skip to Main Content

My Name’s Meaning

Students work through activities on the cultural aspects of individuals’ names. Students research their own names, present a talk, learn kanji used in Japanese names and make meishi. There is also a Japanese text on Japanese names for senior students.

Why learn about names?

Your own personal name and the names of your students can be a very interesting resource for your language and culture programs.

As for Japanese names written in kanji, names are usually chosen after extensive research to find kanji with the right sound and right meaning for each individual. Forms of the kanji and the number of strokes are also considered. There are a variety of cultural naming conventions and rules, and unique individual stories to be discovered.

The following are sample activities designed to incorporate the points mentioned above. These activities will hopefully provide you with some classroom ideas with a strong focus on intercultural language teaching and learning, using a cost-free but culturally rich resource – students’ individual names. Students, their lives and their stories are the most important resources, as they are ‘authentic’.

Activity 1: The story of my name

Students speak with their family about any episodes or research on the origin of their names. Students give a class presentation about their discovery, using Japanese. They are encouraged to find out the original letter notation of their name, if applicable, eg. Chinese characters, Korean hangul, the Greek alphabet, etc.

Giving a Self-introduction

(Students show the original letter notation.)

なまえのいみは [the meaning of the name] です。
(Students are encouraged to add comments in English or in Japanese, depending on their language level.)


Instruct your students to prepare a three-minute talk for a video. Students could think out of the box and present their stories in an innovative manner. Record the performance of each student in the class as a record of their individual achievement; the edited DVD can later be presented at special occasions like parents’ meetings, or when the school has visitors from Japan. Students can be in charge of video-shooting as well. Alternatively, just take photos of the performing students with a digital camera, and record the sound of the presentation separately. This will make a nice class introduction using a PowerPoint presentation, which you may like to exchange with a Japanese sister school.

Activity 2: Stories of my friends and family

Students interview their friends or their family members about their names, and learn more individual histories. Students share what they have discovered with the class. Language objectives: using family terms, making positive comments


Activity 3: Japanese people around me – Research on their names

Students investigate Japanese kanji names by communicating with Japanese people. Their task is to find out how Japanese people choose names. Students also think about and discuss the impact of kanji culture in Australia, both presently and in the future. The teacher arranges direct or indirect meetings with Japanese people, such as Japanese background students and their families, teachers/students from Japan, Japanese volunteer groups in the community, sister school in Japan, etc.

ああ、そうですか。どうもありがとう。 Students summarise in writing what they have learned through the interview, in English or in Japanese, depending on their language level.)

Note: Video recordings of the interviews can make good materials for discussions. Lower grade classes can learn from the videos made by upper grades.

Activity 4: Welcome to the world of kanji names (for students who have a deep interest in kanji)

Students investigate the significance of the kanji names of well-known characters from Japanese anime films (e.g. 千尋 Chihiro) or any prominent Japanese personalities. The teacher provides them with information and practical guidance on how to use an online kanji dictionary, such as Jim Breen ‘s WWWJDIC Server, a useful language resource that includes kanji lookup tools.

Mystery Question: What can you see in the hanging scroll below?

Answer to Mystery Question:

The hanging scroll shows the name of a baby, in this case ゆう. めいめいmeans ‘giving a name’.
The seventh day after a baby is born is called oshichiya, the ‘seventh night’. People write the baby’s name on a piece of paper, which they then paste to the household altar, or hang in the tokonoma (alcove) or on a wall. Sometimes, special dishes are made to celebrate oshichiya, which are distributed to relatives and people in the neighbourhood.

Activity 5 Meishi making and exchange

Students create their own name cards, using Japanese script. They can write their name in katakana, hiragana or kanji, as well as the original letter notation of their heritage. Students are encouraged to use any illustrations, colours or images which in some way relate to the meaning of their name.

The teacher provides students with the opportunity to exchange meishi between themselves and other students studying Japanese, or with people from Japan if possible. The teacher can organise a meishi design competition.

わたし/ぼくのなまえは ____________ です。

Tasks for Senior Secondary Students

1. Students read the following passage and match the kanji meanings with the calligraphic kanji in the boxes. Students then choose their favourite kanji for the name ゆうこ, and explain why they have chosen it.

2.Students give their own self-introduction, talking about their name. Below are some examples from 2007 Year 12 students at Willetton Senior High School, WA.

  • わたしの名前は、ジェイドです。ジェイドは、うつくしくて、きちょうな(precious) みどりいろの石(いし)です。
  • わたしの名前はアニータです。Anita とかきます。 「Anita」 のまえに「w」をつけると、インドネシア語(ご)で woman といういみです。
  • ぼくの名前は、ゆうたです。ゆうたの「ゆう」は、「よゆう」の「ゆう」です。えいごで、rich といういみです。ゆうたの「た」は、「ふとい」といういみです。りょうしんによると、ぼくはあかちゃんのとき、かおがまるくて、ふとっていたそうです。いまは、ふとっていませんが、心がリッチな人になりたいです。

Additional Resources

Click here for the Teachers’ Notes about how children are named in Japan.

Teachers Notes Naming Babies in Japan (PDF 138KB)


Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning Project:
Professional Standards Project:
The Japan Forum:
Minna no Kyozai Site:;jsessionid=6DAA67D11EC3F6F6CF68CCE2F0252BF7
Blog of Professor Yosuke Yanase, who is studying the practice of Goro Tajiri, a prominent educator in Japan:
Kanji Names Project:


Back To Top