Kiki+KoKo: Let's NihonGO!!

敬称とは?| What are honorifics? (SIDE A)

こんにちにゃあ~!Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online in blog form. This is Kiki and Koko, and we’re here to help you learn and understand Japanese language and culture! Or, is it Kiki-sensei or Koko-chan? Daniel-san? We shall soon get to the bottom of this question!

Before we get into specific honorifics, we’re going to make sure to equip you on how and when to use them. We’re barely scratching the surface, but we’re still going to have to break this part of the lesson in two. With too much information comes difficult comprehension. But, no worries, we’re here to give you as much information as we can without overloading you. And, if you need, just break it into different sessions! We’re always here.

In a previous article, we talked about the very basics of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Japanese—and don’t worry, though very much was learnt, even with that, we barely scratched the surface! We’ll cover more specific and special cultural greetings and body language in another article. But, in greeting people, or even animals and places, there is something very important that is used in every language that you may or may not have thought about previously. In English, you probably use this when you greet your teachers or your boss. Well, some of you in the far back may have shouted out, ‘Names! You call them by their name!’ And… Well, yeah, you’re right. Oddly enough, there’s a quick mini-lesson within this lesson.

So, in English, names are ordered given name→family name, but Japanese names are ordered family name→given name. Well, the only exception would be the imperial family who has no surname, and in that case, they’re simply called by their titles. But, unless you’re meeting the imperial family, you probably won’t have to worry about that. So, whilst someone would usually write or say Kiki Kawasawa in English, in Japanese, it would be written 川沢嬉嬉, Kawasawa Kiki. But, if someone is referring to an English name like David Bowie, they wouldn’t switch the order, it would stay the same as: デヴィッド・ボウイ, Deivuiddo・Boui. So, if you see or hear a name written or spoken in Japanese, you’ll know which is their given name and which is their family name which will come in handy with this topic!

So! Now, we’re back after a quick mini-lesson on Japanese names. So, of course, you address people by name, but there’s something more! And, in English, you may not have even known what they were called. Today, we’re talking about 敬称, keishou, titles of honour or honorifics. But, we’ll learn a bit more about names and in the next lesson, more about diminutives.

What are honorifics, you may ask? Well, honorifics in general when it comes to Japanese language could take up an entire book—while there is also a more complex answer that includes an entire way of speaking that is ‘honorific speech’, today, we’re focused on the special honorifics that go behind the name, though in English, you might recognise this as what goes before the name in cases such as: Ms. Tanaka, Mr. Fujihara, or Mrs. Nekoyashiki. Mister, Missus, and Miss are all English honorifics. So, if you’re used to English honorifics, it shouldn’t be too difficult a stretch to get accustomed to using Japanese honorifics! However, there are much different circumstances under which they are used.

When to use Honorifics:

In schools in places like the UK or the US, you’ll usually find yourself referring to your schoolmates or even colleagues using their given names like Susie or Billy, but in Japan, it’s much more common to use your schoolmate’s family name unless you are very close, and even then, it feels more comfortable using their family name. So, when you use honorifics, you’ll most likely be affixing them to family names just like in English. However, you’ll be putting these honorifics as suffixes… So maybe it would be more fitting to say that you’re suffixing them to family names… Or, just affixing. Affixing is good. But, one other disclaimer: If it is a non-Japanese name, there are many times where a given name will be given a suffix and used in place of a surname. This is usually because those that are from other countries are used to being called by their first name.

To very simply answer the question: when should you use honorifics? or these sorts of name suffixes, the answer is: All the time. You’ll use these for everyone all of the time. Whether it’s a dog, a stranger, or your teacher, there’s an honorific or even a diminutive suffix that’s used when addressing them by name. It would feel strange and familiar to address someone you meet by just their name with nothing attached. Think of these as a nice warm coat in a harsh winter for every name you’ll ever say. The harsh winter is the possibility of being very familiar and rude, and the nice warm coat protects everyone… Perhaps there’s a better metaphor.. Perhaps more like trousers. But, either way, these will be essential to any Japanese greeting!

