As far as I understand, the word 大人 (otona) uses the kanji 大 to represent お and the kanji 人 to represent と. According to this site the readings for 人 do not include な. Where does the な come from then?


3 Answers 3


It's [熟字訓]{じゅくじくん}. Excerpt from Wiktionary:

A Japanese word whose kanji spelling conveys the meaning based on the individual characters, but the reading is not directly related to the spellling. For example, 大 (“big”, usually read ō in kun'yomi compounds) and 人 (“person”, usually read hito in kun'yomi compounds) combine to form 大人, meaning “adult” but read as otona instead of the otherwise-expected ōbito.

We have tons of 熟字訓, e.g. [昨日]{きのう}, [土産]{みやげ}, [二十歳]{はたち} etc. For more, see 熟字訓 on Wikipedia.

  • 8
    I can't help but be dissatisfied with this answer. While it explains why 大人 has a non-standard pronunciation, It doesn't really answer the underlying question of where the な came in terms of etymology.. Are there any resources for helping find an answer to the etymology behind おとな? The asker seems to be satisfied, but I'm not fully satisfied yet. Would post again as a more etymologically focused question, but not sure if that would be considered a duplicate.
    – sqrtbottle
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 9:07
  • 6
    @Sqrtbottle About OP's "the word 大人 (otona) uses the kanji 大 to represent お and the kanji 人 to represent と", no, the kanji 大人 doesn't show the sound "おと" in "おとな". The word おとな meant 'adult', and people attached the kanji 大人 to it because of the meaning of the kanji, 大=big, 人=people. In the same way, in [土産]{みやげ} for example, the kanji 土産 has nothing to do with the reading of each kanji, [土]{ど/つち} or [産]{さん/う}, but was used for みやげ because of their meaning; 土地の名産. This is what 熟字訓 are.
    – chocolate
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 14:09
  • 7
    I feel like asking where the な came from is like asking where the T came from in "adult".
    – Blavius
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 23:02
  • 6
    I think this question is actually not about etymology (despite the tag), but about readings and why they don't match up to what the OP expects given the kanji, so I think this answer is perfect. If we focus on etymology instead, I'm not sure there's any well established answer, though we can list speculation. (Maybe that could be a separate question.) 日本国語大辞典 says 「語源に関し諸説があるが判然としない。」
    – user1478
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:34
  • 3
    @Blavius, this question about the Japanese is categorically different, in that the "T" in adult does not convey any independent meaning, whereas the な in おとな could conceivably be an independent morpheme -- as, indeed, the proposed etymologies suggest. Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 1:21

Regarding the etymology of おとな

大人 contains the meaning of the leader of a group, the most significant one, the eldest one, etc.

The etymology is not clear however one of the reason might related to the word 乙名=おとな

During 室町 period, the wise leaders who lead some local farmer's autonomous group were commonly called 乙名=おとな。 It is unclear which word came first but the reading [大人]{おとな} quite possibly came from 乙名。

Reference: See section 大辞林 第三版.

So here you go! The な comes from [名]{な} in 乙名。

Or is it? GO FIND OUT YOURSELF〜 ヽ(゚∀゚)メ Study etymology〜 You can probably get a PhD studying this.

Portal -> 日本歴史言語学会

Regarding 熟字訓

It is false to think 大人= [大]{お}・人{と}+な。

@user5185 is right about 大人 being 熟字訓 and got not much relation with the pronunciation おとな。(It might once be related, but not anymore cause no one is sure.)

For more information on 熟字訓 and 当て字 see my another answer for this question.

  • This doesn't seem helpful because it doesn't explain the individual kanji meanings in 乙名, or how that combination is understood today (if it's even still used). Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 5:16

おとな is a Japanese word meaning big person...adult. When kanji came to Japan they took the characters 大 人  to represent their native word.

乙名 is a buddhist term..ie a Chinese loan word assigned a close apporximate to its original pronunciation.

The alleged similarities between the two are superficial.

You will find that in Japanese anyone can take kanji and assign a meaning and reading to them that goes outside the norm.

For instance 鸚鵡 is written using kana alone. おうむのスコックス

Squawks the parrot from dkc2. Or i can just write 鸚鵡 and put スコックス  above it.

さいのランビ Rambi the rhino 犀のランビ becomes just 犀

Squitter the spider

I can write  蜘蛛靴 Spider + shoes I can then do this

蜘ん靴 spider +shoes

I can then do this 蜘*靴 , or just 蜘靴。 i can then put the furigana スクイータ

Etc So anyone who plays donkey kong country 2 when they see that would know it is thay character. theres not really a confusion because when talking about a normal spider rhino or parrot only kana is used.

Similarily, multi kanji compounds can be abbreviated in the hopes that the meanimg can still be conveyed. For instance

ゆゆはくしょ 幽霊遊猟白書

Originally 6 character compound meaning ghost hunting report Abbreviated to


Any native speaker who sees this would understand what it is saying.

When speaking kanji will ne eliminated or parts of readimgs will be eliminated and replaced with ん

Both these concepts are important to understand especially for understanding anime ,manga and video games as they are used a lot.

This is very common in japanese media. Its pointless trying to find a reason for this. The reason is that the person or people took a word and assigned characters to it that associated with its inherant meaning. We do the same in english. Its not really a foreign concept. In english we assign a singular noun a group noun. You see this wtih fruit. We call oranges and tangerines..oranges. bananas and plaintains...bananas.

We say we are driving the car..while in our truck.

Transportation refers to bus bike train or plane.

Our immediate peers will understand what we are talking about and not question that we are in a truck instead of a car.

We also make up slang code words to refer to things all the time.

In other words we take one word and associate with another similar meaning word for ease of communication and comfort.

Both cars and trucks are vehicles. We shouldnt habe to specifically state what type of locmotive we are driving. So we just use the generic noun car.

Not the same concept i know, but similar enough so as not to be alienated from a foreign language.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site. While this answer is likely to be interesting to some, it seems mostly comprised of content that isn't actually related to the concept of jukujikun.
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 3:35
  • Confused to how this is relevant. Op asked wherr the otona in 大人 comes from. I replied. My reply has nothing to do with the concept of jokujukun in the same fashion as the ops was not asking what jokujikun is. Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 17:42
  • 2
    Your reply does have something to do with jukujikun. In the first two sentences, you describe how おとな came to be used with the kanji 大人. That kind of reading+kanji relationship is jukujikun, and that's the answer to what the OP wanted to know, even if they didn't know the term to ask about.
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 22:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .