Why Would You Name Your Son Toshiro?

By  · Published on November 22nd, 2016

Drew McWeeny on the deeper meaning of his son’s name and how it connects to one of the most iconic movie stars of all-time.

Looking back at it, I’m not sure I would have handled the announcement of my son’s birth and his name the same way that I did in 2005. At that point, I was still working at Ain’t It Cool News, where I was known primarily by my spy name, Moriarty. Harry Knowles couldn’t resist posting a huge birth announcement for Toshiro Lucas McWeeny, and the reaction from fandom was predictable enough. People talked about how he was going to get bullied over the name and how I was being selfish giving him a nerdy name like that, and many people jumped to conclusions about why I named him and what the significance was.

And, yes, on the surface of it, it sure does seem like I just pulled a few references to movies and saddled my son with them, but that’s not true. It was a long process, and not a simple one, to decide what to name him. There were endless discussions about what to name a boy and what to name a girl, and there were dozens of names on each list. And, yes, when I first considered the name Toshiro, it was only because I love Toshiro Mifune and consider him a perfect example of what a “movie star” is. It was only as we got closer to the actual event that I looked up the meaning of the word.

While “Toshiro” has many translations, the basic meaning of the name is “talented and intelligent.” It all depends on how it’s written and the context as to which fine variation of that applies. Knowing that basic definition, Toshiro Mifune’s name seems even more perfect than it originally did. After all, his versatility as an actor is what made him Akira Kurosawa’s favorite collaborator, and it is the ferocious intelligence behind those eyes that makes him such a compelling lead in a film. You can always see him thinking in his movies, and that’s not something that every actor automatically conveys. There is a vitality and a life to Mifune in his films that makes it feel like he’s about to erupt from the screen, like no movie is big enough to fully hold this personality.

One of the main reasons I pushed for the name, though, has to do with cultural identity and the idea of cultural appropriation. My wife was originally from Argentina, and when I met her, she was still in the early stages of becoming a legal citizen of the United States, and she worked for a lawyer who specialized in immigration law. Through my relationship with her, I got a good long look at the way immigrants to America have to navigate a surprisingly difficult system. I saw frustrations and heartbreak for people from all over the world who believed fervently in the American system, who had become infected with the American dream from a distance and who felt like they had a home waiting for them here. America is, literally, an immigrant nation. We all came from somewhere else unless your heritage is of the actual indigenous American natives, and everything we think of as “American” is the result of people who came here from somewhere else, chasing something, believing in something.

When my wife and I decided to have kids, one of the things we talked about was the idea of how to approach heritage and culture. I think it’s important that my kids understand and appreciate both sides of their heritage, and my wife has taken them to South America several times in order to give them a chance to experience it for themselves. They are both fluent Spanish speakers. Toshi looks almost exactly like me at his age. Fair skin, blonde, blue eyed. Allen, on the other hand, is dark-haired, with dark eyes, and you can see his Latino side more plainly. Knowing that my children were a combination of cultures, I wanted to throw the naming process out to any culture, basically. I didn’t want us to feel like we were stuck with a simple either/or equation, gringo or latino. And so we made our lists, and as we were making the lists, I was watching movies one night and watched High and Low, a particular favorite of mine from the Kurosawa/Mifune filmography. Mifune’s work in the film is remarkable, much of it played below the surface, and it was a reminder to me how versatile he was. Like many of the great movie stars, he feels emblematic. In his case, he was the first movie star to open my eyes to the world of international cinema. When I watched Mifune’s films when I was younger, I didn’t think of him as other. I felt the same way I did about all the movie stars I loved; I wanted to be him. I looked at him as a model of what masculine cool was, and I wanted to emulate him. My love of Toshiro Mifune made the world feel more connected for me. It opened me up to experiencing things that were not of my culture, things that became important to me. My children are the living embodiment of that idea. They are citizens of the world in a way I was not, and so when we discussed their names, we put down names from all over the world.

It was only when my wife realized she could shorten Toshiro to “Toshi” that she decided she loved the name. That was that. And to all of those people who were concerned on Toshi’s behalf, his name has not been an issue in any way to kids at his schools or in sports leagues where he’s played. People ask his name, he tells them, and they move on. He’s never once come to me upset about it or feeling like it was a burden. It is amazing, frankly, just how much of a non-deal it’s been. I think his classes and his teams have always been so multi-cultural that his name doesn’t stand out at all. Everyone who knows him has trouble imagining him with any other name. It’s so completely his that it seems appropriate. And now, thanks to the release of Mifune: The Last Samurai, Toshi gets to take a deep dive into the work of the man who inspired that name in the first place. He’s excited to see it, and I’m excited to talk to him about it afterwards. Whatever he thinks of Mifune, it’s clear to me that he has lived up to the name already.

Drew McWeeny is a film critic, screenwriter, and editor who is best known for his time as Moriarty at Ain’t It Cool News, as well as being one of the prominent voices that launched He can be found (for now) at Pulp & Popcorn and co-hosting the podcast ’80s All Over. Follow him on Twitter here.

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