Original Question

When talking about kanjis or trying to explain a certain kanji, how do Japanese people usually refer to that specific kanji in speech without having to write anything or point to any writing, yet still be understood as to which exact kanji character you are referring to?

Are there "official" names for each kanji in Japanese? If not then how would you address it?

For example the kanji 好, when talking about it how would you usually refer to that if it doesn't have a specific name? In fact it may even not have a single agreed pronunciation. For the same kanji it can be pronounced in different ways depending on the context. But in English we always refer to "b" as the letter "be". In Japanese, for a kanji, how would you do the same thing?

Updated Question

After reading some inputs from the comments and answers section below, and reading the links attached to them, I came to question on : How would a beginner like me know that the word that I'm using to refer to a kanji in a conversation is actually defined as "common"? The kanji may have a number of possible words that it's a part of, but which ones of these words ranks as the most "common"? I haven't found a popular global "ranking system" on how common a word is againts each other for the Japanese Language. Is there a site that has that?

  • 2
    Related or duplicate? japanese.stackexchange.com/q/9570/9831
    – chocolate
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 12:30
  • There's still something missing there, something that is not yet answered. I'll rephrase my question later to adapt to the answers in that thread.
    – Tomsofty33
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 12:56
  • @Chocolate Thanks. But see if you can address my issue in the comments section beneath the answer below.
    – Tomsofty33
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


I think that the answer that @chocolate linked is pretty spot-on when it comes to kanji.

The simple answer is that kanji don't really have names. When there are many thousands of kanji used in daily writing, that would also require that there are many thousands of names for the characters. These names would be in addition to multiple readings, and the meanings (some kanji have multiple meanings).

When a particular kanji is referenced in conversation that the listener does not recognize, the speaker will typically do the following to clear up the ambiguity:

  1. Choose a simple everyday word that is commonly understood. 教師, for example.
  2. Specify which character in the word being used. 教師{きょうし}の教{きょう}。

Though I am sure you are aware, grammatically, the の in this structure can be considered as the possessive particle. I include this detail for learners with less Japanese experience.

If the process I just described is insufficient in specifying which kanji is being talked about, another common practice is for the speaker to trace the kanji out with their index finger on the palm of their hand. Depending on the speaker, and how much understanding of the Japanese language you demonstrate, you may have them trace the character out on their hand as they say 教師の教.

A final (and ultimately the most complex) way to distinguish kanji is by explaining radicals used. I have the least experience with this situation, but you will see it commonly used when you start talking about specific fields of study, like medicine, science and engineering. If the listener does not recognize the kanji via the method described above, the speaker may resort to specifying which radicals are used, and occasionally where they are placed. This is extremely effective when coupled with tracing the kanji on the palm of one's hand. Though this method may not be effective at conveying the reading of the kanji, the meaning as derived from the radicals is usually more clear.

You will also notice that hiragana and katakana characters are similar in that they do not specifically have names like roman characters have. If we want to specify a character, し, in conversation, you would probably say something like ひらがな(の)し, though in some circumstances, the の in this case may be optional.

Answer to Updated Question

You are digging for something that doesn't exist. Just as is with the case in English, there is no 'master list' of words that are considered common. Such a list would be excessively long, and nearly impossible to memorize for these circumstances.

Instead, why don't you use the words you learn when you first learn the kanji? When learning new characters, the standard practice is to learn the most basic (i.e. common) words that use the character. That's the closest you are going to get to this 'master list' you are searching for.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – chocolate
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 15:57

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