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I understand surnames and given names usually have some reason for existing, and have existed for several years. My question, I guess, really is: if someone were making up a completely different name for themselves and wanted to use kanji in their surname (or given name) could they use any combination of sounds (and any of their corresponding kanji) and still get a comprehensible name?

For instance, in English, I could say that Schterice is a name, but it really wouldn't make any sense and most people would think it was strange. It had no history and doesn't really seem to stem from any known names. Still, it would still be a valid name, yes? I would like to know if the same would apply to Japanese names?

It seems like a really strange question, but I am confused. Please and thank you, in advance.

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Please check this previous question Can Japanese names be anything? which may be helpful. –  user3169 Apr 7 '13 at 23:59
    
Are you planning on making a new surname? :) –  summea Apr 12 '13 at 21:46
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2 Answers

In Japanese law, any of the approved kanji can be used in a surname in any order, and any reading can be ascribed to them. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, until you bear in mind that Japanese law doesn't allow you to change your name arbitrarily, so in practice, most names are very traditional.

There is one exception to this: foreigners. If your name is say, Robinson, you would be perfectly entitled to choose some arbitrary kanji for your name (say, 山田 -- a very common surname) but instruct everybody to read it as "ロビンソン" (a Japanized pronunciation of "Robinson"). But you'd struggle to open a bank account....

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From 戸籍法, a Japanese name is recorded on their 戸籍. The 戸籍 does not record how the name is to be read. (This is typically done on a 住民票. This reading may be changed at will.) A foreigner (one without Japanese citizenship) does not have a 戸籍. Until 2012, foreigners also did not have 住民票, either. A foreigner may apply for 通称名 which may be in kanji. If desired, a bank account may be opened using just the 通称名. –  Dono Apr 12 '13 at 7:48
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"山田 -- the most common surname" This is the 12th most common name. For the record, #1-3 are 佐藤, 鈴木, and 高橋. –  Dono Apr 12 '13 at 8:12
    
@Dono Thanks for the clarification and expansion. I'd always believed that Yamada was the commonest surname! I've amended my answer accordingly. –  Pitarou Apr 12 '13 at 10:31
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It's not immediately obvious to me what it means for a name to "make sense" or be "comprehensible" in this context. If I told you that my name was Schterice, you would probably believe me, and likely wouldn't think it any odder than any other unfamiliar name you've heard in the past.

I think what you want to know is if any combination of Japanese sounds could theoretically be a name, and the answer is yes, as the characters approved for names include not only the 常用 kanji and the 人名用 kanji, they include both katakana and hiragana (which essentially encompass all Japanese sounds).

If that's not what you want to know, I suggest you reword your question to clarify what you mean.

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