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"子" (or "こ") often comes at the end of a woman's name. But for baby animals, "子" is at the start of the term. Why is it different for the two?

(I've heard of the name "Koichi" belonging to a Japanese man, but I don't know if that literally means "child one", uses "子", or is cognate with "子")

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    Man, this is so hard to answer. I'm giving as many explanations as possible, but - those who know, if something's wrong please point them out! Feb 27 '16 at 11:34
  • @CollapsedPLUG I keep on making the mistaken assumption that languages have to be logical. Sorry about that. Feb 27 '16 at 11:42
  • Names are not a word.
    – user4092
    Feb 27 '16 at 12:14
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    @user4092 Aren't they? I learned that names are proper noun. Feb 27 '16 at 13:18
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This is difficult to answer, but:
TL;DR Because the meaning of 子 in the end of name and that of 子 at the start of term meaning baby animals are different!


"子" (or "こ") as the end of a woman's name and "子" as the start of the term of baby animals (I think you mean something like "[子猫]{こねこ}".) What "子" here makes are very different.

  • 子 as the end of a woman's name "makes a name."
    • This is a suffix.
    • According to this site, 子 as suffix of name is seen way before Heian era, and has been used in man's name back then.
    • Looks like that in Heian era, the emperor gave the princess the name so: they first replaced the kanji in their name with the one of same reading (because they looking bad,) picked one of them (name back then contained multiple letters,) then added 子.
    • Then the name using suffix 子 became widespread.
  • 子 as the starting of the term of baby animals makes a "term."
    • In this case, it works as a prefix.
    • This 子 has the obvious meaning of "baby of."

And no, we never say baby cats as "猫子." It's weird. Using 「子」 as prefix, babies of animal (grammatically general noun) are often called "子-(name of animal.)" For instance, 子猫{こねこ}、子犬{こいぬ}.
But also note that there are some cases that "子-prefix" sounds weird.


I've heard of the name "Koichi" belonging to a Japanese man, but I don't know if that literally means "child one", uses "子", or is cognate with "子"

It doesn't. Koichi is read "KO-O/I-CHI" (こう/いち) and written as 光一, 幸一, 浩一 etc.

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If you'd really think about it, in English, it wouldn't be as confusing as it seemed.

For example, when we say "baby kangaroo", we're referring to a "kangaroo", a small, young, "infant kangaroo". We're using a noun baby as an adjective here. Generally, nouns can be used adjectively in English if put before another noun: "ice age" actually means "glacial", "winter bash" is "hibernal" (thanks, @oals). So does Japanese. 子 + animal means "baby animal" because it's put before the animal name.

In personal name ~子, the 子 is but an ordinary noun child (or, girl). Thus words + 子 just means "—'s child" or "a child of —" or "a — child". Originally this naming convention was meant to be "a [adjective] (noble-)descendant", and why it becomes female name maker is a long history, please see @CollapsedPLUG's answer and link.

PS
~子 compound isn't limited to woman's names. It also has common usages:

  • just as "[something] child":
    みなし子【ご】 "orphan", 継子【ままこ】 "stepchild", 赤子【あかご】 "(old-fashioned) baby", 双子【ふたご】 "twins" etc
  • or more sporadically as "the [something]-ed" or "[something] worker":
    売【う】り子【こ】 "(extra) vendor", 切子【きりこ】 "rounding-off; cut glass", 踊【おど】り子【こ】 "(old-fashioned) showgirl", 店子【たなこ】 "tenant" etc.
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The origin of languages and customs are often forgotten and we often just do it without regard. Most Japanese people don't know the history about 子 as stated above. As I understand it, 子 in a name, has a cute sound to it and for a few decades it was popular to use. --Think of it as calling someone Billy, Bobby, Nicky etc.

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