the possessive "no" used in personal names

Question raised by: Susan B. Klein

Discussants: William Bodiford, Richard Bowring, Paul S. Atkins, Rokuo Tanaka, Lawrence Marceau, Kate Wildman Nakai, Steven G. Nelson, Wayne Farris, Ivo Smits, Mary Louise Nagata, Susanne Nishimura-Schermann

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I've taken the liberty of including below discussion that occurred on the j-lit mailing list as well as on pmjs. Susan Klein's question went to both lists, and was answered by members of both , sometimes "cross-posted" sometimes not. /Michael Watson

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 10:02:51 -0700 [In fact some 48 hrs earlier.]
From: Susan B. Klein
Subject: [pmjs] Query about "no"

Please excuse cross-posting on this question.

I'm trying to finish a book manuscript, and suddenly I'm faced with the consistency issue of the possessive "no" used in personal names. Everyone uses it for Ono no Komachi and Ki no Tsurayuki. And of course no one uses it for Nijo Tameie or Kyogoku Tamekane. But in between there's a good deal of variation, especially for Kamakura and Muromachi names. I've noticed that historians tend not to use it for Fujiwara and Minamoto (or Kitabatake Chikafusa, Tachibana Narisue), but there appears to be a recent trend among literary scholars to use it for everyone. Personally, I find "Fujiwara no Teika" a bit much. So I'm proposing an informal poll here -- what principle do you use when faced with "no"?


Susan Blakeley Klein
Associate Professor, Director of Religious Studies
East Asian Languages and Literatures Department
University of California, Irvine

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 10:40:07 -0700
From: William Bodiford
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

The editors of Sanseido's _Concise jinmei jiten_ (1984) state that as a matter of convention they insert a hiragana "no" into the middle of all names down to the end of the Heian period and omit it for all names thereafter.

Personally, I try to avoid using "no" if at all possible. I omit it unless an editor or outside reader insists that it has to be there. Even then, I will try to poll other scholars to determine if it really must be added. I do not worry about consistency if some names have it and some names do not.

Good luck,

William Bodiford

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 18:42:00 +0100
Subject: Re: Query about "no"
From: Richard Bowring
To: jlit-l list

As far as I know, the rule of thumb is to use 'no' up to the end of the Heian, and then to drop it for Kamakura onwards. This means that figures who straddle these two periods do present a bit of a problem, of course. I'm not too sure where I got this 'rule' from.

Richard Bowring,
Cambridge, UK

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 15:33:56 -0600
From: Paul S. Atkins
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

I was recently told that one uses "no" with Fujiwara but not with Nijo or Kyogoku because "no" is used with uji (clans) and dropped when the name specifies a certain lineage. When in doubt I follow the Kojien.

If I remember correctly, I saw an English-language book in which the author used "no" with short syllable names (like Ki and Ono) and dropped it for everyone else.

Fujiwara no Teika does sound a bit much, but I somehow prefer Fujiwara no Sadaie to dropping the no in that case. As far as I can tell, the on'yomi is an honorific used by others, not by the person in question.


Paul S. Atkins

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 10:53:30 -1000 (HST)
From: Rokuo Tanaka <>
Subject: Re: Query about "no"
To: jlit-l list

I usually follow Iwanami's_Nihon Koten Bungaku Daijiten_ (6 vls, 1983) and _Kojien_ (1999). Both jiten and Meiji Shoin's _Nihon Koten Bungaku Daijite_ (1 vl, 1998) also put "no" in the hiragana reading for all names of Fujiwara and Minamoto clan, regardless of the dates of b/d; e.g. Fujiwara no Teika, Fujiwara no Toshinari no Musume, and Fujiwara no Michitsuna no Haha. Shin Jinbutsu O^raisha's _Kamakura, Muromachi Jinmei Jiten_ (1 vl. 1985) totally omits "no." Confusing, is it not?

Our linguists in Japanese on campus say they don't know the rule but rely on the Kojien and other jiten.

As Japanese, I prefer the name with "no," because, when voiced, it glides easily and sounds better.

Rokuo Tanaka
UH at Manoa

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 18:14:31 -0400
From: Lawrence Marceau
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

It looks like this discussion is continuing on both pmjs and jlit...

First, I'll repeat what I sent to jlit (please skip it if you've already read it).


I haven't done a formal analysis, but it seems that, especially after Heian, names that are just one or two syllables have "no" in them on a regular basis: Kamo no Mabuchi, Ki no Tsurayuki, Ike no Taiga (but not Tada Nanrei). I know that the art historians have been trying to drop the "no" for Taiga, but I have seen the kanji "no" (as in "nohara") used for his name, so I assume that even contemporaries considered it "part" of the name. The ukiyo-zoshi author Miyako no Nishiki requires the "no" in his name as well, since it also serves as a standard phrase "brocade of the capital".
My ear feels comfortable with Fujiwara no Teika or Fujiwara no Sadaie, but not with the 17th-century Confucian scholar, Fujiwara Seika.


