The road to Electriclamp Lightsalot

I just ran across possibly the greatest Japanese surname ever: い, read "Kanagashira" or "Jigashara".

These mean "top [head] of the syllabary" and "top of the characters", respectively. This is because い comes first in the traditional kana order: i, ro, ha, ni, ho, he, to..., known as the iroha.

So it's like having the English surname "A" and pronouncing it "Firstletter".

(There's also an 一 read "Jigashira", because 一 ("one") comes first in most kanji orderings.)

Now the problem: does い as a surname really exist? Let's see...

  1. I found it on this page, which seems fairly scrupulously edited as webpages go—note that the author crossed out 十二月三十一日 and 十二大晦日, both pronounced "Hizume", after learning that they were not real.
  2. The author of that page also links to this page of "ghost surnames" (c.f. ghost characters), where "Kanagashira" is not listed as dubious. Some of the ghosts that are on the page are great, though:

    • 春夏秋冬, meaning "Springsummerautumnwinter", pronounced "Hitotose" ("one year")
    • 谷谷谷谷, pronounced "Tanikabeyatsuya", which is a bunch of different readings for 谷, "valley", mushed together
    • 世阿弥, allegedly pronounced "Seami". "At least say 'Zeami'," complains the exasperated author, before explaining that the "Zeami" in "ZEAMI Motokiyo" was not his actual surname.
  3. Mais hélas, Wikipedia says that い is just a shikona, a Sumo name, albeit one from the Edo period. This page agrees. Bugger.

That doesn't rule out the possibility that someone with an old family connection to Sumo is living somewhere under the surname Kanagashira, but even if so it isn't as much fun if the name was invented by someone who knew they were fooling around.

Consolation prize: A few other fun shikona from that Wikipedia article.


Ichijiku Kyūnosuke"Ichijiku" is a pun on "fig" (ichijiku) and "one-character nine" (ichi-ji ku, i.e. 九). "Kyūnosuke" is just a standard boy's name pattern with "Kyū" ("nine") inserted in the blank.
Mitsuuroko Tsurukichi"Mitsuuruko" means "three-scales"; here the △, not usually considered acceptable in names, stands in for "scale" (uruko). "Tsurukichi" is boring; it just means "crane luck" and I assume it is being used for the similar sound.
Denkitō Kōnosuke"Electriclamp Lightsalot"—note same second-name pattern as "Kyūnosuke". Would be very interested to learn when this name was invented.
Bunmei Kaika"Civilization and enlightenment", a Meiji-era pro-Westernization slogan.

Popularity factor: 9


So what's the strangest name of someone you've actually met/know of? I've always thought 東国原 was pretty crazy, and I recently learned of someone named 一期崎 - いちござき.


Out in the street...
Out in the street...
Out in the playground...
In the dark side of town...

We gonna rock down to Electriclamp Lightsalot
And then he'll take it higher


Whenever I see complex kanji names, I always pity the poor guy who has to write it over and over again throughout his life. I wonder if a name like 谷谷谷谷 would end up being abbreviated with that little "repeat" character (I forget what they call it). But would it be 谷々々々, or does the repeat apply to all prior characters, so it would be 谷々々?


Wasn't the "default order" あ、い、う、え、お ? (A,I,U,E,O)

(at least that's what I was told)


The default order of the letters is あ、い、う、え、お, but there is a poem:

色は匂へど 散りぬるを
我が世誰ぞ 常ならむ
有為の奥山 今日越えて
浅き夢見じ 酔ひもせず

This poem uses each letter once and only once. Here it is without kanji:

いろはにほへと ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ つねならむ
うゐのおくやま けふこえて
あさきゆめみし ゑひもせす

So a lot of people use these letters in lists. For example, in English, you might make a list ordered "1, 2, 3, 4, 5", or perhaps "A, B, C, D, E", or even "i, ii, iii, iv, v". In Japanese, a popular list order is "い,ろ,は,に,ほ". That's the "default order" being referred to here.


I love it! It's like a clever cryptic-crossword clue or one of those rebus addresses people used to put on envelopes (no doubt to the hatred of the postal employees).

I understand that "いろは," from the traditional (older?) kana order, can also indicate the rudiments or ABCs of a subject. (Perhaps "[subject] 101" in American English? Does it carry the same sense of entry-level survey of a subject?)


Daniel: I don't know enough people from far-flung prefectures, but I think the name that I've encountered in real life and enjoyed most so far is Hōki (法木) -- "Tree of the Law", if you go by the kanji, although I'm sure the actual etymology is much less interesting...

Charles: I can confirm that that mark only replaces a single character, so you'd need three.

Brian: Yeah, "* 101" would be a fun idiomatic translation of "*のいろは". It definitely implies "the fundamental entry-level skills without which you cannot be said to be doing X."


Hajimemashite. I once met a person named 鴨脚 -- "duck foot". The amusing part of the name was its pronunciation. It was pronounced Ichō, as foot of duck resembles leaf of ichō (ginkgo). I surprized later to learn that the 鴨脚 (Ichō) clan is a subclan of the ancient 鴨 (Kamo - "duck") clan. Actually the chief priest of Shimogamo Shrine (下鴨神社) in Kyoto has the family name of 鴨脚 (Ichō). In short, the name 鴨脚 has double puns. Since 鴨脚 clan is a subclan of "duck (鴨)" clan, its name is written as "duck foot" in kanji. Since duck foot resembles leaf of ginkgo (ichō), the name is pronounced "Ichō".


Aki, that is a great one indeed. Thanks for commenting!

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