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Japanese last names often refer to some type of location or geographical feature, but in this case I am not certain if the name has an abstract, metaphorical, or literal meaning. "Many rice fields in the universe" just seems a bit unusual to be merely literal, especially since it's three characters instead of the usual two.

What is the origin of this name? web searches have yielded no useful results, at least in English.

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Meaning

Digging a little bit into the etymology of [宇]{u}[多]{ta}, according to this website:

うた{uta}(歌、謡、宇多、宇田、鵜田、宇太)

① ウダ{uda}、ムタ{muta}と同じく「湿地」の意味。

"uta" in its forms 歌, 謡, 宇多, 宇田, 鵜田 or 宇太 means the same as "uda" and "muta", i.e. "shicchi" (damp ground, wetland).

The meaning of [宇田]{uta} can be traced back to [湿地]{shicchi} (damp ground, wetland), which seems much more fitting as a literal or descriptive name for a geographical place rather than "rice fields in the universe".

Origin

From myoji-yurai.net - 宇多田:

現広島県西部である安芸国高田郡宇多田村が起源(ルーツ)であるとされる。現兵庫県の日本海側である但馬国新井庄地頭に宇多田氏が記述されている。また長州藩の士族にも宇多田氏の名がみられ、ビリケン宰相と呼ばれた寺内正毅(宇多田寿三郎)首相はこの家系である。近年、山口県、長崎県にわずかにみられる。

It is said to have its roots in Utada Village, Takada District, Aki Province, which is currently the western part of Hiroshima Prefecture. The Utada clan is mentioned in Araisho, Tajima Province, on the Sea of ​​Japan side of present-day Hyogo Prefecture. The name of the Utada clan was also found among the samurai families of the Choshu domain, and Prime Minister Masatake Terauchi (Jusaburo Utada), who was known as the Billiken Prime Minister, was a descendant of this family. In recent years, it has been seen in small numbers in Yamaguchi and Nagasaki prefectures.

So, as you guessed, the name seems to come from a location, the past [宇]{u}[多]{ta}[田]{da} village in what is now the prefecture of Hiroshima. The site also shows the distribution of people bearing the family name 宇多田 across Japan's prefectures, which is coherent with the provided explanation since most people with this name live in that area. Of course, you could go down the rabbit hole and ask how that particular village came to be called 宇多田.

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  • Thanks, I think this comprehensively answers the question. I would upvote but don't have enough points yet sadly.
    – Qwokker
    Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 19:37
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    No worries, it's just how the system works. I see in your profile that you already amassed 71 reputation points in the Literature sister site. Once you manage to get 200 in any of the sites, you get +100 points upfront for each sister site you join, and it gets less frustrating. Hope to see you around, and be welcomed to Japanese Stackexchange!
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 21:43
  • 歌 and 謡 are about singing or chanting. How on earth do they relate? Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 5:16
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    @KarlKnechtel In this case, the meaning is carried in the pronunciation itself (ウタ), not in the written character. That is one of the different types of 当て字. I see 当て字 as a spectrum, there's completely unrelated characters that are used only phonetically, and also other words where somewhat meaningwise related characters are used to spell a word even though their meaning is not exactly what you'd expect. See this
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 15:06
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    Apparently there's also an uta element that appears in placenames in reference to sandy shores, and a homophonous but apparently unrelated uta element (same link) with a base meaning something like "extraordinary", that forms part of obscure words like うただのし ("really fun") and うたた ("more and more" [positive], "extremely, awfully" [negative]). Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 17:31

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