Then, in response to what Paul Atkins said on pmjs, let me just say that the difference between "Teika" and "Sadaie" isn't one of "honorific," but rather one of shorthand. Even today people refer to contemporary scholars Nakano Mitsutoshi as Nakano Sanbin, and Inoue Toshiyuki as Inoue Binko.

Lawrence Marceau

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 19:42:26 -0600
From: Paul S. Atkins
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

My hypothesis that _on_ readings of names serve an honorific function is based on an anecdote surrounding Fujiwara no Ietaka (aka Karyu). A son was born in his house, and as suggestions for names were being passed around, one servant proposed "Ietaka," whereupon everyone laughed at him. He knew the master only as Karyu.

Then as now, the use of a personal name alone connoted a certain degree of intimacy and equality in status, which might be offset by use of the on yomi. The on readings certainly are shorter, but that doesn't mean that their use bears no connotations of respect.

Paul Atkins

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 10:48:29 +0900
From: Kate Wildman Nakai <>
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

I would second Paul Atkins's differentiation between Fujiwara as a lineage (uji) name (and thus taking "no") and Kyoogoku as a house name. If one were to use Tamekane's lineage name, then I think one would say Fujiwara no Tamekane. In the case of Seika, Fujiwara is perhaps understood as a house name rather than lineage name? (I've always wondered). One (or I, as an adherent of the "no" principle) would say Minamoto no Ieyasu if citing his formal lineage rather than house name (Tokugawa).

I have a personal concern regarding this matter because in the interests of editorial consistency, MN recommends use of the "no." A key reason for doing so is that Kokushi daijiten, which we take as one of the most authoritative references, does so. So do Kojien and Dai jinmei jiten. On the other hand, the recent Kokusho jinmei jiten (which should parallel Kokushi daijiten as an authoritative reference) doesn't. Nor does the older Dai Nihon jinmei jisho. So you are on safe grounds in making either choice, but when writing for MN please (at least for the moment--Kokusho jinmei jiten makes my resolve waver) use the "no"!


Kate Wildman Nakai, Prof. of Japanese History, Sophia University,
and Editor, Monumenta Nipponica
Monumenta Nipponica, Sophia University
7-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8554
Tel: 81-3-3238-3544; Fax: 81-3-3238-3835
Monumenta Nipponica home page:

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 12:01:48 +0900
From: Steven G. Nelson
Subject: [pmjs] The 'no' in music

It might be of interest to note that the names of a couple of the families associated (in a hereditary fashion) with the gagaku tradition include the 'no' even now, though there is no hint of it in the way they are written in Japanese. is read Oono, while L is read Bunno, so that there are musicians at the palace now whose names are Oono Tadaaki and Bunno Hideaki .

[Kanji for single-character surnames are: TA/ooi (many), BU/yutaka /ed]

I have seen the names of historical personages from these families written without the 'no' in a number of Western publications on several occasions, and it has always made me cringe. The 'no' is always written explicitly in sources using kana, and it's obviously wrong to omit it.

In short, the Monumenta Nipponica system has my support, notwithstanding Kokusho jinmei jiten.

Steven Nelson

Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music
Kyoto City University of Arts

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 19:17:22 -1000 (HST)
From: Rokuo Tanaka
To: jlit-l [cc'd to pmjs but sender is not member /ed]

I cannot tell whether it is credible or not, but one of our sensei so often tells us in the class that his mentor Professor Kubota Jun at Todai always told his students to go by on-yomi when they were not sure about how to read the given name, e.g. Teika i/o Sadaie, Shunzei i/o Toshinari, and,as Professor Marceau pointed out Sanbin i/o Mitsutoshi, Binko i/o Toshiyuki. If my memory is correct, Hara Takash, a politician in the Meiji/Taisho periods was commonly called Hara Kei and accepted as such.

When tongues and ears feel comfortable to speak and hear a certain name (if I may quote Professor Marceau again), we change the first name from kun-yomi to on-yomi. Eventually, the names by on-yomi are firmly grounded and semi-official.

Rokuo Tanaka

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 01:47:36 -0400
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

Dear folks,
I second Kate's view about this issue.
Also, I would like to make a suggestion: that the word CLAN not be used to translate UJI. Again, I agree with Kate's very careful and precise use of the terms LINEAGE and HOUSE. The reason I don`t like to translate UJI as CLAN is because to me CLAN is a term best used to describe the Chinese kinship unit. There`s an old but excellent book on the Chinese clan, I believe of that title; the author's name is Feng, I think. If the Chinese family unit is a clan, then it is fundamentally different from the UJI. What do people think? I can remember John Hall also vehemently objecting to the use of CLAN for UJI.

