I decided to read about the words for Ginkgo in Japanese (as in Ginkgo biloba).

I was surprised to learn that Ginkgo comes from Japanese! According to Wikipedia, Engelbert Kaempfer, while writing the Amoenitatum exoticarum, read the kanji 銀杏 as ぎんきょう. He romanized this reading as Ginkjo, which was then unfortunately misprinted as Ginkgo, resulting in the spelling used in many Western languages today.

銀杏 with romanisation and Latin name

From the same article, I see that イチョウ is a common word for Ginkgo plants, apparently from the Chinese 鴨脚. It seems that this word was assigned to the kanji 銀杏 as a jukujikun reading, and we can see that both readings existed 300 years ago, because Kaempfer also transcribed イチョウ (as Itsjo).

In fact, 銀杏 has a third reading, ぎんなん. Similar to ぎんきょう, it appears that this reading was made by putting two on'yomi together: ぎん+あん=ぎんあん→ぎんなん. But here's what makes me curious about the difference between the readings: 大辞林 and 大辞泉 only list ぎんなん, not ぎんきょう. And 300 years ago, Kaempfer only transcribed ぎんきょう, not ぎんなん.

It seems that both ぎんきょう and ぎんなん mean the same thing (Ginkgo plants or seeds). But what is the relationship between the two readings?

  1. Did ぎんなん replace ぎんきょう, making the latter obsolete?
  2. Or are both readings still used?
  • 1
    I've only heard the tree being called いちょう and the seed being called ぎんなん.
    – Earthliŋ
    Mar 13, 2013 at 10:56
  • 3
    Here is a citation for ginkyou as well as a bonus for 鴨脚. The 1444 dictionary 下学集 says: 銀杏(イチヤウ・ギンキヤウ) 異名ハ鴨脚(アフキヤク) 葉ノ形如シ鴨脚(カモノアシ)ノ 故ニ山谷(カニ)句云ク風林収(ヲサム)鴨脚ヲ也. "銀杏 (ichou, ginkyou), also known as oukyaku 'duck-feet'. The leaf shape resembles duck feet. In the past, [the Chinese poet] 山谷 (=Huang Tingjian) said 'harvest duck-feet in forest.'" (Kamei, 1944, Iwanami Shoten. Page 104)
    – Dono
    Mar 13, 2013 at 14:10
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    BTW, it appears that (PDF) Kaempfer himself couldn't remember how he romanized 銀杏 and the spelling "Ginkgo" already appears in his own hand-written notes.
    – Earthliŋ
    Mar 16, 2013 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


杏 has as three 音読み, namely アン, キョウ, コウ, of which Kaempfer transcribed the first two (including ギンナン, as the picture shows). I don't consider too far a stretch of the imagination to think that Kaempfer simply asked for readings 銀杏, and was told that you can read it as ギンキョウ, ギンナン, or イチョウ.

The text accompanying the picture says that the seed was called ギンナン (already in 1700). (He describes it resembling a "Persian pistachio", just twice as big.) He also says that イチョウ was the common name for the tree.

In current usage, too, 銀杏 is read ぎんなん and means the seed of the Gingko tree. (In fact many supermarkets do sell Gingko seeds under the name 銀杏.) The tree itself is called イチョウ, which may also be written 銀杏, by 熟字訓, like you said.

I think we can conclude that ギンナン did not replace ギンキョウ, but rather ギンキョウ has fallen out of use with the common name イチョウ surviving in its place.

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