3

For example, Michiko can be written several different ways. Last names can also be spelled differently.

  • 4
    Not unheard of in English either... Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Caitlyn, Katelynn, Caitlin, Kaitlin, Kaitlynn; Claire, Clare, Clair; Ashlee, Ashley, Ashleigh, Ashlie; etc. – Earthliŋ Oct 29 '16 at 3:10
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Because kanji has the different meaning even if they are pronounced the same. For example, the kanji characters of み are 美,見 etc. Them of ち are 知、智、地 etc. Them of みち are 道, 満, 路 etc. The kanji character of こ which placed the end of woman's first name is usually 子.

So we can choose these kanji for a name みちこ like 美智子, 路子, and 見知子.

9

The reason is that parents choose the kanji for their meaning. Depending on the kanji chosen, the suggested meaning is different, for example

  • 美智子 — "beautiful wise child"
  • 美千子 — "child of a thousand beauties"
  • 見知子 — "child of recognition"
  • 道子 — "child of the way"
  • 路子 — "child of the road"
  • 倫子 — "child of morals"
  • 皆子 — "child of all"
  • 通子 — "child of passage"

(taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michiko).

There are several special suffixes/endings for first names, for which usually only one kanji is chosen, such as

  • -ko for girls
  • -rō for boys

Also, -o is a common ending for boys' names, usually emphasizing the male gender, although several kanji are common: 雄, 夫, 男.

For Michiko, common spellings would thus be of the form [〇]{みち}子 or [〇]{み}[〇]{ち}子. Since 子 means, it is a girl's name, for [〇]{みち} you can choose from 道, 路, 満(ち), 倫, 理, etc.; for [〇]{み}[〇]{ち}子, you can essentially choose [〇]{み} (美, 観, 見, etc.) and [〇]{ち} (知, 智, 千, etc.) separately.

Choosing kanji for a name can be very creative. Often, parents may also consult a priest at a temple or shrine as there exists a complex system for fortune-telling, based on the total stroke counts of certain pairs or triples in the name, family name included. (Here is an online calculator.)

For more common suffixes in given names, see How can I tell if a Japanese given name is male or female?

  • By the way you can find many books in Japan about recommended kanjis to use for baby naming. There are several sections ordered by pronunciation, radicals, and number of strokes. Indeed some people give a special attention to the total number of strokes (can attract good or bad luck). – wip Oct 29 '16 at 13:02
  • 1
    @wil Not only to the total number of strokes. The site I linked has fairly detailed explanations. – Earthliŋ Oct 29 '16 at 18:42

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