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I have recently noticed that one of my coworkers writes his surname partly in hiragana when writing by hand.

This strikes me as odd, because his surname doesn't have multiple readings (to my knowledge) and is made of relatively simple kanji. He always writes it in kanji when typing. (For reference, the name is 桑野 and he writes it as 桑の)

Is there any reason someone would do this, and is it common? Or is he just being lazy?

  • 2
    Why don't you just ask him? I doubt he'd be offended if you're asking out of genuine curiosity. Plus, he's the only one who can give an authoritative answer on why he chooses to do this! – DaoWen Aug 17 '16 at 17:55
  • I thought about asking but as he's my boss I was worried about sounding rude so decided to ask here! – Jasmine Aug 17 '16 at 23:58
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This phenomenon mainly occurs in orthodox brand/shop names. Quite a few traditional-style Japanese restaurants are officially named like もり川【かわ】 and 三【み】むら, even though 森【もり】 and 村【むら】 are not difficult kanji at all. I haven't wondered why, but according to this question and this question, this tradition seems to have originated from the belief that even numbers (especially four) are unlucky because it can be easily divided into two. People today are no longer that superstitious, and we can think of this simply as one of the common ways to establish the visual identity of the shop. Today you can easily find two-character, partly-hiragana restaurant names like 吉【よし】の. So the appearance of 桑の itself doesn't strike me as too weird to me.

When people write their signatures or initials by hand, many people try to make them look unique so that it won't incidentally look similar to signatures by others. I believe this is true among English speakers, too. In my office, some of my colleagues have to write their names on paper more than 30 times a day, and they have developed their own ways to write their surnames fast. Many chose to write their names entirely in hiragana or katakana, and some created almost unreadable signatures. I guess your coworker decided to use の as the unique part of his signature. I wouldn't say it's very common, but it's understandable.

  • 1
    Thank you! I chose this answer because I hadn't considered it being like a signature, but it does seem most likely now that I think about where I've seen it written this way. – Jasmine Aug 18 '16 at 6:30
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I guess your coworker uses hiragana の simply because it is easier to write and 野 is very common in surnames and the natural guess for の.¹

Hiragana (or katakana) or variant kanji may also be used in surnames to simplify writing, such as 早せ川 (早瀬川) or 斎藤 (齋藤).

However, you wouldn't use shorthand in (formal) correspondence like emails, etc.


¹ You can check the database of names in the koseki register here. These are all characters read の:

enter image description here

The last four characters are hentaigana of 乃, 能, 能, and 農, respectively.

  • 5
    Are those last 4 hentaigana? – bcloutier Aug 17 '16 at 13:29
  • Thank you! I wondered if it was something like this but was a bit uncertain due to it being in a formal/work environment. – Jasmine Aug 17 '16 at 23:56
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    @bcloutier Yes, they are. It looks like the first one is from 乃, the second and third one from 能 and the last one from 農. – Earthliŋ Aug 18 '16 at 5:31
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I have experienced that with girls on language exchange sites or on facebook also. The "official" reason can be that since they are interfacing themselves with foreigners, they want to make their name easier to understand. This makes sense also on facebook if they have some foreign friends that might understand some Japanese but are not so familiar with kanji. Anyway I think this is an excuse in general, the real reason being that writing your name in hiragana gives you more distance from unknown people because you are keeping the kanji of your name as a personal "secret" or as some information accessible just by closer friends. Another concurring reason could be that some people are not comfortable with kanji because they are a symbol of traditional Japanese culture (an adult in general should write his name with kanji), so they want to appear more young and somehow "rebellious" by writing their name in simple hiragana. Some western people use fake names or altered versions of their names as pseudonyms on facebook, I think that happens for similar reasons. Anyway all these are just my personal speculations based on the gut feelings I have had while meeting Japanese people, so please do not take them too much conclusively and feel free to discuss. It would be interesting to ask to Japanese people also why they do that, I never tried, but I would not take their replies necessarily in a literal way. If you ask them why they are wearing masks usually they will tell you that it is because they have a cold or want to prevent a cold, but in general I think also that (again) this is just a socially accepted way to put a barrier between themselves and other people. Maybe also in an office environment the signature personalization could be explained with these or similar arguments, I am not completely satisfied with the explanation based on purely graphical reasons. But I do not have any office experience in Japan nor am I seeking any ;)

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