How I Named My Baby: Millie Sakura
Saya Fukuda, shoe designer and CEO of Sand by Saya, and James Storr Brown, who works in finance, live in New York City.
They welcomed their first child together — daughter Millie Sakura — in 2021. She joined James’ teenage twins, Oliver and Jasmine.
Here, we talked with Saya about how she and James named their little girl.
How did you choose the name Millie?
I’m Japanese, and my parents don’t speak English that well. It’s easier for Japanese people to pronounce L sounds. We don’t have an R sound in Japanese.
I had a list of 50 different names that could be pronounced easily in Japanese. I asked my husband to pick something off that list. He wanted Molly, but I didn’t like that it’s also the name of a drug. It’s a very English name — and my husband is English — so I thought he wanted something that felt connected to his culture. Millie is very British too. It’s beautiful and I like that you can write it in Japanese letters.
I can pick the kanji — “mi” can mean “beautiful,” and “li” is “countryside.” Like beautiful nature! But I could pick different letters to write Millie in Japanese and it would give it a different meaning.
What’s the story behind Sakura?
Sakura means “cherry blossom.” Her birthday is March 27, which is Cherry Blossom Day in Japan. I didn’t even know! James’ mom in England said, “it’s cherry blossom season right now — why don’t you make her middle name Sakura?” It’s a very cute girl name. It’s pink and I love it! After Millie was born, my cousin in Japan told me that her birthday was Sakura day.
What were the other names on your list?
We didn’t do the gender reveal until I was seven months pregnant, at Christmas. I had pages in my notebook of girl names and boy names. For a girl, my top ten was Lily, Chloe, Luna, Stella, Layla, Abby, Sienna, Lydia, Mila, and Millie. I didn’t have a top ten for boys, but I liked Orson, Oscar, Dylan, Milo, Julian, Harry, Luca, Noah, Leo, Kai, Sage, and Ace.
I wanted something different from all the other kids. I didn’t want Millie to have four or five other girls in her class with her name, like my husband James. James is a great name, but it’s so popular.
Did you talk to people about baby names?
I didn’t talk to my parents, but I wanted to consider James’s mom a little more because she’s in England and she can’t really see her grandchildren that often. That was part of the reason I wanted Millie to have an English name.
My mother-in-law liked all the names on my list. She was so easygoing! In the end I was deciding between Millie and Mila. I had to see her face, and we decided on the name five days later.
I wanted everyone to approve the name I picked. My husband and his parents had to feel comfortable with it and I wanted my parents to pronounce it easily. It was very difficult!
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
Isla is very popular. Luna — oh my god! Thank goodness I didn’t put Luna on my list. Layla, Ella, and Ivy. Stella is a popular name for teenagers now.
How do you feel about your own name, and how did that influence your choice?
My full name is Sayaka. The first letter is more of a boy name. It’s unique and means “pure,” “water,” and “clean” all in one kanji letter. That kanji letter comes from my ancestors. Everyone in my family has that kanji letter, but pronounces it in a different way, like Kiyoka, Kiyoshi, or Sayaka.
My name is difficult for Americans to pronounce unless they have experience with Japanese. I didn’t want Millie to have a confusing name. Her last name is Storr Brown, which is a lot. She’s English and Japanese, born in America — that’s already confusing! Millie is simple, clear, and easy to understand.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting the baby name process?
You have to really think about the root and meaning of the name. I feel really comfortable that I spoke with his parents. This was the first thing we did together as a family and living in different countries it was very important.
How was naming a brand different than naming a baby?
I had to define the concept when naming my brand. I make summer sandals and my name is Sayaka — the double S of Sand by Saya was great. People understand it easily.
Millie’s name has to give her opportunities. She’s going to be independent of me later. Like what I did. I separated myself from my parents and I’m sure Millie will travel to other countries and do whatever she wants to do. Her name has to go with her. I want her to be international and global, like her name.
How do you describe your style beyond baby names?
I love vintage furniture. Busy but not too busy. A little bit of nature and old stuff mixed with modern stuff.
My brand is inspired by New York architecture and culture. The old and the new are always mixed here — that’s one of the beautiful things about New York. And I grew up in Hong Kong, which is all mixed too. My background is very diverse. I grew up in Hong Kong, then moved to Tokyo for ten years when I was in high school. It was a very different culture! Now I’ve been in New York for 13 years.
I created my brand 12 years ago, right after I moved here. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I moved to Japan. In New York, everybody’s doing something. When I said I wanted to be a designer, everyone was like, “Okay! I know those people; do you want to be introduced?” Everyone went through that same path.
I always thought I was unique and talented — it was the time to prove it! But when I was in Japan and said I wanted to be a designer, people would be like, “Huh? Are you crazy? You can’t be a designer if you’re over 20 years old.” If you didn’t get a degree in design, you can’t do it. It’s difficult for young kids to do unique things in Japan.
I give fashion business lectures to kids in Japan, and this is what I tell them. Your friend is not going to be your competitor. You are the competitor of yourself! You have to focus on what you really want to do, even if people say you cannot do it.
Saya's (and Millie's) Favorite Things
Thank you so much, Saya!