Japanese/Lessons/Personal suffixes and name usage

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Personal suffixes and name usage[edit]

When addressing other persons, one should always be aware of three things: the status (in the social hierarchy) of the person one is addressing, the difference between one's own status and the listener's status, and one's degree of familiarity with that person. Depending on this information one chooses a particular way of addressing the other person.

In Japanese, personal suffixes are used for expressing the speaker's honor, respect or friendship. Sometimes titles or professions may also be used as a suffix.

Please note that to say "you" in Japan when addressing someone is quite rude, sometimes even offensive. That's why this is one of the first topics in this course, so every student, who has just started to learn Japanese, will not offend anyone by mistake.

The most common way of addressing is by surname with an appropriate personal suffix. Japanese people always put their family names before their given names when both should be told (for example, when introducing themselves or writing letters). Unlike Western society where it is common to address people by their given names, in Japanese society even friends may not know each others' given names, and even if they do know, it is not common to use given names very much except between very close friends. Note that the term "given name" is used where in Western languages the term "first name" would normally be used.

Close friends may address each other using given names or nicknames (for example, a given or family name shortened to one to two first syllables). Appropriate personal suffixes may or may not be added to the end of these names. Addressing one without a personal suffix indicates an almost family-like level of friendship.

Another way to address a person is by title or profession, sometimes appended with an appropriate personal suffix. Yet again, addressing a person this way is more polite than saying "you".

One more note: never ever use any personal suffix when referring to yourself in a conversation. Titles and suffixes are used to indicate honor and respect, and it is inappropriate for you to honor yourself this way.

Popular personal suffixes[edit]

~さん
~さん is the most universal and commonly used suffix. May be used in every situation, even when just meeting or greeting someone. Romanized as San.
~さま (様)
~さま is more honorable than ~さん, it emphasizes the fact that the speaker is (or wants to express that he/she is) far below the addressed person's social status. This is the common way to address clients/customers (for example, at stores and markets), and it is also sometimes used for one's parents. Other popular uses are to indicate extremely deep respect and honor to the person addressed, or to express that the speaker is a servant (in more like the medieval meaning of this word) of the person addressed. It is also universally used after the name of the addressee when writing an address on an envelope. Romanized as Sama.
~ちゃん
~ちゃん is typically used after girls' names, but is also used for small children of either sex. Among adults, it may be used between close friends. It is commonly regarded as a "girly" suffix (used when speaking to, or among girls), but it is sometimes used to address boyfriends or other boys or adult men, so perhaps a more correct translation would be "cute" or "little". Pets are frequently referred to using this diminutive as well. ~ちゃん often indicates a certain fondness. Romanized as Chan.
~くん (君)
~くん is typically used after a boy's name, but may occasionally be used after a girl's. It is also sometimes used when referring to males of equal or lower status than oneself (for example, when a boss speaks to a subordinate, or a professor speaks to a student). Schoolteachers typically address male students using ~くん, while female students are addressed with ~ちゃん until they enter junior high school, at which point they are addressed as ~さん. ~くん is also used among friends of similar social standing, and by parents and relatives to address older male children (instead of ~ちゃん). ~くん often indicates a certain fondness. Romanized as Kun.
~せんせい (先生)
used to refer to teachers, doctors, or smarter (older) people. Also you can just shout to an older person, sensei! instead of using a name.
~せんぱい (先輩)
Used to address senior (usually elder) students or coworkers, that have the same status as the speaker. Romanized as Senpai.

Additional personal suffixes[edit]

~どの (殿)
Nowadays mostly used in letters. It is also seen on drug prespcriptions, certificates and awards, and in written correspondence in tea ceremonies. Romanized as dono/tono.
~うえ (上)
うえ literally means "above" and, appropriately, denotes a high level of respect. Old-fashioned and not widely used anymore. It can be used to address parents or older siblings, instead of using ~さま. Romanized as ue.
~し (氏)
A neutral honorific. Used in some situations where, for whatever reason, the writer feels ~さん is inappropriate. It is preferred in legal documents, academic journals, and certain other formal written styles. It is fairly common in the news. Once a person's name has been used with ~し, the person can be referred to with し alone, without the name, as long as there is only one person being referred to. Romanized as Shi.
~かっか (閣下)
"Your Excellency", used for ambassadors and some heads of state. Romanized as Kakka.
~でんか (殿下)
Affixed to the end of a royal title, with a meaning roughly equivalent to "Royal Highness". It is used for royal family members. Romanized as Denka.
~へいか (陛下)
Affixed to the end of a royal title, with a meaning roughly equivalent to "Majesty". It is used for the King and Queen (or Emperor and Empress). へいか by itself can also be used as a direct term of address ("Your Majesty"). Romanized as Heika.

Examples[edit]

Standard salutation: surname with ~さん:

ほんださん - Mr/Mrs/Ms Honda

Title only:

しゃちょう (社長) - President (of a company)

Name and profession:

たかはしせんしゅ (高橋選手) - Athlete Takahashi (gold medal in the women's marathon in the 2000 Olympics)

Profession and honorific:

こうちょうせんせい (校長先生) - The principal/headmaster

Mandatory Kanji[edit]

先 (JIS 4068)
before, ahead, old
On: せん
生 (JIS 4038)
life, birth
On: せい
Kun: い(きる), う(まれる)
上 (JIS 3E65)
above, up
Kun: うえ
下 (JIS 323C)
below, down
On:
Kun: した

Optional Kanji[edit]

様 (JIS 4D4D)
~sama, respected person
On: よう, しょう
Kun: さま
君 (JIS 372F)
~kun, you
On: くん
Kun: きみ
輩 (JIS 475A)
comrade, fellow
On: はい
Kun: ばら, やから, やかい, ともがら
殿 (JIS 4542)
palace, temple, lord
On: てん
Kun: との
氏 (JIS 3B61)
mister
On:
Kun: うじ
閣 (JIS 3355)
tower, palace
On: かく
陛 (JIS 4A45)
highness, steps (of throne)
On: へい