- What does the name Nezuko mean?
Everyone loves Nezuko, the cute yet demonic sister of protagonist Tanjiro in Demon Slayer. But what is behind her name? Nezuko is not a name you hear very often in Japan. Why did she get this unusual name? What is behind the sounds, and symbols used in the written form?
I’ve done a deep dive into some of the Japanese resources to get to the bottom of the subject. Here goes!
What does the name Nezuko mean?
There are a couple of theories as to where Demon Slayer Nezuko’s name comes from. Let’s go into them below
Nezuko as a plant name theory (鼠子)
One explanation for Nezuko’s name is that it comes from a plant.
There is actually a plant called a “Nezuko” in Japan (its English name translates as “Japanese Arborvitae”).
The Kanji characters used to express this plant name (鼠子) are different to the ones used in the Demon Slayer character Nezuko (禰豆子).
But given that “Nezuko” as a name in Japan, using the same kanji as the ones used in Demon Slayer, basically doesn’t exist. So it is not reasonable to assume that the author started with the name as it sounds spoken and then assigned his own Kanji from there.
Further if you go on to look at other members of the Kamado family you also see:
葵枝 (Kie) – Green/Blue branch. Tanjiro’s mother.
花子 (Hanako) – “Flower child” (we’ve written about how flowers such as the Red Spider Lily feature in Demon Slayer).
竹雄 (Takao) – “Bamboo-man”. Tanjiro’s brother.
茂 (Shigeru) – “Verdant”. Tanjiro’s brother.
You see that a lot of the family members have been named with names related to the natural world of flora.
There are also quite a few names outside of the Kamado family that come from the world of flora in Demon Slayer.
The women-named-after-plants theory finds an exception in the case of the ancestral character of Suyako.
Which brings us to our second, and equally as convincing, theory.
“Nezuko” as “Sleepless Child” (寝ず子)
Nezuko’s ancestor Suyako is described as a person who slept soundly. In Japanese, the word “Suya Suya” means to sleep “soundly” or “peacefully”. “Ko” is a commonly used ending for girl’s names, meaning “child”. So it seems likely that Suyako was named after her propensity to sleep.
Here there is a parallel with the name “Nezuko”.
If you hear the name “Nezuko” spoken in Japanese, it can actually be interpreted as “Child who doesn’t sleep”, which would work out in Kanji as 寝ず子 if you wanted to render it that way.
So you have a name “Suyako” that sounds something like “Sleeping child” and “Nezuko” which sounds something like “sleepless child”.
If we consider that demons in Demon Slayer exist as the inverse version of an equivalent living soul, wouldn’t it make sense to have a “sleepless”, undead Kamado coming from a “sleeping” human Kamado forebear?
Why is Nezuko’s name written as 禰豆子 in Japanese?
So if we assume that at least one, or perhaps both of the theories above, ie that “Nezuko” comes from either a plant or “sleepless child”, why is her name written as 禰豆子?
You’ll notice that many of the character names in Demon Slayer have quite complex combinations of Kanji, many of which are fairly rarely used or seem quite archaic. This is basically to set the mood of an other-worldy space somewhere in the Japanese past. So it makes sense that “Nezuko”, whatever the name’s origins, would be given their own special combination of unusual and archaic Kanji. To look at the three characters individually we get:
禰 = ancestral shrine or mausoleum
豆 = bean, pea
子 = child
At first glance to a non-Japanese speaker the combination of “mausoleum, bean, child” seems pretty bizarre.
But to a Japanese person there is a sort of sense that is evoked.
豆 (zu) as “cleansing talisman”
The most obvious part of this for a Japanese person is perhaps the 豆 “bean/pea” part of this. Beans are commonly associated with being used to cleanse spaces of evil spirits in Japan.
Chants of 鬼はそと福はうち (oni wa soto fuku wa uchi) can be commonly heard in rituals throughout Japan around the festival of “Setsubun” as people toss dried peas out their window. The chant means something like “Out with the demon, in with the happiness”.
Interpreting the characters of Nezuko 禰豆子 in English
So, the first character of her name 禰 ne is associated with death (mausoleum/shrine) and the second 豆 (mame) with fighting evil spirits. The 子 “Ko” part of it, literally meaning “child”, is a common ending for womens names (perhaps most famously in, say, Yo-ko Ono). So putting “ko” on the end of “Nezu” turns a word that sounds decidedly un-name-like into something that plausibly sounds like a girl’s name.
In this way you could interpret “Nezuko’s” name as something like “Death-shrine, cleansing talisman, child”. This starts to make a lot more sense when you consider that she is a sort of “nearly undead, quasi-demon in purgatory” character.
What does Nezuko-chan mean?
Nezuko-chan could be translated as something like “Cute little Nezuko”.
Putting “chan” after a name is a common way of expressing affection in Japan. It is commonly used after children’s names. It can be heard used for young children of both sexes, but is most common for girls. Boys, especially as they get older, are more likely to get the honorific “Kun” placed after their name instead.
You sometimes also hear “chan” put after adult names. Once again, this is especially true for younger or “cuter” women.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon to hear Chan put after men’s names in casual or very close knit situations with friends. This is especially common when the man’s name has been shortened or changed to some kind of nickname.
“Chan” stands in contrast to the more formal “san” that gets put after people’s names to show respect. This is most commonly heard when people are addressing people older than themselves. Most famously, a lot of Westerners may have heard the character of “Daniel” being called “Daniel-san” in the Karate Kid franchise of films and serialised drama.
What does Kamado mean?
Kamado 竈門 in Japanese characters literally means oven/furnace door.
Kama (竈) means oven or furnace.
Do (門) means a gate, door or entrance.
So Kamado gives us a sense of a family that is associated with ovens or furnaces. This gives an interesting parallel with Tanjiro’s 炭治郎 name which can be interpreted as “second son of coal”.
Nezuko Kamado, the demon slayer’s younger sister, is a mysterious and fascinating character.
Nezuko is a character who has both human and demon blood in her. She starts off as a regular human girl but she turns into a demon. Nezuko is unique in that she can seemingly oscillate between more human or demonic forms and is the only known character like this. Her human form is kind and caring, while her demon form is vicious and bloodthirsty.
She is fiercely protective of her brother and family, and is unafraid to fight even the strongest demons. Nezuko is also shown to be quite intelligent, able to understand complex concepts and strategies. Her fighting style is unique and unpredictable, making her a formidable opponent.
Nezuko is also shown to be quite intelligent, able to understand complex concepts and strategies. Her fighting style is unique and unpredictable, making her a formidable opponent.
Nezuko’s name – in conclusion
Hopefully that clears up some of the misunderstandings about our iconic demonic Nezuko’s name in Demon Slayer. If you want to hear my explanation of the Japanese name for Demon Slayer kimetsu no yaiba check here!
I’ve also taken a look at the meaning of Inosuke Hashibira’s name.
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