Geisha Names That Aren't
Some of the names you see floating around as geisha names... aren't. Whether through poor research (much of it my own) or misunderstanding, names have made it into the common pool of geimei that were never borne by any real geisha.
Names from Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden gave his fictional geisha names that are constructed like real geimei, and some of them have been borne by real geisha. However, I've found no record of these names belonging to real geisha:
|Hatsumomo||It can be written “first peach (初桃),” meaning one of the first peaches of the season.|
|Hatsuoki||Possibly "firstborn amusement/entertainment (初興)"|
|Katsumiyo||Based on how real geisha have spelled their names, Katsu- could be "victory (勝)" or "excellent + tsu (佳つ)", and -miyo could be "beautiful generation (美代)" or "three generations/third generation (三代)."|
|Michizono||Possibly "righteous path + garden"|
|Tomihatsu||Possibly “fortunate firstborn (富初)”|
Wait! The main list has names of fictional geisha on it.
All those names appeared in works written by Japanese artists for Japanese audiences during the heyday of the geisha. While some artists may have created names more fanciful than real geimei, all of them would have had to create names that sounded right to an audience familiar with geisha. Sometimes the names were so stylish that real geisha adopted them, proof that some literary geimei had the hanamachi seal of approval.
Arthur Golden, on the other hand, is an American writer writing for an English-speaking audience long after the geisha went into decline. His novel was wildly popular everywhere except Japan, which rejected it. His geimei lack the potential for authenticity that Japanese fictional geimei have.
That said, if you know of an instance of a geisha bearing one of these names, tell me and I'll move it to the list of authentic names.
I have no idea where I found this name or got the idea that it meant "most refined." Sumi (純) is an old-fashioned girl's name meaning "refined," in the sense that sugar is refined, with a secondary meaning of innocence or moral purity. Spelled 一純, Ichisumi would mean "the most pure" or "the most refined," with a connotation of freedom from impurity. It doesn't have the sense of elegant manners or cultivated intellect of the English word "refined."
In any case, the only Japanese use of Ichisumi as a name is the family name 一住, or “first resident.” There’s a Marvel villain named Ichisumi who got her start as a 19th-century geisha who killed her rivals by barfing beetles at them, but, er.. . the source lacks credibility. Until someone comes up with a genuine geisha named Ichisumi, I’m going to rule that Ichisumi is not only not a geimei, it’s also not a personal name of any kind. My apologies to all the RPG Ichisumis out there.
|Inoue||I haven't been able to find a real geisha named Inoue. It was probably a tragic misreading on my part, since the Inoue School is the foremost school of dance in Gion.|
|Oyama||I haven’t been able to trace this name. It may not be a genuine geimei. It is a genuine Japanese girl's name, meaning "honorable mountain."|
|Oyuki||While Oyuki (“honorable snow”) Morgan was indeed a geisha, her geimei was Kokyu no Sekka (胡弓の雪香). I haven’t been successful in locating a geisha with the geimei of Oyuki.|
|Sada||Sada ("modest") was Sadayakko's birth name and an element of her geimei, but never a standalone geimei.|
|Shuko||A Shimbashi geisha named Shuko appears in Downer, but Shuko is probably her birth name, not her geimei.|
How the heck did this garbage make it onto the original list?
Back in the mists of time--March 2005, according to the Wayback Machine--I wanted to make a list of geishas' names. The resources available online were few and far between, and I was on dialup, so even if anyone had uploaded odori programs or PDFs of books about geisha, I wouldn't have been able to download them. I grabbed every book I had on geisha, wrote down every geimei I could find, and then made guesses at the names' meanings using my Japanese dictionaries and kanji book.
The names included real geisha, fictional geisha from Japanese works, every geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha, family names of geisha lines or schools misinterpreted as geimei, geishas' birth names, and some completely random names that I still can't track down. The names' translations...? Oy.
The list of books included:
- Geisha, by Liza Dalby
- Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden