Why do Japanese ships have “maru” affixed to their names? (4)

How To Fend Off Demons From Your Baby

 日本語は英語の下にございます。/ Japanese translation is below the English text.

This is the fourth of the five posts on: Why do Japanese ships have “maru” affixed to their names?
=> (1) Japanese Ship Names Often End With “Maru”
=> (2) “Maru” is a Symbol of Perfection
=> (3) “Maru” in the Names of Other Things

(4) How to Fend Off Demons From Your Baby
=> (5) Modern Japanese Ship Names and “Maru”



1) Sickly infants
2) Demons stay away from filthy things
3) “Maru” meaning “dung”
4) The Hokkaido Ainu people
5) "Maru" as a talisman to protect precious properties

1) Sickly infants

In olden days, people in Japan suffered from a very high death rate of babies and small children.

There was a saying “Nanatsu mae wa kami no uchi (Before seven, it is partially a god)”.

It meant that before turning seven years old (today’s five or six years old), a child was so sickly and feeble that they considered it as a kind of spirit that demons, gods, or evil spirits could take to their world at their will.

An image of a young boy
[Click to enlarge / 画像をクリックすると拡大します] Demons would often take young children away. Even now, in November, we celebrate about children who have turned 3, 5 and 7 years old that year. / 昔は幼くして魔物にさらわれる子供が多かったので、今でも11月には3歳、5歳、7歳に達した子供たちの成長を喜ぶお祝いがあります。

Parents naturally desired to protect their children and raised them very carefully until they were big and strong enough.

One popular way to protect their babies from demons was to give them names meaning something very dirty and befouled.

In those days, words had even stronger power than today. So, if they called their children something dirty, it meant that they WERE the dirty thing.

Humans hated dirty things, so must demons, people believed; demons would be disgusted to be near such things. If people could thus deceive them, their children would stay healthy and happy.

2) Demons stay away from filthy things 

From the Heian through Edo Era (794-1867), children of various castes were first given a “childhood name”. They bore that until they reached their adulthood, 13 to 16 years old depending on the time, area, profession, etc.

This childhood name sometimes included “kuso” meaning “dung” directly.

A famous example is “Ako-Kuso (My Child Dung)”, the childhood name of Ki no Tsurayuki, a renowned author, poet, and court noble of the 9th Century.

Also, there is a female poet whose name was Minamoto no Kuso, whose poem appears in Kokin Wakashu, a Heian Era’s imperial anthology of poetry.

3) “Maru” meaning “dung”

“Kuso” means “dung” or “shit” in today’s Japanese, too. People don’t often use it today because it sounds so direct. If they ever do, it is usually to curse, express vexation or encourage oneself in a very rough manner.

Incidentally, “maru”, now only recognized as “round”, had another meaning as dung or to excrete in the past.

Therefore, there is a view that “maru” or “maro” at the end of so many boys’ names had the same function as “kuso”, a talisman to fend off the demons.

I am a native speaker of Japanese, but when I first heard this theory, I didn’t know what to think; “maru” only has the meaning of a round shape today. Then, I remembered a common word “o-maru”.

“O-maru” is a portable toilet, particularly for toddlers. I thought the shape of the round bowl was the namesake, but if “maru” meant to excrete, it is more straightforward.

It is said that in the ancient imperial court, they used lacquered and gold-leafed gorgeous chamber pots. Ladies-in-waiting began to call them “o-maru”, adding the prefix “o” for politeness. With time, the word spread among the commoners’ society.

In Japan, people in different areas speak different dialects, and some old words and expressions are scattered in them. I had never heard it in Kanto Region where I grew up, but I read that people still use “maru” for going to the bathroom, in such areas as Kumamoto, Oita, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, which are all on Kyushu Island, and Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, and Shimane outside of it.

4) The Hokkaido Ainu people

The custom of naming a child after a dirty thing to fend off the demons also existed among the Ainu people in Hokkaido.

Today, most Ainu are intermarried to Japanese of other ancestries, many live outside of Hokkaido, and give their children a common Japanese name.

However, in olden days, the Ainu believed that the sickness was evil spirits who entered into a child’s body because they loved pretty things. Ainu believed that evil spirits hated dirty things, so they gave their infants such names as “Teinepu (a wet thing)”, “Pon Shon (small shit)”, and “Shontaku (lump of shit)” hoping that they would stay away.

Sickly children and children with beautiful facial features were in particular danger. Not only demons wanted to snatch them but also good gods wanted to take them to heaven. For these kids, the parents needed stronger protection, and had to come up with dirtier names such as “Turushino (covered by filth)” and “Ekashiotonpui (the anus of an old man)”.

They even named a baby “Resaku (nameless)” so that that baby doesn’t exist in theory.

The Ainu people didn’t leave written records, but we can peep into their custom and way of thinking in the Japanese government’s records from the Edo Era and earlier. Some believe that the Ainu kept custom and beliefs of the more ancient people living in Japan who didn’t surrender to the authority of the emperor of Japan until the 11th century.

5)  “Maru” as a talisman to protect precious properties

There is not much evidence to support any of these wildly different opinions more than others. 

However, it seems to us that the origin of “maru” in the names of ships may be the same as those of precious properties, i.e., swords, musical instruments, dogs, horses and heirs. And that “maru” was a suffix working as a verbal talisman to protect the bearer of the name from demons and misfortune that they cause.

Please continue reading: => Modern Japanese Ship Names And “Maru”

[End of the English post]



=> (1) 「マル・シップ」~日本の船名に「まる」が多くついていること
=> (2) 「まる」は完全の象徴
=> (3) 他のものの名につく「まる」について


1) ひよわな赤ん坊
2) 魔物は汚らしいものを避ける
3) 「くそ」を意味する「まる」
4) 北海道のアイヌ
5) 「まる」は財産を守る護符

1) ひよわな赤ん坊








2) 魔物は汚らしいものを避ける





3) 「くそ」を意味する「まる」








4) 北海道のアイヌ







5) 「まる」は財産を守る護符



続きはこちら: => 現代日本の船名


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