I know well, for example, and so my brain filled in かず with this name just fine.
The most general of general guidelines that’s way too simple and obviously is in no way an exception-free rule but helps inform the first thing to guess for me that I can share is:
a two-kanji word → try guessing an onyomi compound.
a two-kanji name → try guessing a kunyomi compound or readings I’ve seen in names before.

… but personally I never actually kept track or studied of which readings were on and which were kun, that awareness bled in over time too. So I guess that’s not really meant as advice for a rule to apply, more as just reassurance that it will make at least some more sense over time if you stick with your studies, even if you don’t like, intensely drill all the name readings of kanji (which seems like a bad idea anyway).


In manga and LN they usually have furigana on names. However, I don’t know why they don’t have furigana on names in VN. Do you know why? They expect the readers to know how to read names in guidebooks or something?

(I just try to read 2 VN in Japanese so may be it just my luck)

I’m reading a mystery novel now, and while for some names furigana is included the first time (and then never again for the rest of the book), for others there’s none at all. I think those are usually the two options I’ve seen in like, full-on heavy duty books.

I’m not a fan of it as a learner! But I assume the reason is just that they assume someone reading it would be familiar enough with names to be able to assume a reading themselves.
After all, it’s not really a complete shot in the dark like dictionaries may make it seem when they list every single possibility that anyone’s ever been called by a particular name. Often there’s a strong possibility or two and then just variations and things like that.

And hey after all, there’s plenty of books in English that don’t do a great job of explaining how to pronounce their protagonist’s names! At the end of the day that’s really all it is if you don’t know the reading – you know their name, just not how to say it.
I would imagine a native speaker would have some kind of plausible guess for even the weirdest kanji name if they needed to, the same way I can stumble through sci-fi names like “Anaander Mianaai” (or Mxyzptlk for that matter) without actually knowing what the author intended. From a native perspective I would find it stranger to have a tag reminding you how a name was read every time it was ever mentioned than the reverse of not having it.

Also, come to think of it - with VNs specifically, a simpler answer might also just be interface. It’s a lot easier to throw a bunch of text into a dialogue engine (and to localize it) if there isn’t the extra layer of formatting attached that comes with furigana. So video games with a lot of text sometimes may not have furigana at all in the dialogue or subtitles for that reason.
The game I’m playing right now is like that, and will only very occasionally add what would be in furigana in parentheses after the word. Doesn’t really explain when a game also leaves out name readings from the character profile page, but hey.

All of that is really just speculation on my part though!

1 Like

Names, and place names are presumably weird in most languages? I once had to give up on an audiobook because it completely mangled the pronunciation of what I thought were fairly straight forward Scottish names. There are a decent handful of English names that even English speakers just have to know(and often don’t), you would never guess how to spell the surnames Featherstonehough, St John etc from hearing them (or vice versa).

I think this is a a common problem. I’ve seen it a few times in anime/dramas where people struggle with reading/writing names.

In one show, a woman taking names for appointments over the phone wrote them down in katakana, so I guess that’s a thing too.

They usually include furigana on the first time it shows up if its worth doing.

If that wasn’t the case, it was likely a pretty standard japanese name that you would be expected to know not because of a guidebook, but because of the fact that thats just how most people read that name.

I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not already an advanced reader, but theres a proper noun deck thats worth doing the first couple thousand cards of to get the most common names down pat.



I’ve been thinking about adding a proper nouns deck to my anki, but I feel like I should focus on something else for now. Especially, the upcoming JLPT test.

1 Like

Ye, if you ask me, its really not worth doing them until you’re coming across maybe like…sub 50 new words per book at the earliest? You kinda naturally pick up names you hear really often anyways. If you’re in a situation where you’re regularly around names (a teacher in japan, maybe?), it might be worth it to do it sooner.

1 Like