The 10 Hardest “Kira Kira” Japanese Names to Pronounce

Some Japanese parents love having fun with kanji (much to their kids’ eventual regret). Can you pronounce these 10 “kira-kira” names?

Unseen Japan


By Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Kira Kira names

A lot goes into a name — that is, if you can even read it. On March 7th the Cabinet officially accepted a draft amendment to the Family Registration Law that would require family registers (koseki) to include yomigana, phonetic readings of kanji, for family and given names [1].

This is more to streamline the digitalization of records than anything, but it could also mean more widespread use of kira kira names. These names with unusual or nonsensical pronunciations have been challenging naming conventions since the late 90s. Suggested restrictions would limit phonetic readings to those with some relation to the kanji’s meaning to weed out outrageous or harmful kira kira names.

Most Japanese names can be read multiple ways, and kira kira names are especially notorious for flouting the norm. A quick Google Japan search produces dozens of kira kira name quizzes and listicles of the “Top [Insert Number] Hard-to-Read Kira Kira Names.”

We here at UJ rounded up ten of the hardest kira kira names to read and test our readers. But first, we’ll be nice and arm you with some basic knowledge on kira kira names.

What’s In a Name?

As I briefly discussed in my previous piece, kira kira names fall into a few categories. Most of them are ateji (当て字) names where the phonetic reading has no relation to the kanji meaning, like (Maria, 真理亜). Name readings also draw inspiration from both domestic and overseas pop culture. For instance, the kanji for snow (Yuki 雪) can be read Ana, like the character Disney’s 2013 movie Frozen, known as Ana to Yuki no Jo-ou in Japan (アナと雪の女王; Ana and the Snow Queen).

But some names are also pronounced using shortened versions of kanji readings, or onkun (音訓). For example, the first kanji in 凜央 (Rio) uses the shortened onyomi (Chinese reading) of rin and ou [2]. Others throw native readings out the window and substitute foreign language pronunciations instead, usually in cases where the name is…