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Nikkei Chronicles #3—Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João?

About Japanese Names

Japanese names have always sounded strange to Brazilian ears. Thus, early immigrants not only adopted Brazilian names for themselves, but also began naming their children with "gaijin" names. And there's that story about the Issei who registered his son’s name as Sugiro ("I suggest") because he had heard from a friend, "I suggest Antônio, João, or Carlos," while mentioning the most common names.

Sigueru Ietsugu, a friend of mine, introduced himself to his new boss. He said his name, repeated it, but in vain. The boss decided to call him Paulo.

Every Nikkei has a funny or embarrassing story because of his name. Besides, he no longer minds hearing his name pronounced in different ways.

Jorge Nagao

One time, I was in the waiting room of a diagnostic clinic. Feeling anguished, after drinking six glasses of water, I was waiting for the ultrasound exam that was quite late. Then I heard, "Jorge...gão!" I walked down the long corridor and people were laughing in my direction, or, better/worse, at my expense. I found the attendant, who couldn't stop laughing, and asked her the reason for all that mirth.

“I called you ‘Jorge Negão’ (‘Jorge Big Black Guy’), I'm sorry,” the brunette explained, perhaps thinking about her boyfriend.

Since there is practically no more omiyai kekkon – arranged marriage – the new breed of Nikkei have thoroughly Brazilian first names. But the last names are quite varied: Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and even Polish. Blame it on increased miscegenation, irreversible at this stage.
Once, in an internal Banco do Brasil election, I was elected thanks to a large number of Nikkei who, even without knowing me, gave me a vote of confidence.

In the past, Japanese names were restricted to specific areas such as engineering, agriculture, dentistry, and sports like judo and table tennis. Today, as a result of full integration with Brazilian culture, the formerly shy Nikkei are shining in various cultural and professional fields. It’s obvious for all to see.

Recently, I was introduced as a writer to another club member, who was surprised. "What? A Japanese guy who writes?!" Yeah, we do write, perform, sing; in sum, we do whatever strikes our fancy, and we deal with whatever comes our way.

To loosen things up a bit, I take this Hara ("rare") opportunity to fool around with our last names. It's a risky Takada ("gamble"), but let's give it a go.*

A vida de nikkei não é Mori. É muito Sato ouvir piadas com nosso namae. Okada um com os seus problemas. Ishii, Oota na hora, Noda pra ficar mais. Ito indo, tomodachi. Agora Kato Miyamoto Suzuki e vou Endo. Fujii.


(“Nikkei life isn't Easy. It’s very Boring having to hear jokes about our namae. Each Person with their problems. Uh-Oh, It's time. Can't stay any longer. I'm leaving, tomodachi. Now, I hop on My Suzuki Motorcycle and Go on My Way. I've Run Away.
“I Am Nagao!”)


* Note from the Translator: The last two paragraphs of this essay feature Japanese family names that sound like certain Portuguese words, in some cases with a “Japanese accent.” The Portuguese-language title, in fact, is also a play with words: “Sobre Nomes Japoneses” – literally, “About Japanese Names,” but which also sounds like “sobrenomes,” or “last names.”



* This story was developed during the Nikkei Names workshop held at the Bunkyo in São Paulo, Brazil on August 26, 2014.


© 2014 Jorge Nagao

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Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Brazil identity names Nikkei Chronicles Nikkei Names

About this series

What’s in a name? This series introduces stories exploring the meanings, origins, and the untold stories behind personal Nikkei names. This can include family names, given names, and even nicknames!

For this project, we asked our Nima-kai to vote for their favorite stories and our editorial committee to pick their favorites.  

Here are the selected favorite stories. 


 Editorial Committee’s selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>