Tips on telling the difference between a name and a regular word?


Are there any techniques on differentiating names and regular vocabulary words or is it just something you’ll get used to over time? I’ve noticed some speakers don’t use name enders like “san” “kun” “chan” and that makes it hard for me to distinguish names from words.


It definitely gets a bit easier as you get more familiar with Japanese names and the kanji combination for common names. Even just understanding the context of the text will help a lot with differentiating a name from a noun.

But EVEN so, when I’m reading something without furigana and the author doesn’t bother to put furigana next to the name to let you know how to properly read it, then I have major problems. I have no idea if what I’m reading is a name or not. Especially if the name has related kanji in it that makes it look like it could be a word. Just the other day I was reading a manga with a character named “神園” (Kamizono), and it took me so long to clue in that that was her name. lol Because it looks like it could be a word. The combination of the kanji’s “Spirit” & “Park” looks like it could be a word. T-T


Experience is your best guide.

I still struggle with male names, but for female names a few hints:

Names that end with 美 (bi, mi) and 子 (ko) are usually (always in my personal experience) female. It’s also more common for female names to be written in hiragana,

~chan is usually female, but I’ve been told doesn’t have to always be. ~kun can be used with women, especially in the workplace by a superior.

Also - if you weren’t aware - Japanese names are written “family name” + “first name”, unlike English.


Well, how would you know that John or Sarah are a name if they weren’t capitalized and you didn’t know every word in English?

You probably wouldn’t.

I’m trying to learn this by exposure. Since I work in a hotel, it’s much easier to see a lot of names. But because many Japanese names have actually a meaning behind them, it gets really confusing sometimes. Like, a common name Yuki (= snow). So, it might seem like a real word, but it’s a name. I think you have to tell from the context. But first, you need to learn a lot of names, the most common ones at least.

Also, some names sound the same, but use different kanji, so they have a different meaning…


Context, for one thing. It’s something you get used to. Know who is in the conversation or people close to them (know if they have a brother or whatever, so you can make that context cue).

Watch/read/absorb things where names are used without suffixes. Don’t be afraid to confirm things if it’s a conversation. One of my coworkers is nicknamed Ponchan but that’s not remotely related to his name at all. Even after watching people call him that I was ???

The only thing you could do otherwise is check out a list of common Japanese names so they’re more known to you. Looking at them without suffixes could help you recognise them in any situation, but again, without context you may still find a few that could be a name or a thing (Yuki, Kaede etc).


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