First and last names of japanese celebrities

So I am a little bit confused by the switching of first and last names in japanese, especially as to what is the first name and what is the last name when we foreigners say someone’s name. I was under the impression that we switch it back when translating to our langages. Like, Akira Toriyama’s first name is Akira and japanese would say Toriyama Akira, Koji Kondo’s first name is Koji and japanese would say Kondo Koji, Nobuo Uematsu’s first name is Nobuo, and so on.
But as I was watching a video on japanese history, it struck me that we know the three unifiers as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, but Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu seems to be their FIRST name, as their children are named Oda something, Toyotomi something, and Tokugawa something. Also, the name that sticks in our languages seem to be Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, and they’re sometimes reffered simply with those names, but those names appear to be only first names to me?
Sooo which is it ? Are japaneses names usually translated “backwards” or in their original order, when we speak about japanese celebrities ? Are the three unifiers just an exception ?

TLDR : “the guy we know as Akira Toriyama” 's first name seems to be Akira, and “the guy we know as Oda Nobunaga” 's first name seems to be Nobunaga. What’s up with that ?


Family names and given names are in the opposite order in Japanese, as they are in the West. So most of this confusion comes from media in the West not having a standardized way to put Japanese names down. This makes it hard to know which one is the family name when you come across it in non Japanese literature or other media.

After studying Japanese for a couple years, I have become pretty good at intuiting which name is the family name for modern names, since a lot of names and characters get used a lot in family names, but less so in given names, for example.

As for the Oda Nobunaga question: 織田 is the family name. 田 with the readings た or だ is often used in family names, but I’ve never seen it in a given name yet.


I’d be willing to suggest that celebrities’ names are switched for English speakers because they’re mostly used by the unwashed masses, while historical figures’ names remain unmodified because they’re mostly used by academics…


Thank you for confirming that Oda is indeed a family name. So there would be some kind of exception which makes us speak of him as Oda Nobunaga rather than Nobunaga Oda, maybe because it’s an older name and writing japanese names “backwards” (as in, first name first and last name second) in western cultures was not a standard yet ? Well, maybe not standard, but nowadays if feels like it’s most common to “westernize” japanese names by putting first name first, which doesn’t seem to happen while speaking of historical figures

But then isn’t it kinda weird that they are referred mostly as Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu (or at least it’s an impression I have, maybe it’s wrong ?). I wonder if japanese people do the same. Maybe it’s just that these first names are uncommon enough that everybody knows who we’re speaking of ?

You’re probably going to have to qualify who you mean by “they”.

Largely, yeah. Their family names are not specific enough - there’s six noteworthy people in history named Tokugawa, four named Toyotomi, and Oda is still a common surname even in modern times. I mean, if you’re talking about historical Japan, people will probably assume from the context that you’re talking about the big three, but specificity is the soul of all good communication.

There’s also the fact that “Tokugawa” is the name of the clan, while “Ieyasu” is the name of the person. Today, we’re kinda “John is my given name and Smith is my family name”, but in older times, it was more along the lines of “Ieyasu is my name, and Tokugawa is the clan which I belong to”.


I mean Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, those are the three that I can name on the top of my head that are reffered to as “Last name First name” but surely there are a lot of other examples

Yeah, Oda Nobunaga is not in a category of people I would call “celebrities,” and it seems to make a difference.

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