Name Spotlight: Chiyo


Last time a Japanese name was chosen to be on the spotlight, it was a name that is masculine, celebrity-driven and currently common among boys under 10. This Japanese name is feminine, nostalgic yet currently very uncommon among young girls.

The meaning

Apart from the fact that it can be written in hiragana (ちよ) or katakana (チヨ), ultimately, the meaning of Chiyo can depend on the kanji used. Some listed below include¹:

  • 千代 (thousand, age or generation)
  • 千世 (thousand, generation or world)
  • 智代 (intellect or wisdom, age or generation)
  • 智世 (intellect or wisdom, generation or world)
  • 知代 (know or wisdom, age or generation)
  • 知世 (know or wisdom, generation or world)

The last 4 are not normally translated as Chiyo.

The start

Chiyo was first used at around the late 7th century and first recorded in 702AD², however, as with all names around this time, it was modified by a suffix written as 賣 (usually written as bai, or u.reru¹, but in this particular case written as me²). As a standalone name, it was first used in the early 16th century and first recorded in 1536³.

The popularity and the start of the decline

Chiyo became a very common name in the 17th century (estimated to be around 4-5%), which was the early part of the Edo Period (1603-1868)³. Though, initially, it was mainly confined to the southern half of the area containing Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū⁴, it gradually became to be used throughout that area by the 18th and 19th centuries. By then, it maintained its high common factor that plays into this name, even though the percentage had decreased somewhat to around 1%⁵.

Even during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Chiyo was still one of the more common names for females⁶, however by the Taishō Period (1912-1926), the high common factor that plays into Chiyo for centuries begins to decline⁷.

How’s Chiyo doing now?

Using the 1989-2003 data from Namae Jiten⁸, it seems as if Chiyo declined further and became rarely used at that period of time. For 1989, if we combine the numbers for 千代, 千世 and ちよ/チヨ, the total would amount to 43 or 0.010%. Add in other combinations seen above and you get hundreds more, but factor in the fact that they’re not normally written to be spoken as Chiyo and you would go back to 43 + a couple tens of females born in that year. By 2003, the total (from 千代, 千世 and ちよ/チヨ) is 6 (or 0.005%). Adding in the other combos wouldn’t help either since they also dropped to become rarely used.

So it is safe to assume that, as of now, Chiyo is not really popular any more for girls.

That’s that, then. If you have any comments about Chiyo or this post in general, share it in the comments section below.

Kanji information from Denshi Jisho –¹
Meiji Yasuda Life –⁷
Bun’ei Tsunoda’s ‘Nihon no joseimei: rekishiteki tenbō’ (uses pages 55², 57², 213³, 277-281⁴, 377-405⁵, 472⁷ – includes some of the statistics from Dai-Ichi Life’s investigation into names in 1986 – and 588-590⁵)
Japan’s Passenger Lists (1893-1941) from Family Search –⁶
Namae Jiten –⁸


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