Last time I wrote about how the name a person calls another says a lot about their relationship, whether they use the person’s family name with an honorific name prefix like -san (indicating distance or formality) or boldly call them by their first name, like Haruhi does to Mikuru despite Mikuru being a year older than her. Since Japan’s complex system of name endings can be complex, I thought I’d go over them them for you.
The “basic” name suffix that everyone has heard of. It is polite, and is used to create some distance between the person you’re speaking with. Can be used with the family name (e.g. Fujita-san), and also with the first name (Tomo-san) to show politeness while also showing some familiarity.
Used when addressing females you’re close to, and female children. Always used with the first name, e.g. Kana-chan. Pronounced with a long “ah” vowel sound as in “Khan,” not short as in “plan.” Also used for family members of any sex (e.g. oniichan as a term of endearment for one’s older brother). Males adding -chan to female names in workplace settings is frowned upon as rude.
Usually used for male acquaintances, though in some settings it can be used for females, such as the military or university campuses. Fun fact: the second syllable of the word “tycoon” is this word, from an archaic title for the Shogun of Japan
A term of formality and respect. A good example of a word you’ll hear in anime all the time which is never used in modern spoken Japanese, though it comes up in formal written Japanese.
A name suffix and general term for an upperclassman in a school or senior in a company. The opposite is kohai, though this is never used as a name suffix when addressing people.
A term of respect for teachers, also used with politicians, attorneys and…accountants? Literally means “born before me.” (first name only)
(lit. “throwing a name away”), using a person’s given name without anything on the end is done between close friends or dating couples. I once caused confusion by talking to the mother of a female student of mine, and since I used the girl’s first name, the mother thought I was involved with her daughter. Awkward! nicknames In Japan, virtually everyone from Brad Pitt and Arnold Schwarzenegger get cute little names attached to them, and many characters in anime stress out if they’re not being called by some cute unique name by their friends. My own nickname is “P-Chan,” a name I inhered from an old cat we had, not from where you’d probably expect.
Haruhi fails to show respect to her senpai, Mikuru, but it’s okay because she’s God.