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?


2 Answers 2


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
    May 25, 2015 at 9:07
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    @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.
    – user5185
    May 25, 2015 at 14:09
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    I feel like asking where the な came from is like asking where the T came from in "adult".
    – Blavius
    May 25, 2015 at 23:02
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    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
    May 26, 2015 at 4:34
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    @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. 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} is 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.

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