Probably the most interesting way 命 can be used is to write mikoto, which is the "highness" (as in "your") that I mentioned above. "Highness" is, obviously, a gross translation that takes the cultural context out back and breaks its kneecaps; the word mikoto is from /mi/ (honorific) + /koto/ ("word") and was first used to refer respectfully to what gods and emperors said, or did, or were -- the distinction was not always clear-cut, as is often the case with gods and emperors*. In any case, that is why everyone who's anyone in Japanese mythology has a name ending in -no-Mikoto.
15 December 2006
No-Sword on the Kanji of the Year
Matt the language blogger of No-sword offers some etymological insights into Japan's Kanji of the Year, 命 inochi 'life'. Here's a snippet.