Japanese names

I was watching a Little League World Series game Saturday, between US and Japan, and as the Japanese players introduced themselves (in Japanese) it confirmed something that I was vaguely aware of: we reverse the order of Japanese names. The person that we Americans would call “Hideo Nomo” (for example) would call himself Nomo Hideo.

On the other hand, Chinese names (I believe) also have the family name first – but we don’t reverse those. It’s “Mao tse-tung” in Chinese and in the US, even though “Mao” would be the family name (I’m going way out on a limb here…forgive me).

So why is the convention with Japanese names different?

A related question: I don’t speak a word of Japanese, but every player who used a name (either his own, or that of his favorite ballplayer) seemed to append a suffix of “-des” to the name (eg, “Nomo Hideo-des”). Was I hearing things, or is there something to this?

My understanding is that the family is more important than the individual in the Japanese culture.

Nomo Hideo desu.

*Desu *= is. What they’re saying is: My/His name is Nomo Hideo.

The “u” is generally not pronounced.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” to quote my friend Masahito. Obviously in a lot of cases, Japanese people - and probably not just Japanese people - choose to ‘reverse’ their names and go according to the Western conventions.

Thanks! Everything I heard was of the structure “my name is…my favorite player is…” , and I associated the “desu” with the name, and not the verb. Duh. My sample was too limited. :slight_smile:

ISTM that the Japanese, as they opened up to the West, accepted the transposition as a way to make it perfectly clear to the speaker of the Western languages what was the personal vs. family name.

The Japanese are taught in their English classes to put their family name last while speaking in English.

There has been talk in Japan of having people not reverse their names in Western languages, in line with the other oriental cultures, but overcoming legacy systems is not trival. (As I type on a QWERTY keyboard.)

I don’t think Chinese names are treated differently than Japanese names. I know actress Li Gong is credited as Gong Li here in the U.S. There are a probably lot of other examples of Chinese actors and actresses doing the name flip.

I think it’s fair to say that they are. To take the example of politicians, spelling the Japanese PM’s name Junichiro Koizumi gets 606,000 Google hits while Koizumi Junichiro gets 11,500. In the case of the Chinese president, Hu Jintao gets 655,000 hits while Jintao Hu gets 1,130.

Korean, too, for the most part. We say Kim Jong-Il, not Jong-Il Kim.

But, in business settings, most Koreans will introdiuce themselves as J.I. Kim, using the Western name order and the intials to their first names. Many Chinese will do this as well. In the same circumstance, a Japanese person will usually say (speaking English): “My name is Yamamoto” using only his last name, just as he would were he speaking Japanese. The polite thing to do, then, is to refer to him as either Yamamoto-san or Mr. Yamamoto.

You know, I’m wrong. I thought Li was her surname but it is actually her given name. Sorry for adding my two cents.

Japanese men almost never use their given names after becoming adults, even among friends. Women will use their first names more, although professional women will use their last names for business. In social settings, I’ve been introduced to Japanese women who will tell me their given names, even though we are speaking Japanese, and then will turn around and use their family names with Japanese men in the same setting.

Japanese women will use often use diminutive names, and nicknames. “Saori” => “Saorin” or “Sacchan” but men usually don’t.

I’m not so sure that Chinese names are treated differently than Japanese names, at least not when in the US and speaking English. My husband is Chinese, and the only time any of his family members use “family name first, then personal name” is when speaking Chinese . Anything in English, even return addresses on cards , is “personal name first”. I’d think it was just his family, but everyone we know with a fully Chinese name does the same thing.

Hungarian names are totally switched around outside Hungary. The only time you hear “Bartók Béla” (the correct form) is when Hungarians are speaking Hungarian to each other. As soon as a non-Hungarian walks into the room, they’ll say “Béla Bartók” so as not to confuse anyone.

(But what do Hungarians living in China do? Or for that matter, Japanese living in Hungary?)

In Italy, Italians put the last name first half of the time and the first name first the other half of the time. They’re not scared of a little confusion!

It depends. The actress Zhang Ziyi seems to generally be referred to that way (Zhang being a family name). Same for Chow Yun-Fat. But the famed film director is Ang Lee, Lee (Li) being the family name; every Chinese person I’ve ever met in personal circumstances puts their name in the Western manner.

It seems that Koreans are referred to in the media in the Korean order without fail, but again, Koreans living over here use their names in the western fashion.

According to IMDB, she is starting to go by Ziyi Zhang (perhaps due to her pursuing more work in Hollywood).


I think that’s because Ang Lee studied in the States before starting his career, while the others made the leap after already being established. He probably got used to going the Western way with his name here.

IMDB changes all Chinese names to the western order (I’m guessing it does the same for all east Asian names.) For instance, Chow Yun-Fat is Yun-Fat Chow on IMDB, even though in movie ads and such I’ve never heard him referred to that way. (Interestingly, its official title for Chinese films always seems to be in pinyin-transliterated Chinese, even for well known films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And yes, all my examples in this thread have come from that movie; it’s the first one that came to mind.)

Ang Lee indeed has a long career making films in the U.S.; WonJohnSoup is probably right that his name is usually in the western order because of that.

To throw some more confusion into the discussion, I was just reading an Iron Chef fanpage (authoritative, I know) that discussed the fact that Japanese names are reversed in English while Chinese names are not. The reason they mentioned Chinese names is that the version of Iron Chef shown in the US reverses the name order of every Iron Chef except for Iron Chef Chinese, Chen Kenichi (Kenichi is his given name). What’s funny is that they use the convention for translating Chinese names to English, since he’s Iron Chef Chinese, even though he is in fact Japanese.