The 10 Hardest “Kira Kira” Japanese Names to Pronounce

The 10 Hardest “Kira Kira” Japanese Names to Pronounce

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Kira Kira names
Picture: アクア / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Some Japanese parents love having fun with kanji (much to their kids' eventual regret). Can you pronounce these 10 "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 also a common noun. The Japanese word for angel, tenshi (天使) can be read enjeru (えんじぇる).


But some name readings defy all logic or have obscure double meanings — something lawmakers are hoping to curb with the new amendment.

10 Hard-to-Read Kira Kira Names

So in no particular order, here are 10 kira kira names notorious for their reading difficulty.

10. 黄熊

This is one of those names where it’s important to pay attention to the kanji meaning rather than its onkun. Stick “yellow” to “bear” and you have Pooh, aka the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh (クマのプーさん; Kuma no Puu-san). Certainly a cute nickname, but not something I’d name my kid for, uh, obvious reasons….

9. 今鹿

This kira kira name falls into the ateji category, but with an interesting twist. The kanji 今 uses the English pronunciation of its meaning “now,” and the kanji for deer 鹿 uses its kunyomi (Japanese reading) shika. This name comes from Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, though the heroine’s name is written in katakana. Being named after one of Japan’s most beloved anime characters is certainly a high honor.

8. 波波波

This one’s got some wit to it. The onyomi of this kanji for wave (in the oceanic sense) is ha. How many waves are there? Three, or san. Tack on the dakuten mark ( ゙ ) and you’ve got Sanba [3]. Obviously, existence doesn’t imply real-world usage, but I don’t see this name making waves anytime soon (bad pun fully intended).

7. 主人公

Here, the common noun “protagonist,” usually pronounced shujinkou, uses the English definition hero. Seems fairly self-explanatory.

6. 月姫

Instead of Kaguya or Usagi, here “moon” and “princess” become Rame, deriving from the French lamé, almost exclusively associated with a type of fabric using primarily gold and silver metallic fibers. I suppose a princess of the moon would wear shiny silver clothing, if only to better reflect the moonlight.

5. 愛羅

This name is normally read Aira, but for a kira kira flavoring, add a ti to make Tiara.

4. 男

Neither of the kanji onkun will get you anywhere with this name. This is read Adamu, who figures as the first man created by God in the Book of Genesis. (Following this logic, 女 could ostensibly be read Ibu after Eve.)

3. 苺苺苺

Some kira kira names have at least some semblance of an origin story, But for Marinaru, no one agrees on how this particular reading came about. One deeply curious person did some etymological sleuthing and attempted to break it down like so: ma, shortened from the onyomi mai; ri from strawberry (ストロベリー); and naru, meaning to become or bear fruit [5]. I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any for this fruitful name.

2. 七音

Sometimes names with a variety of accepted common readings can throw people off if an unconventional, but connotational reading is in play. 七音 can be pronounced Nao or Nanao, but in this case, the phonetic readings are thrown out the window in favor of kanji meaning. “Seven” and “music note” refer to the Do Re Mi musical scale famously popularized in the musical The Sound of Music.

And finally, one of the most challenging kira kira names to read is…

1. 皇帝

With names like 苺苺苺, you’d think this one would be a piece of cake for most people, but nope! One 2023 list currently ranks this name as the number one most difficult name to read [4]. The common noun for emperor koutei is pronounced shiiza after the famed Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

How many names were you able to read? Let us know on Twitter and share any kira kira names you’ve come across in the wild!

Yabai! The Most Versatile Word in the Japanese Language?


[1] キラキラネームに一定基準 戸籍に読み仮名、閣議決定. Yahoo! News Japan.

[2] これってキラキラネーム?判断基準は?後悔しない為に知っておくこと. Goodname-Life.

[3] 初見で分かったら自慢できるかも! 名前「波波波」はなんて読むでしょう【キラキラネームクイズ】. All About JP.

[4] キラキラネーム難読ランキング100選!読めない順に紹介【2023最新版】. RANK1.

[5] 「苺苺苺」命名の謎に迫る. Wakei Blog.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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