View Full Version : In Japanese freighter names, what does MARU mean?

08-06-2000, 02:48 AM
A great many cargo ships have names that end with the word maru. I wondered about this for years until I finally read a book that mentioned in passing that maru was the Japanese word for "freighter". Now I find that maru actually means "circle" in Japanese. Call me dense, but I don't see the connection between freighters and circles. At this site (http://manlyquarantine.com/Information_Japanese.htm) I found the characters read "Nikko Maru",
a name of a ship.
"Nikko" literally means "sunshine",
and "Maru" means "circle".
"Maru" is often attached to the end of a name of ships.Why do they name their freighters after geometric shapes? Is it in honor of the sun? ("Hi no maru", literally "circle of the sun", is the name of the Japanese flag, according to the same site.)

08-06-2000, 07:23 AM
Well, according to my fiancee (native Japanese speaker), the "maru" doesn't mean "circle" in this case, but rather gives a general meaning of "power". Another example of this is the sumo wrestler Musashimaru, whose name means (more or less) "As powerful as the samurai Musashi." I guess in the example you gave, the ship's name would be "Power of the Sun" or "Powerful as the Sun."


08-06-2000, 08:17 AM
Well I'm a native speaker as well, and my understanding is that "maru" is a prefix that used to be commonly given to a prized posession such as animals, musical instruments, and of course, ships. Now it doesn't mean much beyond "a prefix commonly given to ship names."
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to invade Korea in 1592, the flagship was named Nippon Maru, and the -maru prefix became very popular after that. I don't think "as powerful as" quite fits.

08-06-2000, 08:20 AM
Japans entry in the recent OPSAIL 2000 parade of sail was a tall ship called the "Kaiwo Maru"

08-06-2000, 02:29 PM
What does the name of the ship Kobayashi Maru mean? (the famous Star Fleet Academy test)

08-06-2000, 03:26 PM
Can Maru be used in a person's name?

08-06-2000, 03:31 PM
scr4, wouldn't that be a suffix?

With all the "native speakers" chiming in I find it very odd that there isn't a clear concensus on what such a common word means.......silly furriners.

08-06-2000, 04:18 PM
Omniscient Why would a few "native" speakers carry any more weight about Japanese linguistics than the reply from a few "native speaking" Americans chiming in about a point of English speech? It just depends on the knowledge of the speaker.

But, now to the real meat....I remeber a Humphrey Bogart movie in which the ship's name contained "Maru" and damn if it won't keep me awake until someone answers. Thanks.

08-06-2000, 04:21 PM
I think it was The Maltese Falcon now that I think about it.

08-06-2000, 07:08 PM
Many languages have the type of ship included in the name. The brits would say Steamship Z, Motorship X, Schooner Y... if naval vessel: HMS Pansy, etc.

I wonder if MARU would be the equivalent of Motor or power (as opposed to sail).... Just my WAG

08-06-2000, 08:47 PM
scr4, wouldn't that be a suffix?

Um, of course, sorry.

As for Kobayashi Maru, well funny you should ask, since my name happens to be Kobayashi. It's a very common family name in Japan, and the Star Trek writers just slapped on a "maru" to make it into a ship name. Think of it as a Japanese equivalent of "U.S.S. Smith." The name Kobayashi is made up of two characters meaning "small" and "forest" respectively.

I agree my being a native speaker of Japanese doesn't make me an expert on this topic. However I did recently read a newspaper article on this very topic and it confirmed what I wrote.

And sailor, the -maru suffix has been in use since at least the 16th century, and continues to be used for many commercial ships, so I think it's safe to say that it doesn't depend on the method of propulsion.

08-06-2000, 11:15 PM
I like that. My own boat, until know "Callisto", will from now on be "Callisto Maru". :)

Sofa King
08-07-2000, 12:29 AM
samclem, you may be thinking of Across the Pacific, which reunites Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sidney Greenstreet under the direction of John Huston. They're all hanging out on a Japanese liner just prior to Pearl Harbor. Can't remember the name of the boat.

I believe the ship from The Maltese Falcon was La Paloma, its captain played by an uncredited Walter Huston, John's father.

08-07-2000, 05:16 AM
Originally posted by scr4
Well I'm a native speaker as well, and my understanding is that "maru" is a prefix that used to be commonly given to a prized posession such as animals, musical instruments, and of course, ships. Now it doesn't mean much beyond "a prefix commonly given to ship names."
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to invade Korea in 1592, the flagship was named Nippon Maru, and the -maru prefix became very popular after that. I don't think "as powerful as" quite fits.

It could be Power Of Nippon - if it was a flagship, it is an appropriate sounding name, like some ships are called Pride of & then wherever they came from. Still keeps some of the meaning then.
Just a WAG since I don't speak Japanese.

Sister Vigilante
08-07-2000, 08:53 AM
Originally posted by Ranma
Can Maru be used in a person's name?

Gillian Anderson (aka Dana Scully) named her daughter Piper Maru. This name was also in an episode of X-Files, I believe referring to a ship. I don't know who copied who.

Incidentally, the long-awaited supposed translation of Kobayashi Maru came in a Star Trek novel of the same name. Their take on it? "The Ship Called Kobayashi"

08-07-2000, 09:36 AM
I always heard that the KM meant 'fishhook' or something similiar... the tie-in, of course, being that it was used in the beginning in the movie as the 'hook' to get it going.

Guy Propski
08-07-2000, 02:12 PM
The good ship "Piper Maru" (from episode 3.5) is actually named after Gillian Anderson's daughter, not vice versa. Anderson had her baby during Season 2.

08-07-2000, 02:38 PM
In marine circles "Maru" indeed means circle or more precisely, a successful voyage where a ship and it's crue returns safely to its home port.

In WWII, Japanese war ships were always titled with a Maru suffix. Many if not most Japanese cargo ships continue this practice to date. I worked for a large freight company and noticed that this was the case while reviewing the dockage records from Japanese freighters stopping in Oakland.

My sailboat has a Maru suffix on it's name as well. I like the idea of safe trips where boat and crue return safely to port at the end of the voyage. I'm not a superstitious man but I tend to get that way whenever I step aboard a boat. It's all part of the nautical life I suppose.

08-09-2000, 05:40 PM
Sofa To stay OT, you were right about La Paloma in Maltese Falcon. As I was watching it, I had another idea--I think the ship I remember with the MARU name was in the original King Kong. If you don't see this, I may have to get it out of the library.

08-09-2000, 09:38 PM
From http://members.home.net/trivia/w117.htm 9. What was the name of the ship with which Godzilla made initial contact in the original movie?
"Eiko-Maru". The name was inspired by the fishing boat "Fukyuri Maru", which accidentally wandered too close to the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test area in the mid-'50s; most of the crew came down with radiation sickness, which proved fatal to some of them. The incident re-awakened the nuclear fears of the Japanese, and helped inspire "Godzilla".
I have wondered whether the fishing boat also inspired the name "Kobayashi Moru", used as the name of a Starfleet Academy command exercise in the second Star Trek movie, "The Wrath of Khan". The scenario begins with a distress signal from a disabled vessel "Kobayashi Moru" (I don't know about Moru, but Kobayashi is a common Japanese surname), which has accidentally strayed into the Neutral Zone separating Federation and Klingon Empire space.

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