KOFU, YAMANASHI PREF. – A teenager’s decision to change his name spawned a viral tweet and led to a broader conversation online and in the media amid a trend for Japanese parents to give their children unusual given names.
The boy, who was ashamed of his given name — Oji-sama — which translates to Prince, is starting a new life as Hajime, a change which was legally endorsed by a family court last week.
Hajime Akaike, 18, from the city of Kofu, said he wants his decision to encourage other people who are embarrassed by their given names or find them to be peculiar. He urged prospective parents to think twice when naming their children amid a trend among parents of giving their kids so-called kira-kira (glittery) names with unusual readings.
Among such names are unconventional ones inspired by anime characters such as Pikachu — composed of the Chinese characters for “light” and “space” — and Nausicaa — a combination of “now” and “deer” — who is the protagonist in a popular 1984 anime movie by Hayao Miyazaki.
“If someone dislikes his or her name, it is possible to act (to change it). I would like them to have the courage to do so,” Akaike said.
Akaike said his mother had chosen the name Oji-sama to express her belief that her child was “one and only, like a prince.” But he felt that, although the name may sound cute during childhood, having it as an 80-year-old would be questionable.
Akaike began to think about changing his name as a ninth-grade student. Whenever he provided his name to create membership cards, such as at karaoke outlets, shop employees thought it was a fake one and repeatedly tried to confirm its authenticity.
Akaike was embarrassed when his female peers at high school burst out laughing when he introduced himself. He says he was never bullied, but that he felt increasingly miserable and decided to change his name on the occasion of his graduation from high school. The Kofu Family Court approved the application for the name change on March 5.
People unhappy with their given name can seek court approval to legally change it and can do so even if their parents or others oppose the move, as long as they are at least 15 years of age. A court will approve the change only if it deems that an applicant’s current name causes “difficulty in having a social life.”
His mother was unhappy with his decision but his father accepted it, telling him, “This is your life.”
Akaike chose Hajime at the suggestion of a friend who is a monk. The name, meaning beginning, is to express his desire to “start anew after resetting his past life.”
The Chinese characters he chose for his new name are identical to those of Hajime Kawakami’s, a deceased Marxist economist whom Akaike respects, partly for his desire to help the poor.
Akaike tweeted about his decision to change his name and his post was retweeted more than 100,000 times. He received numerous requests for advice by others who felt similarly about their unusual names.
— あかいけ (@akaike_hardtype) March 7, 2019
Akaike wants to make the most out of his college life, starting in April, by taking classes in social welfare and playing in a band. He said that, with his name change, he will not feel anxious about introducing himself when meeting new people and that he looks forward to taking the “first step” of this new beginning in the spring.