Planned Legal Revision Should Put Children’s Happiness First

Parents’ feelings are generally reflected in the names they give their children. A situation must be avoided in which children will face disadvantages in the future because of their names.

The Legislative Council has finalized an outline for revision of the Family Register Law to allow phonetic readings of names to be written in katakana characters in family registers. The council submitted the outline to Justice Minister Ken Saito. The government plans to submit legislation to revise the law to the current Diet session with the aim of its enforcement in fiscal 2024.

Behind this move is the digitization of public administration, which the government has promoted. Currently, family registers do not have a section to indicate phonetic readings of names. Adding phonetic readings and organizing them in the order of the 50-character kana syllabary will facilitate administrative processes.

Names are also envisaged to be written in the Roman alphabet on My Number cards, making it possible for the cards to be used overseas as personal identification. Taking the convenience of the public and the efficiency of administrative procedures into consideration, the registration of phonetic readings of names appears to be necessary.

The outline establishes criteria for the phonetic readings of names, specifying that they should match the generally accepted pronunciations of their kanji characters.

The outline presented some unacceptable examples of phonetic readings of names that are contradictory or irrelevant to the original meaning of the kanji characters. These examples include “Takashi,” a name whose kanji means “high,” with an indicated phonetic reading of “Hikushi,” which means “low.” Another unacceptable case is one in which the kanji characters that are usually read as “Taro” have an indicated reading of “Jiro” or “Michael.”

The outline also called for not allowing phonetic readings of names that are discriminatory, obscene or offensive to public order and morals.

In Japan, there is a long-established culture of accepting phonetic readings of names that deviate from conventional readings, such as “tomo” in the name of the 12th-century warlord Minamoto no Yoritomo, for which the kanji is usually read as “asa” or “cho.” Because of this culture, a high degree of freedom has been allowed in naming.

However, children should not be discriminated against or bullied because of their names. Many people are likely to agree with the idea that a certain level of regulation on naming is necessary.

The Justice Ministry intends to establish operational criteria to determine the acceptance or rejection of phonetic readings of names. There will likely be many cases in which those in charge at municipal government offices find it difficult to make decisions on the acceptance of name readings.

A difficult task is to decide on the acceptable range of so-called “colorful names,” for which kanji characters are chosen to correspond to the pronunciation of words of foreign origin, for example. To avoid confusion among people in the field, the ministry is urged to be prepared to provide consultation on individual cases.

If the envisaged law revision takes effect, readings of children’s names on birth registrations will be used automatically in family registers. Those who already have a family register will have one year to notify their municipality of phonetic readings of their names. This is expected to cause the municipalities an enormous amount of registration work.

It is hoped that the municipalities will take the utmost care in the work in order to prevent errors such as readings of names being registered incorrectly, through such efforts as conducting repeated checks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2023)