Last updated 03/05/17
Working List of Okinawan Surnames
7/7/14: I’m trying to compile a list of Okinawan surnames. In this effort, I found the Wikipedia site helpful. Especially useful was a site I stumbled upon: Uchinanchu Name Collection – Popular Okinawa Name Top 100 List. I realize the list below is far from complete and that some or many of the names are common in but not unique to Okinawa. Please assist me in adding to and correcting the list by posting in the comments section attached to this post.
Also, links to any additional information or resources on this topic would be much appreciated. For example, what are the historical reasons for the difference in Okinawan and mainland Japanese last names? From what I’ve read, this policy was enforced by the Satsuma and Tokugawa shogunate from the 1609 invasion until the 1872 annexation to avoid possible conflict with China. At the time, the Ryukyu Kingdom was officially in a tributary relationship with China. In other words, the name differences served as proof that the so-called “kingdom” was separate from and, thus, not under the jurisdiction of Japan.
I’ll be updating this page and the list of surnames as information becomes available.
7/27/14: See Damon Senaha’s “Other Name Changes That Occured” in the forum “Okinawa: Shiroma in Okinawa to Hawaii” (Ancestry.co.uk, 9/14/00):
Name changed are a reflection of the naichi Japanese pronouncing the Kanji in a naichi way. Today, most family names in Okinawa reflect the naichi pronouncination while the place names retain its Okinawan pronounciation. For example The village of Kanegusuku retains its name but a family name with the same Kanji is called “Kinjo”. Other name changes: Dakujaku is also called Dakuzaku. Kiyan, formerly Kyan or Kiyam, went to Kiyabu, now, Kiyatake. Jitchaku is now Serikaku. Tsukazan is now Tsukayama. The town is still Tsukazan. Shinzato or Shinsato is also Arasato, Anything “Ara” (Arakaki, Arakawa) may also be “Shin”. (Shingaki, Shinkawa) Shin or Ara means “new”. Shiro (castle) in addition to “gusuku” can also be “gi” or ki” or jo”. Example, Miyagusuku is also Miyashiro is also Miyagi. Kaneshiro was once Kanegusuku, is now Kinjo in Okinawa. (There are no Kaneshiro in Okinawa today, only Kinjo). Momohara used to be Tobaru. By the way, Tamashiro nowdays in Okinawa is more commonly promounced Tamaki. My name, Senaha, was once “Sinafa” (Samoan-sounding huh?) Under the Ryukyu Kingdom. the Satsuma invaders from Kagoshima Japanized it to Senaha. Nowdays, the Kanji for my name is read Senaha throughout Japan. Once more name, “Higa” was once “Fija”. Damon Senaha
7/27/14: A list of Japanese surnames with each linked to additional information: Browse Japanese Surnames
7/31/14: Uchinanchu Name Collection
9/4/14: Another huge infusion from Rodney. I can’t thank him enough for gathering and typing up all these names from To Our Issei. A huge, time-consuming task.
2/6/15: Tip from RY, who I believe is Ryan Masaaki Yokota, editor/writer for Nikkei Chicago, on 2/5/15: “Hi there. Just thought I would recommend the following book, Ryukyuan Names: Monographs on and Lists of Personal and Place Names in the Ryukyus, by Shunzo Sakamaki. It is probably the most comprehensive list of names that I have seen in English. There is a lot of information in this book on how the naming conventions changed over time.” [Library sources.]
4/27/15: A huge debt of gratitude to Rich Arent of Yuba City, California, who compiled the list of Ryukyu surnames that now serves as the base for the list on this blog. Rich’s source was Teruo Tanonaka’s “Current Ryukyuan Surnames (1961),” in Shunzo Sakamaki‘s Ryukyuan Names: Monographs on and Lists of Personal and Place Names in the Ryukyus (East-West Center Press, 1964). (Also see the 2/6/15 note above.) Rich says, “Over the years I have compiled several lists of Ryukyu names from Mr. Sakamaki’s book and another list from a US navy wartime book of Japanese place names. The lists are in Word format and include kanji.” He graciously emailed digital copies of some of these priceless documents to us. Here’s his brief bio: “I am originally from Long Island and enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Graduated from the Advanced Chinese Mandarin course at the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, California. Following initial training I was assigned to Kadena AB just prior to reversion. That is when I discovered Okinawa and became interested in Ryukyu history and culture. Spent about one half of my thirty years as a Chinese linguist in the Pacific and the other half at the language school. Met my wife here in Northern California and we have been married almost three years. My wife’s mother was from Kume Jima and her father from Nakijin. After her parents were married they relocated to Osaka where my wife was born. My final assignment was to Kunia where I worked ‘in The Tunnel.’ I studied Asian history, University of Maryland, Far East Division and have a MS in HR from Chapman University.”
3/4/17: From Wkipedia: “The Ryūkyū Kingdom was forced to become a Japanese feudal domain by the Meiji government in 1872, and it was formally annexed by Japan in 1879. Ryūkyūans were then entered into the Japanese family register (koseki) system and, as in Japan, surnames were extended to all citizens, no longer being the province of the aristocratic classes alone. A large number of the names created at this time were taken from geographical names or places of residence.” (accessed 3/4/17)
3/5/17: See “Ryukyuan Names” (n.d., accessed 3/5/17) at The Samurai Archives SamuraiWiki for an excellent write-up on Okinawan surnames.