Facilitate the inclusion of phonetic characters in family registers

People with names that are difficult to read are increasing. The digitization of public administration will inevitably mean that names must have phonetic readings in kana characters included in family registers. The government must consider the issue carefully.

A subcommittee of the Legislative Council has compiled an interim plan for a law revision that would make it mandatory to include phonetic readings of names in family registers. The government aims to revise the law next year after soliciting opinions from the public.

Although birth notification and other official documents provide a space for including phonetic readings of names, they are not recorded in family registers and there is no provision in the Family Register Law requiring their inclusion. The government has considered whether to make it mandatory to include kana readings in family registers on three previous occasions but has shelved legislation each time.

The momentum this time around is driven by the push for digitization. It would be more efficient to process information if names in hiragana or katakana are arranged in Japanese syllabary order.

The government is planning to make My Number cards usable as personal identification overseas from 2024. The registration of kana readings would be a necessary step so that names can be printed on cards in the Roman alphabet.

Under the interim plan, it would be mandatory to register kana readings of names at the time of birth or when acquiring Japanese nationality. The system would require the people to submit phonetic readings of their names to their local municipalities, and if they fail to do so, municipalities would use their discretion to record the names in kana.

This will be an enormous task that involves all the people. The government must come up with an efficient method.

A line will need to be drawn regarding the inclusion in family registers of kanji names with readings that are drastically different from traditional kanji readings or meanings.

Names with readings that deviate from conventional kanji readings are not uncommon in Japan’s cultural heritage. For example, the “tomo” in the name of the Minamoto no Yoritomo, is normally transliterated as “cho” or “asa.” In recent years, there has also been an increase in the number of “colorful names” that use kanji characters for names derived from foreign languages, for example.

The subcommittee presented three proposals regarding the issue that include broadly allowing such names except in cases where they are offensive to public order and morality, and requiring names to be related to the reading or meaning of the kanji character.

The proposals would allow for the name “Pikachu” using the kanji characters for “light” and another usually read as “chu,” and “Himari” comprising the characters for “sunlight” and another usually read as “aoi.”

However, it has been said that misleading readings would be inappropriate, such as kanji normally read as “Taro” — a traditional name for a first son — being transliterated as “Jiro” — a traditional name for a second son. Taking traditions and customs into consideration, criteria that many people can accept must be established.

If the revision is enacted, municipalities will be tasked with determining whether the reading of a name is appropriate when processing birth notifications. Measures must be taken to avoid confusion.

Naming children is an expression of wishing for their happiness. A culture in which thoughtful consideration is taken when naming children so that they do not face disadvantages in the future must be valued.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2022)