“Silence,” Catholic Japan, and names

Have any of you seen Martin Scorsese’s new movie Silence yet? It’s been on my husband’s radar for years, as Daniel Day-Lewis, one of his favorite actors, was originally supposed to star in it, so he’s excited it’s finally here (even though the final casting doesn’t include Day-Lewis). I loved reading that the two leads, Andrew Garfield ([Spiderman!] “raised in a secular Jewish household”) and Adam Driver ([Kylo Ren!] “raised in a Baptist family”), went on a silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house  as reported in the Aleteia article “‘Silence’ actors made silent retreat to prepare for Scorsese film: To better play their roles as Jesuit missionaries, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver went on a 7-day retreat in North Wales.” Well known Fr. James Martin, SJ, was even commissioned to help them prepare for their roles. I’ve never read the book it’s based on (Silence by Japanese Catholic author Shūsaku Endō) and I don’t know if the story’s ultimately faith-strengthening or not, but I love that it’s a story of Jesuit missionaries by a Catholic author. Fingers crossed that it does good work!

I’ve long been interested in the Japanese Catholic Church — this bit from New Advent is amazing and so moving:

There is not in the whole history of the Church a single people who can offer to the admiration of the Christian world annals as glorious, and a martyrology as lengthy, as those of the people of Japan.”

Indeed there are huge lists of Venerables, Blesseds, and Saints who were born in Japan and died in Japan, and I’ve always been interested by the fact that every single one of them has a familiar saint’s name for a first name — I know there are Japanese Catholics with Japanese names (Silence‘s author being one; I did actually look to see if he also had a Christian name but didn’t find one), so I’ve wondered how the idea of “Christian names” fits into the naming traditions of Japanese Catholics.

I did some research and found this helpful article about Japanese naming practices in general, and it seems that names are chosen strictly for meaning, which is different than our familiar practice of often naming *for* someone (the traditional understanding of “Christian name” — i.e., the name of a Saint), but isn’t necessarily different in the sense of using virtue names nor in avoiding names that are foreign to Christian sensibility. You know?

I found this on Quora:

Here in Japan there is no tradition of giving a middle name, so it is common for parents to name the child a normal Japanese name, and then the child is given a Saint’s name at baptism. The baptismal name is generally only used at the parish for official things, and not in every day life – though a lot of my friends use their baptismal name in their email addresses. 🙂

Occasionally the parents will give a Saint or Christian based name as a given name, but not as a rule. There aren’t that many Saints names that go well with Japanese, but there is a little girl at our parish named Kurara (the Japanese for Clara/Claire). Some parents choose given names such as Ai (love), Megumi (grace), Nozomi (hope), etc.”

I feel like the idea of not being named after someone is also reflected in the names of the Catholic churches in Japan — I follow @catholicjapan on Instagram,* and the featured churches all have names like Chuchi Catholic Church, Tsuwano Catholic Church, and Aokata Catholic Church, which I think are geographic names. All of them have patron saints that aren’t part of the churches’ names (St. John Goto, St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family, respectively), which is so different from our churches here. (Be sure to check out the web site I linked to for the saints’ names in the previous sentence — it’s the site of the Daughters of St. Paul in Japan, and there’s a listing on the site of all the beautiful Sisters and their names — you can click on each one for their stories!)

Do any of you know anything more? I love finding out different naming traditions in different cultures, especially as they relate to our faith!

*I also follow @ruriruri, which focuses on images of Our Lady in Japan, and which I believe is maintained by the same person as @catholicjapan — I find the pictures so inspiring, definitely worth a follow!

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7 thoughts on ““Silence,” Catholic Japan, and names

  1. Ohhhh. This answered an age-old question for me. I always wondered why my Japanese (born in US but returned to Japan after WWII internment) grandmother’s legal name was Yoshika, but went by Margaret. I always thought it was just their way of “Americanizing” their names to assimilate. Turns out that Margaret was indeed the name given to her at baptism! Her siblings (Michael/Masaaki and Thomas/Michihiko) also use their baptismal names.

    Also, my mom and her five siblings all have American names do not have middle names and my mom never knew why. Probably a nod to Japanese naming tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

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