European languages seem to name things after people (or people-like things) on a very regular basis. We have everything from 'Mount Everest' and 'Washington, DC' to 'Robert A Welch Hall'. Places named after people are absolutely everywhere.

Japan, on the other hand, seems to do this much less frequently. I've seen some buildings named after people, but rather fewer proportionally than I expect - I think my local university campus here in the US has a person's name on more than 90% of the buildings, but looking at maps of Japanese campuses, I see one or two here or there. I've never seen a city or a mountain or any other sort of actual toponym that I found out or could tell was named after an actual person.

Am I right in drawing this conclusion - that naming things after people is much rarer in Japan, and naming places after people basically never happens?

Is there some other naming strategy that 'makes up the difference', as it were? E.g. Spanish and French have a lot of saint-based or other religion-based placenames (or did historically) when English rarely does (or did) that - is there something that Japanese does (or did) instead?

(To be fair, toponyms in Japan are on average a lot older than toponyms in North America, where a lot of these personal toponyms are, so that might affect things significantly.)

  • Corporations are named after the founder like Disney ex) Toyota,Honda, Matsushita(Panasonic), Suzuki and so on. It's not toponym though.
    – user25382
    Oct 6, 2017 at 22:23
  • That's true, that's a notable exception. It's rather different from place names, but it's not insignificant.
    – Sjiveru
    Oct 6, 2017 at 22:29
  • I might need to be corrected on this, but often times, it's the other way around with Japanese names for people and places -- a family name in Japan might be because of the town they hailed from, or from a geographic descriptor that gave name to a town or place. As for institutions carrying someone's given name, I think that's certainly not common in Japan, though many companies, halls, and buildings, might be named for someone's last name as a hallmark.
    – psosuna
    Oct 6, 2017 at 23:38
  • 1
    naming places after people basically never happens? -- うちの近くには人名が町名になってるところがたくさんあります。「[羽柴長吉]{はしばちょうきち}」「[永井久太郎]{ながいきゅうたろう}」「[松平武蔵]{まつだいらむさし}」「[与五郎町]{よごろうちょう}」「井伊[掃部]{かもん}」「毛利[長門]{ながと}」「水野[左近]{さこん}」、とか。(城下町で、お屋敷があったからそうなっただけで、偉業を記念して名付けたとかいうわけではないのですけど)
    – chocolate
    Oct 7, 2017 at 0:59
  • @psosuna Yep, that's very much the case. I'm curious then where the place names came from - especially more modern ones that haven't just been there for centuries.
    – Sjiveru
    Oct 7, 2017 at 1:43

1 Answer 1


Conglomerating and inferring from the comments, here's my best attempt at a unified answer.

Naming things, especially places, after people is quite rare in Japan. Perhaps the largest exception is the fact that companies are typically named after their founders (e.g. Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Yamada). Some places as well are named after people who once owned large mansions there (thank you @Chocolate).

Things named commemoratively after people, to memorialise or honour them, are much rarer. There seem to be some university buildings named this way, though proportionally far fewer than on American campuses. The only placename I've seen (thank you @kimiTanaka) is Nogizaka, which was renamed in 1912 to commemorate general and national hero Nogi Maresuke.

In short, naming things after people seems to be rather rare in Japan compared at least to America, and possibly also to other European countries.

  • 1
    Note that 乃木坂 is a street just leading up to 乃木's old residence (currently a shrine). Dec 18, 2018 at 6:51

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