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Old 05-19-2005, 11:26 AM   #1
Ima's Avatar
Location: New England
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7
Japanese names when used in English?

What is the correct way to say a Japanese persons name when conversing with them in English?

Lets look at an American name for reference: George Washington.

If I were to meet this man he would be introduced to me as:
Mr. George Washington

His First name (or given name) is George and his Family name (or surname) is Washington.
When this name is written in English it is: George Washington.
In both written and verbal forms the given name is first and the Family name is second.
When I speak to him or if I were to introduce him to someone I would call him Mr. Washington -- Or in an informal setting I might call him and refer to him as George.

However, In Japanese (I believe) the Family (surname) is written first
As in:
Toshiro Mifune
AND I believe when the name is brought into English it stays this way

Toshiro is the Family name (surname)


Mifune is his first name (given name)

But --
Question 1 -- Even though his name is written Toshiro Mifune, If he were to introduce himself to me would he not introduce himself as Mifune Toshiro? i.e. reverse of how it is written

Question 2 - When I speak to him or refer to him in a formal setting do I not say Mr. Toshiro?

Question 3 - In an informal setting might I call him Mifune as I would call the previous gentleman George?

Question 4 - Is this the case for other Asian languages as well, Chinese and Korean for example?

Thank you for any information
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Old 05-19-2005, 12:21 PM   #2
akiy's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 6,053
Re: Japanese names when used in English?

In the example given above, "Toshiro" would be the actor's first/given name and "Mifune" would be his last/surname.

In America and other English speaking countries, I introduce myself as "Jun Akiyama." I guess I would and have done that in other languages such as Spanish and German as well. In Japan, I would most likely introduce myself as "Akiyama Jun" ("Akiyama Jun to moushi masu").

When I talk about a Japanese person in English, how I refer to him/her depends on my relationship with that person. For example, my aikido instructor (who is Japanese) would be referred to by his last name and "sensei" (eg "Mifune sensei," if Toshiro Mifune were my aikido instructor) due to the fact that he is hierarchically above me in the aikido world. If I weren't doing aikido and he was just someone whom I knew but not familiarly, then I would probably refer to him in English as "Mr. Mifune" but in Japanese as "Mifune san." Only in contexts where there is no personal relationship (eg speaking of Toshiro Mifune the actor) or in instances where I might be implying some sort of equality (eg when speaking of someone else in my class level in school), familiarity, or even derision/condescencion would I just call someone by their last name (eg "Mifune"). About the only Japanese people whom I would personally feel comfortable referring to by their first name are those with whom I am familiar (eg family friends) or those who is at or "below" my relative hierarchical place in society (eg same age or younger).

This is just my experience...

-- Jun

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Old 05-19-2005, 03:33 PM   #3
James Young
Location: Orange County, CA
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 87
Re: Japanese names when used in English?

I believe Jun answered questions 1-3. To answer question 4, yes, both Korean and Chinese commonly use the same practice, i.e. surname followed by given name.
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