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San

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.

Comments

Hi,Kiyo. The info written above is really interesting and new to me. At the university we are to call our japaneese "sensei" with the suffix "san": Vatanaba-san or Sugisima-san.
And a question. Have you ever read smth by Haruki Murakami? Do you like it? He is heard to be not so popular in Japan, isnt he?

Kiyo-chan? Kawaii!!

What about "Kiyo-sensei" since I learn so much from you?

i guess hatano-kun was very popular in school! haha, i wish paburo-kun was more popular ;]

is -dono still used?? i've only seen it in chanbara hehe.

one very important thing you forgot to mention is that -san and -sama should not be assigned to oneself never ever.

in english you can say "I am Mister Collins", but in japanese is wrong to say "watashiwa korinsu-san desu (i am collins-san)."

a LOT of gaijin make this mistake.

Wow, thanks for the breakdown! For English speakers (at least in the US), we don't really have an equivalent, particularly one that doesn't denote gender. Sometimes when I respond to emails at work, I don't know whether to address them as Mr. or Ms. (if it's not a name that I can tell). Would be a ton easier if I could just add a -san to the end of their name =)

I think they have something similar in Korean, as far as I can tell from watching Korean tv with English subtitles. They add a -shi to the end of girls' names and -i (ee) at the end of boys' names?

I learn so much from you! I must see if I can try to learn Japanese. I guess I'm studying so much at the moment, one more subject to study won't hurt.
Besides, I bet I'd have a great contact and friend in you Kiyo, if I ever need assistance.

It'd be great if my entry could be of some use to you. Thanks, guys. And I learn a lot from you guys too. :) Hey, I'm "tereru," Jennifer! CC, what about Taiwanese?

Alex, I have read his essays only. His writings are easy to read. He seems to have both earnest fans and haters.

Rae, that sounds great! If you will, I'll be glad to assist you any time.

Oh, and thanks for the follow-up, Paburo. You have great taste in Japanese.

Very interesting. This is a silly reference, but when I saw The Karate Kid as a child, I always thought Mr. Miagi (sp?) was saying "Daniel-son" but now I realize he was saying "-san".

And now I know why. Cool.

You know what's kind of funny? Sometimes the Taiwanese will use the -san, particularly in the older generations. That's because Taiwan was a colony of Japan from 1894 to 1945.

It's mostly used with last names (rarely with first) and typically only with last names that will sound okay with the -san attached to the end: i.e. Lee-san, Kou-san, Lin-san. With other last names, they just add an -eh at the end: i.e. Dan-eh, Ong-eh, Eng-eh. I just thought of it now when you asked about the Taiwanese, Kiyo =)

Glad that helped, bcj. Daniel-son -- it can be. :)

Oh yeah, CC...that gives me mixed feeling. Thanks for the input.