Living in Japan can be a dream come true for many people.
Japan is a beautiful country full of experiences, adventures, and a completely different culture compared to the United States.
Japan has differences in their food, style, values, dress code, and of course, their names.
If you’re interested in going to Japan, it’s important to brush up on various names that are popular in Japan.
This will help you interact with the Japanese community more easily and can help you make friends and be more social while you’re away.
The most popular boy names in Japan include Haruto, Minato, Haruki, Sota, Yuto, and Riku, among others.
These names are common in Japanese culture and in the media.
You will hear them during your travels and knowing how to pronounce them can help you make friends and understand the language better.
Where do Japanese names come from?
Japan is a country that is steeped in deep tradition and culture. More traditional Japanese names include:
Japanese names are composed of two parts, the surname and the given name. In Japanese culture, the surname comes before the given name.
For instance, if someone is named John Smith, in Japan they would be referred to as Smith John.
Someone with the last name Smith (the surname) can change their surname after it is inherited from their father.
For instance, Japanese women can change their surname after marriage.
A given name will be assigned at birth, and this name is someone’s first name (or second, in Japan).
Do you call someone by their surname in Japan?
Yes, in Japanese culture you call someone by their last name, which is their surname. For instance, instead of saying Haruto Sanae, you will say Sanae Haruto.
These surnames are used in all instances unless speaking to a child.
Names are spelled in Kanji, which is the traditional symbolic language of the Japanese people.
Kanji is used to spell surnames, especially male surnames. Some Japanese females might prefer to spell their name in hiragana or katakana.
If you’re only visiting Japan to socialize, it won’t be necessary to learn the spelling of names. However, recognizing the sound of names is important.
What if I mispronounce a name?
If you mispronounce a name, you should quickly correct it or clarify with your friend the correct way to pronounce their name.
It can be offensive to repeatedly call someone by the wrong name.
In addition, Japanese people will find it offensive if you call them by their first name. Doing so can be seen as a sign of disrespect.
Think of it as calling someone by their childhood nickname or referring to someone as a child.
Because Japanese people usually reserve calling by the first name for children, always ensure you are saying the correct surname.
This is especially important if you’re visiting Japan on official business. Calling one of your executives by the wrong name could prove costly.
In addition, it’s never a bad idea to ask once, twice, or even three times for someone to clarify their name. Chances are, they will appreciate that you are trying so hard to get it right.
Speaking of formal environments, it’s also important to attach the suffix “san” to the end of someone’s name when addressing them.
“san” can be thought of like the American version of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and is, therefore, necessary to attach to the end of a surname.
For instance, if someone’s surname is Haruto, refer to them as Harutosan.
Think about how offended you would be if someone would refer to you only by your last name.
For instance, if your boss called you into the office and said, “Hey, Smith,” or one of your colleagues called you by your last name.
Using only the surname is reserved for special instances, such as being in the military.
If you don’t have to attach “san” to the surname, this can be seen as offensive, more so than even calling someone by their first name.
The nuances of honorific name-calling
Although adding “san” to the end of a name is the right call, it’s important to remember that not all Japanese people will do this in real-life settings.
True, members of the military might leave the “san” out altogether. But so can close friends to each other in casual settings.
It can be confusing as a foreigner to know when it is appropriate to use the suffix “san.”
As a foreigner, you might also be confused if someone doesn’t refer to you as “Smith San” or “Lopez-san.” Does this mean they are trying to disrespect you?
Should you be offended? Absolutely not!
In Japan, Japanese people want to show the utmost respect to western traditions.
As such, they might not add the suffix san to your last name, especially if they understand that this is not common practice in the United States.
If they do add the suffix, you should feel honored that they are addressing you in such a traditional method.
This is a great sign that your colleagues, employers, and friends are beginning to trust you and show signs of respect.
How to work on your pronunciation
In order to improve your Japanese pronunciation of names, the best thing to do before your trip is practice!
To help you, download some audiobooks that can teach you about the Japanese language. Audiobooks are a lot better than regular written texts.
Audiobooks narrated by professional Japanese speakers will allow you to hear the language and all the nuances in its true form.
If you don’t want to learn off of an audiobook, YouTube videos are an excellent source of information as well.
Not only can online blogs and videos teach you the importance of proper namecalling in Japan, teach you how to pronounce names, and respect the culture, but they can also help you find the best attractions to visit.
If you’re an anime fan or love Manga, these are also great resources to help you learn the language and be exposed to a variety of different names.
Keep in mind, not all of these names are 100% accurate, and some of them might be mixed with a bit of fantasy.
In either case, learning how to pronounce names properly can help you get along with Japanese people, as well as be seen as more respectful.
There are plenty of traditional and popular names for boys and girls in Japan. These popular names are not traditional “first names” like we have in the United States.
Instead, they are surnames passed down through generations, from father to son and so on.
As such, it’s important as a tourist to be able to pronounce these names and respect the Japanese people and their culture.
To help you out, do lots of research on Japanese traditions, ask for help, and listen to audio guides.