One of the good things in blogging is that you can be inspired to write about a certain topic by your fellow bloggers or visitors. Yesterday's entry was just that. And today, responding to bcj.'s request, I'll blog about Japanese honorific suffixes that are attached to people's names. Actually, I've been wondering about the use of them in the English context.
Basically in Japanese, you are supposed to use a certain honorific suffix to a person's name depending on how close you are to the person, what you think about him/her, or what position you are in. Not using one could mean either you are on very familiar terms with the person or look down on him/her.
Here are the frequently used suffixes:
-san is a universal one, and so the safest choice. It can show respect, politeness, and friendliness. It's a lot like Mr. or Mrs. in English, but can be used to first names as well. If you were "John Smith," you would almost certainly be called "John-san" or "Smith-san (Sumisu-san, more precisely)" at first in Japan.
-kun is used mainly for males. Typically by seniors to juniors, or girls to boys. When I was in high school, I was called "Hatano-kun" by girls.
-chan is mostly used for/among girls, and for kids. It denotes cuteness. Those who call me "Kiyo-chan" even now are my aunts, and, *cough*, my wife.
-sama is an extremely polite suffix to address people. Generally, it's used on business occasions, or addresses on mails. David Beckham, a star England footballer, is now called "Beckham-sama" by some fans in Japan.
So, have you got the picture?
In the Japanese sphere on the Net, it's a common practice to address someone's name using "-san", whether it's a handle or a real name. And it has been haunting me whether I should use this suffix when using English as well, especially to Japanese folks. Even though, say, I often address Eri as "Eri" on this blog, I'd never call her so when communicating in Japanese, or talking face to face. It's always "Eri-san" and should be so. Calling you folks by your first names here while addressing Japanese persons exclusively with "-san" sounds strange to me... but at the same time, that could not entirely be so, taking our cultural differences into consideration. Hey, I'm in a fix.
That said, for my part, I don't have any sense of discomfort being called as "Kiyo", whether the person addressing me is a Japanese or not. I prefer "Kiyo" to "Kiyoharu," which can sound awkward in speaking English. Actually, I often ask people from other countries to call me Kiyo when I get to know them.
So, feel free to call me Kiyo as always. And even if you are to talk to me in Japanese, if you think I'm a friend of yours, just call me this way. Yeah.