When NOT to use Honorifics:

Well, remember when we said you’ll use honorifics all of the time no matter what? About thirty seconds ago? Well, there is just one instance where using an honorific would be very rude, other than using the wrong one, and that is: your own name.

Well, there’s cases of irony and cases where you’re using diminutives or telling your title, but you wouldn’t normally ever use さん, san, or 様, sama, on your own name, especially when introducing yourself.

Okay, and MAY be there are a few other times where an honorific isn’t necessary…

When talking TO loved ones or very-very close friends or more-than friends
If you’ve watched any Japanese dramas or cartoons, you might have seen a character blush and turn away as if they’d been given a love confession when a character refers to them without an honorific or by using their given name. In real life, it definitely would be a step up in a relationship that symbolises being much more familiar with each other which is referring to them in the same way you would refer to family.

There is also the case of referring to school mates with whom you are simply close or sport team mates that are called simply by their name as well. Though, if you’re a fan and you want to cheer for your favourite footballer, beware, as apparently they may be offended and insist on being referred to with an honorific. And, then sport fans will tease the player by incessantly referring to them without an honorific. We suppose the internet is still the internet no matter how polite the nation is perceived, and that sometimes it’s best to simply accept praise from fans without being so choosy.

When talking ABOUT family or friends to someone else
Honorifics are meant to lift up the person you are talking about, and when you’re associated with someone as a collective group, lifting up someone from your group is rude.. for some reason. It’s just the way it is, it’ll make more sense as we go along.)

There are quite a few facts about honorifics that may be relegated to another part of an honorific series after we get a bit further into everything.

For now, our goal is to give you a good amount of information that you can actually absorb without overloading you with things that you might not need, yet. But, no worries, when the time is right, we’ll have even more information for you! … The time being in the next article, of course. But, for now, we don’t want to leave you without any honorifics to ponder in the meantime!

Here’s a special look: Next time on Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online!!


Ex. ダニエルさん, Daniel-san
Ex. 田中さんTanaka-san

If you’ve watched ベスト・キッド,  besuto kiddo,or as people outside of Japan would know it as: The Karate Kid, then you’re probably already familiar with Daniel-san.

~San is arguably the most used honorific out of any of them. It gives a sense of basic respect to the listener and best of all, it’s gender neutral. The English equivalent is close to Mister or Missus, but it doesn’t matter the age or marital status of the addressee. Online and in person, it’s the default honorific, but there are many times it would be better to use another honorific. So, if you’re not sure what they would like to be called, just ask them! No shame in asking.

Wowee, boyos, that looks like it’s going to be one wild and wacky time! Lots of learning in store for everyone. Is this the first time a blog has included a preview of their next instalment? We’ll pretend it is! Until then, be sure to take a look through past lessons and articles! Even if you don’t have a lot of time to practise, just taking a few moments everyday can result in learning and absorbing a lot of information.

‘But wait! What honorific were we supposed to use for you, Kiki and Koko!? I need to know!!’ you may be shouting at your screen in a panic, and… we’re so sorry, but we also have to leave that… until the next lesson. Don’t worry, though! It’s only a couple of days, and if you’re looking back at this article in the future, you know we’ll try to never leave you on a cliffhanger again. This was just quite a lot of information to get through, and we thank you so much for being here and joining us! We’re truly proud to be a part of your Japanese learning journey.


Displayed words: Kiki+Koko: Let's NihonGO!! Online. Kiki (a cartoon cat) with peace sign and Koko (another cartoon cat) holding up QUIZBO, a cute vintage computer

Special Post Script for American Readers: 
Special Fun Facts for Learning: Oddly enough, everywhere else except for in the US, or at least in the UK and Canada, it’s ‘instalment’ instead of ‘installment’ but it’s spelt ‘install’ everywhere…yet it’s fulfil instead of ‘fulfill’So even if you’re just here to learn Japanese, you might accidentally learn some British English as well~! Tell your friends; feel cultured and learned!




Categories: Kiki+KoKo: Let's NihonGO!!, SpeRaToBo, 文化|Culture!

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies »

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.