What’s in a Name?

If you live in Japan, a lot. Take my name, for example. I adore my name. I love the way it sounds. I love the way it looks. I love its rich history. And here it is one of the most popular girls’ names — pre-Tiffany and Brittany but post-Lisa and Cathy. I once heard that girls’ names ending in “ko” became popular after the war followed, more recently, by names ending in “mi”. Though the spelling of “Naomi” in Roman letters is exactly the same in English and Japanese, the pronunciation is slightly different, “Nah-omi” vs. “Nay-omi.” I use both. No one forgets the gaijin with the Japanese name. In fact, my most frequently asked questions are “Why do you have a Japanese name?” and “Is your grandmother Japanese?” Little did my parents know …

Early on in my stay, a well-known architect decided I needed kanji (Japanese characters) of my own. In Japanese, there are many common spellings for my name which belongs primarily to women but to men as well. It was decided that I should have the same characters as his daughter: Nao + Mi = Straight Beauty. I can dig it.

As you can imagine, in Japan all manner of personalized consumer goods are available to me in kanji, romaji and hiragana: chopsticks, washcloths, pens … you name it! Though I am amused by these items, I purchase few. Recently the girls spotted a “Naomi” cell phone charm at Besia, Minakami’s Walmart-equivalent. I was set to take a pass but the genuine four-leaf clover and the message “wish your happiness” emblazoned on the flip side convinced me to make it mine.

And the other day, Pippi and I walked by a restaurant in our neighborhood that opened a few months ago. I still do a double-take every time I see its sign.

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