Sunday, February 12, 2012


February 4th of this year was the first day of Chinese New Year, and it is the year of the dragon. This means that I need a dragon name to profile, and Draco's been done already.

Ryu, or Ryuu, is a Japanese name meaning "dragon" or "imperial." The pronunciation is tricky, and unfortunately Westerners have a hard time agreeing on one. It's not "ROO," that's for sure. Some say it's "REE-yoo," which seems natural enough. But the "R" might be closer to an "L" sound, making it more like "L-yoo." That is not at all confusing.

I suppose it would make more sense to profile a Chinese name for the Chinese New Year. But dragon mythology in Japan is very similar to those in China because, well, they were imported from China. In both cultures, most dragons are benevolent water deities, and each one is associated with a specific lake or river. Even rainfall had it's own dragon.

There are many references to dragons in Ancient Japanese literature. An eight-headed one was defeated by Susanoo, the god of the wind and sea. Ryujin, also known as Watatsumi, was a dragon god who rules the oceans. He is able to change into human form. His daughter was Toyotama-hime, who is allegedly the ancestor to Japan's first emperor. In a folktale called Kiyohime, the title character is spurned by the Buddhist priest she loves. So she studies magic and transforms herself into a dragon in order to kill him. Dragons have always been associated with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Ryujin Shinku ("dragon good faith") is a sect of Shintoism that worships dragons.

Ryu is often used as an element for composite names. Ryouma could either mean "dragon horse" or "imperial horse." Ryutaro means "son of the fat dragon," which must have been a flattering description at some point in history.

Should you actually find the correct pronunciation, this is a simple and unique boy's name in the United States. It would be a great name for someone with an emotional connection to these mythic creatures, or for someone who enters the world during this year.


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  1. Actually, when you hear it (just asked a Japanese friend), it sounds most to my ear like "you" -- you barely hear the "r/" at the start at all!

    Good name.

  2. Agree with Nooks - it's RYOO, all one syllable, but in a Japanese accent you barely hear the R.

    I find this name very difficult for an Anglophone to say, and when I say it, it sounds terribly awkward.

    I have heard many discussions on this, as to how to pronounce it in English, and the best I can come up sounds more like "dew" than anything else.


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