As with standard Japanese names, a shikona consists of the equivalent of a 'surname' and a 'given' name, and the full name is written surname first. However, the given name is rarely used outside formal or ceremonial occasions. Thus, the former yokozuna Asashōryū Akinori is usually referred to as simply Asashōryū. When addressing a sumo wrestler of the makuuchi or jūryō divisions, the suffix -zeki (関) should be used instead of the usual Japanese -san. The given name is often, but not always, the wrestler's actual name, though it generally resembles a Japanese male given name. These are changed more often than the surname of the shikona, at the whim of the individual wrestler. Foreign wrestlers always take a different given name, which is invariably a Japanese male given name.
Often, on first joining professional sumo, a wrestler's shikona is the same as his family name. As a wrestler rises through the ranks of sumo, there is an expectation that he will change his shikona to something different than his family name. Often stables expect their wrestler to adopt a new shikona upon entering the professional jūryō division. However, the timing depends on the naming traditions of individual stables. The wrestlers at Kokonoe stable for example, often adopt a different shikona upon entering the lower sandanme division, while wrestlers at Sadogatake stable generally take a shikona different from their family names from joining as a trainee, even if that shikona is simply the character 琴 (read: koto) attached to the beginning of their family names.
The naming choices for wrestlers vary widely depending on the individual stable's tradition and somewhat less on the preferences of the wrestler. For example, Oguruma stable has the tradition of its wrestlers eventually adopting a shikona ending in the character 風 (read: kaze), which derives from the name of the stable's founder, Kotokaze. In another example of a naming tradition, many but not all wrestlers from the long established Dewanoumi stable adopt a shikona beginning with the characters 出羽 (read: dewa), derived from the name of the stable. On an individual basis, many wrestlers' shikona are often associated with where they are from. One example is the prevalence of wrestlers from Hokkaido who use the first character of Hokkaidō, which is 北, meaning "north," in their shikona.
Wrestlers that show promise may also take the shikona of a well established wrestler of the past to whom they have some sort of connection, such as being from the same stable or being a close relative. An historic example of wrestlers from the same stable are the two yokozuna named Umegatani, while a more modern example would be the two long time top division regulars named Tochinowaka. A past example a wrestler taking the shikona of a close relative is the former ōzeki Tochiazuma, son of the former sekiwake Tochiazuma. A current example is the maegashira Sadanoumi, son of former komusubi Sadanoumi.
While most wrestlers keep their shikona unchanged after changing it from their family name, some have been known to change their established shikona for other reasons, some of which are trying to change their luck, reinvigorate themselves, or other personal whims. One example is former Kotoōshū, whose performance had been disappointing since promotion to ōzeki, so there was a subtle change to the last character of his name, with 琴欧州 becoming 琴欧洲, in a bid for better results. Another example is the shikona of veteran ōzeki Kaiō (魁皇), which was originally set to be read Kaikō when he adopted it, but Kaiō was ultimately used as the pronunciation instead as it was felt to be a stronger-sounding name.
In rare instances, some sumo wrestlers have kept their real family names as their shikona, prominent examples being Wajima, Hasegawa, Dejima and Shimotori. A recent example is the popular wrestler Endō who has thus far chosen to keep his quite common family name as his shikona as this appears to be one aspect of his popularity among fans. Takayasu and Ishiura are other current wrestlers who use their family names.
Foreign wrestlers, largely due to the differences in the construction of their names, are from the beginning obliged to take a shikona different from their given surname and given names. Much more often than Japanese wrestlers, they are often shikona that give a clue as to their origin: the names of Russian brothers Rohō (露鵬) and Hakurozan (白露山) both contained the character 露, which is an abbreviation for Russia; Kotoōshū (琴欧州), a Bulgarian, the first European to reach the makuuchi (top) division, contains the characters 欧州, meaning Europe. Another notable example is the American Henry Armstrong Miller, who wrestled under the shikona Sentoryū (戦闘竜), which means "fighting war dragon" but is also homophonous with St. Louis, his city of origin. Mongolians are often identifiable as such, because many of them use either the character for eagle 鷲 (read: washi), horse 馬 (read: uma, ma, or ba), wolf 狼 (read: rō), or dragon 竜 or 龍 (read: ryū), which are all venerated in Mongolia.