Best wishes, Wayne Farris

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 01 10:06:56 +0200
From: Ivo Smits
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about names

In response to earlier remarks about _kun_ or _on_ readings of names (esp. Rokuo Tanaka's comment that "[e]ventually, the names by on-yomi are firmly grounded and semi-official") I was wondering about a contemporary issue.

I have the distinct impression that nowadays to use the on-yomi of a name conveys that the speaker is somehow on more intimate or more knowledgeable terms with the subject (a sort of reversal of the "Ietaka"-"Karyuu" situation mentioned by Paul Atkins). E.g., speaking
about "Yoshimoto Ryuumei" rather than "Yoshimoto Takaaki" (the critic) or "Nara Michi" rather than "Nara Yoshitomo" (the artist), suggests that the speaker is part of a cultural elite (as in "I just had lunch with the man"), whereas dullards like myself would say "Takaaki" and "Yoshitomo" and posit ourselves on the fringes of cultural life (as in "Isn't that the one I read about in the newspaper the other day?").
Does anyone else have that impression?

Best wishes,
Ivo Smits

Centre for Japanese and Korean Studies
Leiden University

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 17:35:20 +0100
From: Richard Bowring
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about names -- addendum

I would concur with Ivo here. Use of the on-yomi does indeed in certain rather special circumstances indicate familiarity, even when the individual concerned dies many moons ago. This can operate as a kind of academic one-upmanship, a little like saying 'Teika-kun'.
R. Bowring

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 21:07:24 -0400
From: Mary Louise Nagata
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about names

I am afraid that I have a different viewpoint on the contemporary name problem. My husband's name is Koki written with the characters "hikari" and "kagayaku". Koki is his correct name and he regards the use of the kun yome Mitsuteru as a mistake, although understandable. Most of the utilities, however, tend to send us bills addressed to Mitsuteru and his JAL tickets often come using the Mitsuteru reading. Nevertheless, he still regards this as an understandable and often unavoidable mistake. With this experience, I would be wary of assuming that both on and kun yomi forms are acceptable to the person the name is referring to even if friends and family and others use both versions. On the other hand, I have also been told that the onyomi version is always acceptable, so perhaps it does denote respect even when the wearer of the name usually thinks of himself by the kun yomi version.

ML Nagata

Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 18:27:41 +0900
From: Susanne Nishimura-Schermann
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about names

Just my experience to the on and kun-yomi nowadays: Normally, as you all know, the names are read in kun, but sometimes it is difficult to guess which kun-yomi is the good one. In that case, you can always use the on-yomi, which is normally not ambiguous. Also, children at school amuse themselves saying their names in the on-yomi, looking for funny meanings. The kun-yomi also gives a more intellectual impression, because the on-yomi is supposed to be more difficult. And it is mostly short and sharp. The name of the film director Yoshida Yoshishige is often pronouced in the on-yomi, Yoshida Kiju, just because it is shorter.
Just a remark, with no intention to come to a conclusion.

Susanne Schermann

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 22:40:22 -0700
From: Susan B. Klein
Subject: [pmjs] Re: Query about "no"

Hey Folks --

Thanks for all the responses.

I already understood the difference between Fujiwara (uji) and Nijo (house) -- that is the only thing I had straight (at least something is clear!). Otherwise, it seems there are lots of different takes on the issue, even among Japanese dictionaries. Just to mix things up further, I thought I'd forward Mack Horten's response which he sent to me off-list:
On the "no" issue, I was under the perhaps unfounded impression that the great uji names originally used no, but that that usage eventually that dropped out. I guess the rule of thumb that you certainly know is that one- or two-syllable surnames use no (Mibu no Tadamine), and aristocratic surnames of the Nara period and before. So Otomo no Yakamochi, but not even Fujiwara no Shunzei, as he's Heian.

In other words, you use "no" with any name that is only one or two syllables, no matter what period; but for longer names you drop the "no" after the Nara period. I.e. yes to Ono no Komachi and Kamo no Chomei, but no to Fujiwara no Teika. I guess Ariwara (no) Narihira would be a borderline case? It really does seem like you either use it for everything (a matter of grim consistency) or it ends up being a (somewhat serendipitous) matter of preference (i.e. I happen to like the sound of Ariwara no Narihira, so I'll use it).

Well, one thing this splendid discussion has done is make me feel much better about whatever decision I make -- clearly there is no consensus on the topic, so at least I can hope that when the book is published I won't be scolded in print for doing the wrong thing!

bye for now --

Susan Blakeley Klein

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