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In premodern Japanese, it was traditional for a prestigious or extremely honorable man whose name was read with kun'yomi to have the reading of his personal name changed to on'yomi in certain situations, a process called 有職読み【ゆうそくよみ】. (Women virtually never had 有職読み, presumably because Heian period women were not supposed to read kanbun.) Some notable examples of this include:

  • 源 頼光 Minamoto no Yorimitsu (944-1021), who became Minamoto no Raikô
  • 徳川 慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837 - 1913), who became Tokugawa Keiki
  • 伊藤 博文 Itô Hirobumi (1841 - 1909), who became Itô Hakubun
  • 原 敬 Hara Takashi (1856 - 1921), who became Hara Kei

I have read that 有職読み applies especially after the individual's death. However, Wikipedia doesn't bear this out and it also has some odd counterexamples:

  • 野沢 那智 Nozawa Nachi (1938 – 2010) was asked whether his personal name's real reading was Yasutomo and said that he wasn't sure.
  • 横溝 正史 Yokomoto Seishi (1902 – 1981) had a kun'yomi on his birth certificate but it was never used.

So, two questions I'd like to have verified: is there a general rule by which the use of on'yomi is applied, and has it ever applied to people born after 1945? Is it entirely arbitrary, or was there a rule that was abandoned at some point?

  • Oh, that's why everyone calls him Fujiwara no Teika! I never knew! – Sjiveru Jun 30 '18 at 22:49
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    An interesting paper: kanken.or.jp/project/data/… – broccoli forest Jun 30 '18 at 23:51
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    The article above says; it's misconception that "it was traditional for a prestigious or extremely honorable man whose name was read with kun'yomi to have the reading of his personal name changed to on'yomi" and the terminology of 有職読み is caused by misreading a book called 日本の女性名, which points out that women's names were on-yomi-ed too. – user4092 Jul 1 '18 at 12:59
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As the comments helpfully indicated, what I've written above is actually an academic myth, based on misreading of a book published in 1980.

「読み癖」と同義だったはずの「有職読み」は、角田文衛『日本の女性名』が誤読され、そこにウィキペディアが介在したことにより、 「名の字音読み」の意で用いられ始めた。定着から僅か十年程度の幽霊語である。名乗訓みの方が「有職読み」の条件を満たしていること、近代の人名音読は「ゐなかよみ」の性質を多分に有していることなどから、この語を用いるべきではないと考える。

有職読み [meaning something like "formal reading"], which should rather be synonymous with "common parlance" [i.e. a common reading of a name or word], has started to be used in a way meaning "on'yomi personal name" as a result of a misunderstanding of the book Japanese Women's Names by Bun'ei Tsunoda which was imported into Wikipedia. This is a ghost word which has begun to appear in the past 10 years [i.e. as Wikipedia has become more widely cited]. Now, kun'yomi name reading is rather the more "formal reading" [because it follows rigid rules], while the pronunciation of personal names in the 1868-1945 period was often a "rustic reading" [i.e. based on sight and acquaintance, and freely variant], so we are of the opinion that the term 有職読み should not be used.

And to add another note, 有職読み probably became a "ghost word" because the way it is constructed sounds like it is a formal, theoretical term, whereas in fact it was simply a product of Tsunoda's writing style.

To answer my own question, there have never been formal rules determining whether to read a name through kun'yomi or on'yomi; the two used to be freely mixed, while kun'yomi became standard after 1945, until the invention of kirakira names which destroyed society forever.

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