Dealing With Asian Names And Their Meanings

While my wife was pregnant, I wrote an article about choosing an ethnic specific name. Well, the baby is here and I went for it. I gave him my father’s full “ethnic” name – so his first name is Japanese, middle name is Western, and of course my last name.

No one has told me that its too ethnic, which has been a little surprising. Everyone had an opinion — good and bad – before he was born. But what has bothered me (besides the fact that people have and continue to butcher the pronunciation of his name) is the fact that everyone wants to know what the name means.

I should have seen this coming. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been asked me what Koji means. I usually tell people what each of the kanji (Chinese characters) represents – which is good to parents and second born child – but that has never been satisfying to people.

When they ask what it means, they want to hear something more fortune cookie. Something like, “Wind blows down the north face of Mount Fuji.” I have no idea what the heck that means but it sounds pretty darn exotic doesn’t it?

I wonder if people with more traditional Western names are asked what their names mean. I’ve never wondered what John meant or what Lisa means. But next time I meet one I will have to ask. Actually, maybe I should look it up. That’s what Google is for, right?

According to this site, John means “God is gracious.” And Lisa, according to the same site, means “God’s promise.” Maybe because the names are so common, I’m surprised to find out that they have such deep meanings. I wonder if Johns and Lisas know.

My beautiful son’s name in kanji means good to parents and good husband – which is the best a real man can hope to be. But what should I tell people when they ask me what his name MEANS? My wife and I are leaning toward “ninja assassin” but we’re definitely open to suggestions. Let us know what you think.

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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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