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The kokuji 粂 【くめ】 exists, defined only as a name. The character is clearly an amalgam of 久 and 米 used in a man'yogana-like manner, but:

  1. Why did this particular surname get a designated character?
  2. Does the surname have a meaning, or is it opaque?

My suspicion is that there was a well-known 粂 who chose to write their surname in an idiosyncratic way, which others sharing the name came to use. If so, who was this individual?

The creation of ideograms is presently extremely rare for reasons related to standardisation and data entry, but the period when kokuji were being created suggests this was not always the case.

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In the old days, Japanese is written vertically ... –  fefe Dec 5 '12 at 11:38
    
True enough. So why is this the only exemplar of its type? The Chinese notion of 方块字 excludes the idea of writing more than one character in a single block. –  jogloran Dec 5 '12 at 12:25
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We do not have blocks on papers. Blocks are for learners, or for writers to count characters. In real writing, different character may have different sizes. In some specific writing style (e.g. 草书), they can vary a lot. And it is not always easy to identify character boundaries, especially in the old days when a lot of people are not well educated. –  fefe Dec 5 '12 at 12:40
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And there is also 麿 for 麻呂 –  fefe Dec 5 '12 at 12:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Taken from here:

久米と同様ともいう。近年、徳川家などを輩出した現愛知県東部である三河地域に多数みられる。語源は、古代の久米部の居住地や部族名、「くめ」は米のことで農耕族につけられた名称、湾曲した地形などからきている。地名としても全国に多く存在する。

Also, known as 久米. In recent times, it can often be seen in the Mikawa region in the eastern part of Aichi Prefecture which is where the Tokugawa family, etc. is from. The origin is the name of the area or clan Kume. くめ stands for rice and it is a name that a family of farmer's use, also it also stands for a geographical area that bends or curves. The place name exists in several areas in Japan.

As for why this one got a designated character, there a lot of reasons for that (some of which are already mentioned in the comments). Sometimes the reason is trivial, somebody made a mistake and the mistake stuck, or sometimes it is on purpose, for example a clan split up, so one side took 久米 and the other side took 粂 (there is some explanation here, but the exact reason seems unclear).

IIRC, 90 percent of last names in Japan come from place names (originally, however there is a lot more to it, so this might be an oversimplification), and usually the place names are given arbitrary. For example, the common last name 田中 is simply the people who lived in the fields and who took care of them.

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Before the Meiji Restoration most people did not have surnames, so in the Meiji era they had to make things up. I'm sure some really innovative guy just randomly wrote this character and read its radicals independently for fun...

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Then explain why the period didn't lead to the creation of hundreds of novel kanji for use in names. –  jogloran Dec 6 '12 at 23:57

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