What’s In a Name: Rei Ayanami

Some of you long-term followers have figured out by now my posts tend to follow certain themes. Character analysis. How to build a series. The power of N. Stuff like that.

What’s In a Name is something I’ve already touched on once without using the title. We figured out that Chise Hatori from The Ancient Magus’ Bride is always the butt of bird jokes because her name contains the Japanese word for bird.


Neon Genesis Evangelion is noted for a lot of reasons, and one is a screwy choice made by the creators: a number of characters are named for World War Two warships. Katsuragi. Akagi. Aoba. Poor Asuka Langley Soryu. She’s named for TWO aircraft carriers – the USS Langley and the IJN Soryu – that were both sunk in 1942.

Rei Ayanami.

Rei blink

Rei Ayanami

IJN Ayanami was a Fubuki-class destroyer sunk in 1942. The Ayanami tried to mix it up with a battleship, the USS Washington, and got the worst of it. But that ties Rei into that whole warship naming thing.

If you type the word Rei into Google Translate, GT says it means “an example.”

Yeah, uh, maybe not.

First of all, the story is that Rei is named for Rei Hino, a.k.a. Sailor Mars. Supposedly this was done to get one of the Sailor Moon team on board for Neon Genesis.

Didn’t work. Oops. Oh, well. After all, what’s in a name?

Let me tell you what’s in a name.

In studying Japanese on Duolingo … well, it can be frustrating because they don’t tell you anything. You look at it and you make the connection by repetition or you don’t.

There’s another use for the word “rei” in Japanese.

Sure. Written language is the sounds of the language. The same sound can be different words. To, too, two, right? So there are a couple words that are pronounced rei but have meanings that are determined by context.

“Gogo rei ji” translates into colloquial English as “12 pm.” “Gogo” = pm, “ji” = hours or time, so that leaves “rei” = 12. But it doesn’t. Twelve is jyuni.

And stupid Duolingo doesn’t actually tell you what the words mean, only how they translate colloquially. So I figured in this context rei was the equivalent to noon or midnight, a word of that sort. That would have been interesting in and of itself if it was true. It ain’t.

Then I got an actual BOOK, you know something that would actually explain all this crap. I got it because Japanese has a bunch of particles – wa, ni, wo, ga, he, no, de – and you’re never sure which to use if you don’t know what they are doing, so I wanted something to explain it to me.

But one of the first things in the book is counting. You know. One = ichi, two = ni, three = san and so on.

Zero I knew from Duolingo. It’s loan word, a word from another language, ゼロ, written in katakana rather than hiragana because it’s a loan word. Literally, it translates as ze ro.

Rei is zero

I have my finger on ichi, ni, and san.

In Japanese another word for zero is rei. Oh, okay. Gogo rei ji. Literally it’s “PM zero hours,” like a soldier might say.


The pilot of Eva unit Zero is named Zero.

The girl with zero personality (because she sees herself as a tool and tools don’t have personalities) is named Zero.

The girl who shows zero emotion (because she sees herself as a tool and tools don’t have emotions) is named Zero.

Rei dies twice and each time she comes back (is replaced by another clone) that, in terms of personality, starts at … well, you know the word by now.

By god, by naming her Rei they’re telling us everything we need to know about Rei, and in English we don’t get it because we don’t know that Rei means zero!

Now that’s a tori of a different color.

Now, before I fly too far into the heavens, let’s remember that there’s an old meme among writers. It goes like this:

“What the writer wrote: ‘The curtains were blue.’
“What the lit professor said: ‘The blue curtains symbolize the narrator’s deep depression.’
“What the writer meant: ‘The curtains were fucking blue.’”

Maybe there’s nothing more to it than Rei Ayanami’s named after Rei Hino. I don’t know enough about Rei Hino to know whether Zero is a good name for her, although in the manga she’s supposed to have a cold, flat personality not unlike Rei Ayanami’s (not at all like the anime).

For that matter, I don’t know what Rei means as a name.

But doesn’t it say a lot that Rei is a word for Zero?

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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