This blog post was first published on November 20 2011, and heavily edited and reposted on November 25 2015.
It’s been a little more than eight months since Japan was hit by the terrible earthquake off its eastern coastline – with a magnitude of 9.0, it was the strongest earthquake to ever hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.
The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami, with waves reaching more than 40 metres (133 feet) high; as well as bringing destruction to life and property, the tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, which meant that hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated.
This could not help but evoke a response from people all around the world. We were shocked and appalled as we saw it unfold on our TV screens, and deeply moved by the plight of the Japanese people, who reacted so calmly and bravely to their national tragedy.
We had recently suffered a summer of terrible cyclones and floods, and the disaster in Japan put our own problems in perspective; suddenly things didn’t seem quite so terrible, suddenly we realised that things could have been a lot worse for us. Australia was one of the many countries who went to Japan’s assistance during the crisis, and one of the few that Japan specifically asked for help from.
Things are still pretty bad in the coastal regions of Japan which suffered the worst during the catastrophe. There are whole towns that have been evacuated, and it may be years before it is safe for people to return. Nuclear contamination is still a major issue, and people worry about whether food is safe to eat or not. There are many farming districts in the nuclear-affected areas of Japan, and it’s been devastating for the agricultural economy there.
Taiga is a name I heard of from Japanese families who had fled the disaster zone to live in Australia, although later on I met an Australian family with a small boy named Taiga in memory of an extended visit to Japan.
Note: Since 2011, the areas of Japan worst affected by the tsunami are still struggling to rebuild, and the path to recovery looks likely to be a very long and painful one.
Taiga is a fairly common name for boys in Japan. In Japanese, Taiga is pronounced TAH-ee-gah, but in English it is said TIE-gah. The Japanese are aware that it sounds similar to the English word tiger, and this may even be an attraction for some.
Depending on the kanji used, the name can be given a range of meanings, but the most commonly given is “large and graceful”, or “big and gracious”. It can also be translated as “big river”, and is the Romanised form of “tiger”. Despite these different meanings, when you put them together the overall impression is of something large and powerful, yet with all the majestic beauty and grace of a great river or a tiger.
By coincidence, taiga is also a word for the large coniferous forest areas which cover the far north of the planet, in Alaska, northern Canada, Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and even the far north of Japan. The word for this is Russian, and ultimately from Turkic or Mongolian. Sometimes taiga is specifically used to designate the more barren part of the forested area. It’s pronounced TIE-guh.
I’m not sure how many Japanese girls are named Taiga, but there is a manga series for young readers called Toradora! where the lead female is a junior high school girl named Taiga. Beautiful yet very short, clumsy and socially maladept, her name is given to her in the sense of the word tiger – lovely, but very fierce!
This gives it a slight chance as a unisex name – if used as the Japanese transliteration of the word tiger, this makes it a different name than the Japanese boy’s name Taiga. And there’s no reason why a girl can’t be named after the forest area anyway, as forests are not intrinsically male or female in nature.
Taiga seems a very usable name – it sounds similar to an English word, and even references that word without actually being that word. Taiga can be a way to get the same sound and even the same meaning from a different spelling and origin.
I think Taiga is a far more interesting name than Tiger, as it has so many layers of meaning. It reminds me of the popular name Kai, which similarly has a European and a Japanese origin, although Taiga manages to bring the two cultures closer together.
Taiga gives the nickname Tai, which links it with other popular boy’s names like Tyson and Tyler; Taiga is unusual, yet a Tai in the playground will blend right in with the other boys named Ty and Tye.