Naming My Unborn Child: Tojo Sakai

Will and  Mommy
I am going to name my unborn child Tojo Sakai. My first generation mom thinks it’s not only stupid but a bad idea. Of course, this is the same parent who told me that I shouldn’t try to grow a mullet. Obviously, she’s an unreliable advice giver and possibly criminally insane.

An informal poll of my friends tells me that they don’t care if I named my kid Mussolini. “It’s your kid,” one of them told me, “You can do anything you want. It’s not like you’re going to name my children.” I beg to differ. I would like a say in the naming of their children. I have so many good ones already picked out; it would be a shame not to use them on their offspring. Let’s see, I like Tupac (like the rapper) and Kazuo if it’s a boy, and Skyy (like the vodka) and Kaori if it’s a girl. And part of me thinks there should be a Koji Junior. Would it be too unusual to name a friend’s kid after me? I don’t think so.

Tojo is a strong name. He was the Harvard educated military dictator of Japan who was the main architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war against the United States. What father wouldn’t want their kid to be a Harvard educated military dictator people write about in history books? It’s better than being a screenwriter, right?

This means however that Tojo won’t be able to visit any Asian country other than Japan – since the original Tojo was responsible for atrocious crimes against humanity. I’m not totally sure what kind of father I will be, but I am pretty certain that I won’t raise a child who will commit reprehensible war crimes, (knock on wood) but I digress.

There’s a chance that Tojo will be made fun of at school. Tojo isn’t common like Tom or Mike. The following is a list of the different names he could be called by his classmates (in no particular order): dojo, hobo, mojo, toe jam, camel toe, toe hoe. Well, the list can go on forever.

I feel for young Tojo already. I really should give him a “normal” American name. As a person with an “ethnic” name myself, I know first hand how it feels to be “different.” The most common thing I get now is that Koji is very atypical but still cute. I’m not going to lie and say that I had a horrible experience with my name when I was in school. I don’t think anyone has ever made fun of me to my face – probably because I would have hit them in the face if they did.  Maybe I need to teach young Tojo how to fight.

And yet, when I first got to college I wanted to be Steven (my middle name) instead of Koji. I told everyone I met that my name was Steven. That lasted for about a day. The idea behind the name change was that since I wanted to eventually become the President of the United States, I figured that middle America would more likely vote for a Steven rather than a Koji. It took the rest of college and a whole bunch of political sciences courses to realize that middle America wouldn’t vote for a person with my skin color and eyes.

When I decided to be a writer (whatever that means), I was tired of people telling me that I write and speak English so good. (That was a joke.) I found that when I put my middle name between my curious first name and my cultural surname that they knew I could speak and write English. Another positive thing about using my middle name was that people didn’t think I was a woman.

So am I a horrible person for even considering naming my son after Tojo? The way I look at it is that even if I gave him a common Western name, he won’t and can never be “mainstream.” So why bother trying? The way he looks will always be there to set him apart.

I admit that part of the appeal of naming him Tojo is that I want him to be proud of his ancestry. (I would name him Hirohito but I like the way Tojo sounds with Sakai.) I’m deathly afraid that he’ll become so Americanized that he’ll stop remembering where we came from and who we are. And who are we? I’m not 100 percent sure myself. But I can tell him for sure who we are not: We can never be truly American. What happened in this country to the Japanese Americans during the Second World War is only one example of that. Look what is happening to Arab and Muslim Americans today and look at what continues to happen to African Americans, Native American, and Latinos since the birth of our nation. The message is clear: we could never truly be them. Our only hope then is to retain our cultural heritage and accept that the ideas of freedom, democracy and choice are based on arbitrary factors such as class, race, gender and sexual orientation.

In the end, I want to make clear that I am NOT really naming my son Tojo. I’m naming him after my hero, my father. I want to give him my father’s Japanese name and hope that he has the strength to be okay with who he is and his place in this country – even if his dad isn’t always okay with who he is and his place in this country.

[Photo Courtesy of babasteve]

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (, the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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