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Writing Japanese names in English

So for those of you who don’t know, Japanese family names come first. In English, Takahashi Minami, for example, would be “Minami Takahashi”.

This, frankly, causes no end of confusion, because it’s really difficult to decide when to use the English word order. One could easily say “never”, but to be honest, that doesn’t sit well with me. Japanese and English are two different languages, and it’s by no means disrespectful to use English word order when writing something in English. It’s, in my opinion, not unlike translating from Japanese. Of course, Shinzo Abe (Abe Shinzo) may disagree with me, but oh well. Abe-san is the former prime minister of Japan, so I’m really not concerned about that opinion.

But on the other hand, for someone like me who consumes a lot of Japanese media, saying “Minami Takahashi” just feels wrong. Japanese people would call her “Takahashi Minami”, “Takahashi-san”, or “Takahashi”. You just kind of get used to hearing “Takahashi”, and the given name just isn’t anywhere near as important. So when someone writes “Minami”, “Minami Takahashi”, etc., it just feels wrong to me.

So generally, but not always, I will use the Japanese word order – unless I am writing to an English audience who knows someone as the english variant of their name.

You’ll note that in my previous post, I referred to Nakamoto Suzuka as “Suzuka Nakamoto” – but only in the title. Otherwise I used the Japanese word order, or left off the given name entirely and added the “san” honorific. It just feels right to me. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, so used to the Japanese word order that it feels wrong to do otherwise. I have to have a good reason to switch things around for English speakers, and searchability is a pretty good reason, I guess.

Here’s my ultimate point: As long as you are not writing to a Japanese audience, I think it’s okay to use the English word order. But it’s also okay to use the Japanese word order. And if you want to write the words in Japanese (高橋みなみ )always use the Japanese word order. After all, if you’re writing in Japanese, there is absoutely no excuse for switching things around.

It gets even more confusing when you are talking about Japanese people who are American citizens, like my sensei. My sensei has a Japanese first name, and an American last name, written in Katakana when using Japanese characters, and standard English when using romaji. That is particularly hard to figure out. Formally, I’ll use “lastname-san” or “sensei”, but informally, I don’t think I’ve ever really used either the first or last name, not for sensei, and not when referring to sensei to other people. It just doesn’t feel appropriate. It’s a shame because it’s quite a nice name. Shrug.

But that’s how I’m going to do it. Japanese word order unless I have a good reason otherwise.

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