How Uncommon Are the Names of the Sailor Moon Characters?

The Sailor Team like to think they have pretty normal names...

The Sailor Team like to think they have pretty normal names…

We’ve discussed on several occasions the difficulties involved in localization, particularly when it comes to names, but we haven’t often discussed the names of the main characters themselves (with some exceptions), and how uncommon or strange they may seem. In fact, when the Sailor Moon manga was first being localized into English by Mixxzine1 (before being moved to Smile2 and then serialized by Tokyopop)3 – one of the first magazines for localized manga to be widely distributed in the U.S. – there was a lot of debate among fans over how Usagi’s name was localized.

While many fans either preferred the name Serenaas used in DiC’s localization of the anime, many other fans expressed an affinity for the Japanese original name. Mixx’s choice to translate Usagi’s name literally as Bunny was divisive to say the least. On one side of the argument, you could say that this is how Japanese readers interpreted the name—as a word found in the dictionary. On the other, one could argue that just like Dick Dastardly4 and many other children’s cartoons in the West, the name is simply an extra to give you further insight into the character.

Since there’s no “correct” solution to this issue of nuance in Japanese being lost in localization, I think it’s worth taking a look at this issue from another direction: just how made up are the names of the Sailor Moon cast, and are they really as obscure and fictional as we’ve all been led to believe? How many people can there actually be who are named “… of the moon,” anyway?

Neo Queen Princess Usagi Serena Bunny Serenity Tsukino

Neo Queen Princess Usagi Serena Bunny Serenity Tsukino

There are at least 251 households named Tsukino.

According to this index5 of 19,661,494 Japanese phone book listings, at least. Another site, which uses both phone records and and government census data,6 says that there are approximately 1,500 people with the last name Tsukino, making it the 6,402nd most popular last name in Japan. The site also provides an interesting look into the origin of the last name:

現鹿児島県東部である大隅国曽於郡月野が起源(ルーツ)である。近年、鹿児島県に多数みられる。 「野」は自然のままの広い地を表す。

The origin of the name is the village of Tsukino in the Soo district of Oosumi province in what is now the eastern part of present-day Kagoshima prefecture. There are many with the name found in Kagoshima prefecture. The character for “no” (野) means a wide-open natural space.

That’s right, if you were to go to Soo county in Kagoshima,7 you could very well meet someone named Tsukino. So in terms of realism, how do the rest of the characters fare?

Name No. Households Ranking Most Common In
Tsukino 251~1,500 6,402 Kagoshima
Mizuno 26,216~175,000 105 Aichi
Hino 4~20 64,633 Oita
Kino 1,284~8,700 1,811 Shizuoka
Aino 21~140 26,233 Hokkaido
Chiba 34~230 19,895 Yamagata
Tenoh 13~80 36,041 Hiroshima
Kaioh 0 NA NA
Tomoe 0 NA NA
Meioh 0 NA NA
Osaka 172~1,200 7,346 Osaka

I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Mizuno would be that common of a last name (almost breaking into the top 100!) considering that there’s the Mizuno Corporation,8 a popular brand of sports equipment. More than anything else, though, I was surprised to see that nearly all of the last names of the main cast (with the exception of Michiru, Hotaru, and Setsuna) actually exist in the real world. Even Ms. Naru Osaka, who I always figured was a pure parody name, actually has some real-world relatives in the – big surprise! – Osaka region of Japan.

The Lovely Ms. Osaka

The Lovely Ms. Osaka

So there you have it! Though obviously Ms. Takeuchi picked the character names in order to match them with their representative planets as well as their chosen element and, to be honest, it may simply be a pure coincidence that any of these are real-world names at all, I for one am glad to see that there is at least one more touch of reality in the world of Sailor Moon.

And for anyone who’s curious – no, there’s no one in Japan that I could find named Usagi. Too bad!

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13 thoughts on “How Uncommon Are the Names of the Sailor Moon Characters?

  1. Minako’s last name surprises me. Not that it exists, but that it’s most common in Hokkaido: as it’s the name of a former town (now merged with others in the city of Unzen) in Nagasaki prefecture, I expected it to be most common there.
    Then again, I get the link with Hokkaido too: the Ainu people. Uhm, the possibilities…

    • Here I figured that “Aino” would have been common in Aichi prefecture or something, due to some sort of common base. I was really surprised to see that it’s most common in Hokkaido and also pops up in Saga prefecture. Considering how few people have the name, though, it’s probably safe to say that they’re related.

