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Useful Notes / Names in Japanese

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This page concerns the Japanese naming convention and how they are ordered.

Naming convention

Names in Japanese people consist of a given name and a family name. Middle names are something that never caught on in Japan, so most middle names are restricted to foreigners and their children, either full or mixed.

Japanese given names are made up of either one, two (most common), or three kanji and have up to four syllables. The last kanji usually gives out the gender of names quickly; names ending in -rō (郎, "boy"), -hiko (彦, "young man"), -maru (丸, "circle"), or -suke (介, "care"), for example, are masculine, while names ending in -ko (子 "child"), -mi (美, "beautiful"), or -na (菜, "greens") are feminine. There are numerous gender neutral names, however. Until World War II, it was a common practice to write girls' names with the kana syllabaries. Modern times have seen resurgence of writing girls' names with hiragana, whose curly shapes have long been considered feminine or cute.


Reading given name kanji is a notoriously difficult affair (see the page image for Alternate Character Reading). Unlike other words or phrases, there is really no set of rules concerning how to spell someone's given name, so parents are free to choose which kanji to name their children with and how to pronounce them. Most of the time, parents are sensible enough to use conventional on'yomi or kun'yomi readings, so people can guess them. Others, however, choose to pick a reading that is so distanced from expectation. There is a class of kanji readings called nanori, which is basically "whatever syllables the parents want to name their children with". This level of creativity only gets worse in modern times, where parents can name their children after puns, wordplays, or even foreign words "nativized" into Japanese (e.g. Light from Death Note, whose name is an English word, but is written with the kanji for "moon" (月). Contrary to all the squabbles within the fandom, this is completely acceptable in modern Japanese). As a result, even in formal situations, given names are always accorded furigana above/beside them.


Family names in contrast are less random, with mostly predictable kun'yomi or on'yomi readings. Names are usually rooted in topography, hence why a lot of them have yama (山, "mountain"), ta (田, "rice field"), or kawa (川, "river"), to name a few, in them. Others are taken from place or historical clan names. These can have up to five syllables.

Among East Asian societies, Japanese family names are notably varied and numerous, with hundreds of thousands existing even to this day. This is because family name in Japan is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the Meiji Restoration, the only people who have family names were those born into the aristocratic or Samurai clans. Among the Westernization efforts of the government when they opened up the country was the mandatory adoption of family names for everyone except for the royal family, which is why they are the only people in the country outside of foreigners to have Only One Name.note 


In English, addressing someone by their family name is formal and can sound stilted if you're speaking to, for example, a classmate or co-worker. In Japanese, however, it's common to address acquaintances by their family name, and use of the given name is limited to when you're speaking to a child or someone you're very close with; it's overly familiar and therefore rude to address someone by their given name if you don't have a close relationship with them. It's also rude to refer to them with just given or family names unless you're extra close with them, hence why there is an extensive set of honorifics.

Name order

Names in the Japanese Language have the family name first, followed by the given name. This is the so-called "eastern" name order, not restricted to Japan, but common to East Asia as a whole, and, for historical reasons, Hungary.

In most cases in Real Life, English-speakers saying Japanese names will put them into Western order. For example, the man called Tezuka Osamu in Japanese is known in English as Osamu Tezuka. This is not as often applied to names in other languages; otherwise, the leaders of China, North Korea, and South Korea would be referred to as Jintao Hu, Jong-Il Kim, and Myung-Bak Lee in the Western media. Note that the names of historical figures who predated the Meiji Restoration are customarily not supposed to be switched around, hence why 16th century shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu has the same order in Japanese, whereas WWII-era Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki becomes Hideki Tojo.

Depending on Translation Style Choices, English-language manga and anime translations may or may not opt to shift name orders as part of the localization process. It is possible to find both straight and reversed forms of the same character names being used by different people on the Internet, and even on this very wiki.

Things also get interesting when anime and manga use non-Japanese names. Between cultural differences in how names are ordered and the ideas some Japanese writers have about what constitutes a "Western-sounding" name to begin with, there are some cases in which fans aren't clear on which name is supposed to be a character's given name and which is their family name.

  • The Gundam franchise, for example, features casts of characters with Western-sounding (or, in some cases, completely bizarre) names. These seem to be mostly given in Western order (for example, Kamille Bidan's parents are Franklin and Hilda Bidan), but occasional oddities crop up, such as nearly everyone being on First-Name Basis even in a military setting, which results in Char Aznable (named after Charles Aznavour) being referred to as "Captain Char." This is like saying "President Barack" instead of "President Obama". Or, for Rule of Funny, like saying "President Ronnie" instead of "President Reagan".
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 uses Western name order for Setsuna F. Seiei in spite of his mostly-Japanese Meaningful Name; then again, it's a codename (complete with middle initial; see above for middle names) and Setsuna is from Qurac, not Japan. Wang Liu Mei's name appears to be given in Eastern order.
  • While most characters in One Piece have Western-sounding names, many of those have a surname-first order, starting with the protagonist: Luffy's surname is supposed to be Monkey (as in, "Luffy D. Monkey"), but apparently Eiichiro Oda forgot that most Western names are(n't) ordered in reverse, so we ended up with Monkey D. Luffy, son of Monkey D. Dragon, and grandson of Monkey D. Garp. Some translations attempted to rectify this, but it didn't stick.
  • Kallen from Code Geass has a Britannian father and a Japanese mother, therefore two names: Kallen Stadfeld with western and Kouzuki Kallen with eastern name order. Which name she uses in a given situation indicates which persona she's using as well.
  • Oddly enough, Viz's translations of the Naruto and Rurouni Kenshin manga use the Japanese style "family name first" format, while their English dubs of their respective anime use the reversed Western style. Two exceptions to this in Naruto are Rock Lee and Might Guy, who retain their Japanese name orders to also keep the puns in their names.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, people's names in the real world are in Western order. The characters inside the book, however, use the Japanese order.
  • Most names in Toward the Terra are given in Western order, except for those of the Seki family; Seki Ray Shiroe's family name is Seki (his father is addressed as "Mr. Seki") and his given name is Shiroe.
  • The American versions of Samurai Warriors games gives names in Western order (so, Nobunaga Oda and Yukimura Sanada). This, of course, disregards the convention of keeping the name order of pre-1868 Japanese historical figures intact. This is retained in the Warriors Orochi crossover despite the (Chinese) Dynasty Warriors characters having their surnames first.