English: Sanjō Kin-nori(三条公教) was a Japanese c...
English: Sanjō Kin-nori was a Japanese court noble in Heian period.This picture was drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can this traditional Japanese name element stand on its own in the US?

Thanks to Kari for suggesting Nori as our Baby Name of the Day.

Most sources indicate that this is a masculine name in Japanese, but I’m not certain that’s entirely correct.  The drawing in this post dates to the ninth century, and gives the noble’s name as Kin-nori.

That tracks with many names I’ve found in use: Katsunori, Noritaka.  They’re masculine compound names.  Nori means ceremony, ritual, or rule.

There are also feminine names in use that include the element.  Noriko is the one I’ve seen most often.

And then there are place names, too.  Noritake is the name of a small village in Japan, the original home to the famous china manufacturer.

All of this makes Nori a Japanese name, and probably a gender neutral one.

In the US, it is easy to imagine this being accepted as a girl’s name, a choice similar in sound to Laurie and Dory.

Then again, there’s the seaweed.  Depending on the kanji – characters – used, Nori can be part of a name, or it can literally translate to ocean moss, a kind of seaweed used to make sheets for rolling sushi.  Edible names aren’t a complete deal breaker these days – there’s Clementine and Olive – but I can imagine a sushi fan might hesitate to consider this one for a child.

As with many short names, it is possible to find other meanings in other languages:

  • The Ngarrindjeri language is spoken by indigenous peoples in south-central Australia.  Nori is their word for pelican.
  • In Romanian, it means clouds.

They’re lovely meanings, but neither language seems to acknowledge it as a given name.

Plenty of similar names are in use, however.  There’s Noor, an Arabic name meaning light.  It’s used for both genders, though Queen Noor of Jordan tends to make us think of Noor as feminine.

There’s another international connection.  In Italian, Onorio comes from Honorius, a name worn by a Roman emperor and several popes.  It shortens to Norio and Noro and yes, Nori.

As a girls’ name in the US, Nori could be short for:

  • Eleanor, Elinor – or any spelling of the classic name
  • Leonor, Lenora
  • Nora
  • Just like the Italian – Honor, Honora, Honoria all work
  • Sonora is seldom heard as a given name but why not?
  • There are plenty of names like Noreen and Norma, seldom heard today, that could lead to Nori.

From 1950 through 2011, Nori was in steady, if sparing usage for girls.  Eighteen newborns received the name in 2011.  The name appears in US Census records for men and women, some Japanese, but not all.

Overall, Nori fits a certain style.  Like Lumi, it’s possible to imagine daring parents giving this name to a daughter with no relevant heritage or ties.  Nori feels like a given name, a modern discovery in the US, but with almost as much history as Mary.

As a nickname for Eleanor and company, Nori is fresh and unexpected.  But Nori might have enough substance to stand on her own.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. My name is Nori and I’ve always kind of disliked it. People hear “Noreen” because it’s a name they recognize. My family is white, so I have no cultural ties to the name. My parents wanted creative names for their children; I think there are plenty of ways in life to express your creativity and that saddling another human with a conversation piece for a name is cruelly irresponsible.

  2. In 2014 I named my daughter Nori Michelle I found the name online and fell in love. While I am a fan of sushi I didn’t select this name for that reason.

    Nori is a strong name with a strong meaning all on its own. My now 2 year old gets a lot of compliments on her name. Its very different yet really simple.

  3. I love to see Name of the Days featuring non-western names! Thank you! I knew a Noriko, and I think it’s a beautiful name. She went by Nori.

  4. Thank you for posting this!! Our hesitation is with the seaweed issue, but you did find some other history and meanings we haven’t found. I really appreciate you looking into this name!! Love this site…