      Interesting to know about the town in Nagasaki though! There’s also an Aino station in Shizuoka prefecture, and the color for the train line is orange. While reading some old Japanese fan sites, I hear that when it opened in 2001, Sailor Moon fans used to go there and take pictures.

  2. In the italian dub, they actually called her “Bunny” which is a bit weird since “Serena” is actually a pretty common italian name originated in ancient Rome ( ).
    I guess the italian dub was inspired by the french dub which was the first european dub they made (if i’m not mistaken) where they called her “Bunny”, In Italy, it was common to replace japanese names with american-sounding names and/or uncommon italian names, so “Bunny” definitely fit in.
    The inner senshi were Bunny, Amy, Rea (instead of Rei), Morea (Makoto) and Marta (Minako),
    So we had two english-sounding names (Bunny and Amy) two uncommon italian sounding names and only one common italian name (Marta). For the outer senshi, they used an unlikely american sounding name (Heles) and three uncommon italian names (Milena, Ottavia, Sidia). Princess Serenity retained her name while Queen Serenity was called “Selene” which is the name of the goddess of the moon (clearly the inspiration behind the japanese name as well).

    • One thing I recall as particularly jarring was that they renamed Usagi into Bunny, but kept ChibiUsa the same (just pronounced slightly different as “Kibiusa”, the digraph “ch” representing “k” before i and e in Italian). It was so confusing: six-year-old me could not understand why she would be nicknamed ChibiUsa if her name was Bunny too. Where did that nickname even come from? Then again, I don’t see how they could have pulled the diminutive off.

  3. Now that you make me think about it, Rei’s italian name is Rea… which strikes a resemblance with Rea Silvia, legendary mother of Romolo and Remo, the founders of Ancient Rome. She actually claimed that Mars was the father of her children! She was either seduced by him and/or was raped by him, depending on the version.
    I wonder if that was intentional, either in the italian dub or in Takeuchi’s mind, considering Rei seems to be an uncommon name in Japan. Mmmh…

    • Rea was DEFINITELY on purpose. I mean, we slip Italian high culture connections into anything (I still remember the sudden (and appropriate) quote of the Divine Comedy in Saint Seiya, and in one Paperinik New Adventures issue the Aeneid was quoted by AN ALIEN), would have been stranger had they chosen any other name,

    • Rea was definitely deliberate, indeed. And I wonder if they intentionally chose Marta too.
      Back then I was irked that they gave Sailor Venus a name that sounded so much like Mars, but then it turned out it doesn’t come from Latin, but from Aramaic, and it means “lady, mistress”. It makes sense, considering she’s the decoy Princess (though Cristina d’Avena did spoil that it wasn’t her, hello, “principessa di un regno che non sai dov’è”).
      As for the rest, I think they picked names that sounded at least somewhat similar (Amy being the most obvious, and Ottavia the next, though that could have been because she was the eighth Senshi to be introduced if we don’t include Moon and Chibi-Moon).
      Marzio is still unexcusable, though: how could they call the Prince of Earth with a name that literally means “Of Mars”?

      • Doesn’t Chiba Mamoru translate to earth “war”rior? Mars is synonomous with war. I don’t think the planetary link is relevant. Just the definition. Fantastic observation though. Love you, fellow Moonie. Mwaah!

  4. I was pretty surprised that 天王 (Tenoh) is a last name which exists in real world 🙂 Actually, 天王 is a reference of 天王星 (Uranus in Japanese) and 天王星 should be read as ‘Ten’nousei’, but Haruka’s last name is Ten’oh, not Ten’noh. I think that it is intended to avoid direct reference of Japanese Emperor (Ten’no, 天皇), who is hard to be referred easily in Japanese society, but it is just my thought.

    • I personally think it’s just slurring as you have it in other words where a mora starts with a vowel. Say 反応, it should be han’ou, but it turned han’nou.

  5. I used to work in a hospital, and I was secretly delighted when one of our new patients had the surname Tsukino. Until then I had thought it was a made-up name.

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