Posthumous Names

Buddhist Posthumous Names:
Your Ancestors May be Referred to
by Two Names

Last year, (1998) on October 28, my husband and I saw a program called Close Up Gendai on Japan's NHK TV. The topic of the program was the fee that some Buddhist temples charge for a posthumous name (called kaimyou in Japanese). Soon after their death, the Japanese Buddhist's spirit is given a new name which is sometimes completely different from the name that they used in this life. Living family members entrust the family's temple priest with the duty of creating an appropriate name for their departed loved one's spirit. Fees for the spirit name, the report said, start at just below or around $3,000. An average price for a kaimyou is $7,000. If a family wishes to honor their loved one's spirit with a truly beautiful name, they may be looking at close to a $10,000 fee. (Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. My apologies that I do not know and therefore can't describe what constitutes a wonderful kaimyou. )

The interesting part of this report as it related to genealogy is that there seem to be kanji characters that occur regularly in most all posthumous names. These kanji serve as endings or status markers in the name. Knowing which kanji serve as "markers" makes recognizing the kanji that constitute the core name easier. The program additionally pointed out that there is a trend among some priests to try to incorporate kanji from the deceased person's name into their kaimyou name. The program noted that the longer the kaimyou name, the more honor or prestige the living wished to bestow upon the deceased. (This makes sorting out names among deceased relatives an even larger undertaking.) Though I'm not sure if it will be helpful or not, here is the pattern for kaimyou that the television program gave.

A basic level kaimyou has these kind of ending place markers:


(The circles represent spaces where other kanji are likely present. The kanji that exist in place of these circles could be the "core name". This core name may contain a kanji character that was also used in the person's living name. Try matching kanji.)



These kanji markers signify this as the next higher class of kaimyou:


(The circles represent spaces where other kanji are likely present. The kanji that exist in place of these circles could be the "core name". This core name may contain a kanji character that was also used in the person's living name. Compare kanji in both the living and kaimyou names to see if they have any characters in common. Common characters may represent a link.)



The kanji used in this kaimyou distinguish it as a prestigious name. A kanji marker appears somewhere around the middle of the name and two appear at the end:


(The circles represent spaces where other kanji are likely present. The kanji that exist in place of these circles could be the "core name". This core name may contain a kanji character that was also used in the person's living name. Compare kanji in both the living and kaimyou names to see if there are any characters in common. Common characters may represent a link.)

I know very little about Buddhism and therefore offer my apologies that I can not offer information apart from this. If you are able to correct the contents of this page, your input would be warmly welcomed.

If you have tips, experiences, or information about obtaining a copy of a koseki from Japan, please drop us a line.



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