What is the correct name order for American names written in Japanese? (Surname/Given?)

Hello, I have a fairly urgent Japanese language question, as I am going to sign up for an email account which has my name in its Japanese equivalent (in romaji) as the email address and will have my registered name on my account (that tells the recipient who the email is from) in Katakana. The purpose of this email address will be emailing people in Japanese, as well as receiving my Japanese language learning materials (so as not to clutter up my personal email account)

As an American though, what order should my name be written in on the email address and on my signature?

Should it be Surname-Given Name to conform to the Japanese tradition? Or since I am American will Japanese people know and expect my Given Name to come before the Surname? What is the most professional and accepted way here? Which will be less confusing to Japanese people? Please let me know!

I think most Japanese people expect the order to be your original order, unless you’re living in Japan and had to register your name with the government in one way or another.

Like, on my health insurance card, the name in katakana is Last, First, Middle, so that’s how I say it if asked in situations where I need it.

They know that it could be either way though, and they won’t necessarily assume unless they are very familiar with foreign names and can tell which kind of name is which, regardless of the order.

Personally, I would just keep everything in the order you’re used to.


The worst part is both my first name and last name are extremely uncommon English names. My surname is so uncommon that if someone else has it, they are directly and closely related to me, and there are probably less than a hundred in the US who have it. My first name is a more modern one that is also pretty uncommon and even a lot of Americans have never heard it (though it’s becoming more popular in the last decade or so) so if there’s not an already expected order, I have a feeling it would be confusing which name is my first and my last.

I’m probably overthinking it, but I want to be sure before I lock in my new email address and switch everything Japanese-related over to there and then regret the order I put it in for years to come. Hahaha.

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I would guess that Japanese order is slightly more likely to confuse Japanese people than English order would be, just because they start from knowing to expect a difference. Unless you live in Japan and became a full-time resident.


Makes sense to me. I’d love to hear from others if anyone has some experience with the matter, just to confirm, or say otherwise, but I definitely see your point.

Actually this raises a related question that I hadn’t thought of. In Japan, most people go by surname formally and use the given name only with people they are close to, right?

Are Americans in Japan addressed the same way? I’m guessing it probably differs depending if you’re a tourist, or actually living and working in Japan, but I’m particularly wondering in the business world, would an American be addressed at work by surname since that’s the Japanese work culture? Or by first name like we do in America?

I don’t really have experience with business culture, though I do live and work in Japan. I’m an ALT, and, at least where I am (Kobe), most ALTs go by their given name at school. So I am known by all students, and most teachers, exclusively by my given name. Some who are close to me might remember my last name.

No matter what order you enter people will do something random anyway, don’t worry too much about it. There are multiple ways to render your name in kana, there are multiple ways to order the name (especially when you have a middle name), and then it is sometimes written in kana or romaji.

I once had to ask my bank what my name was because a form had to be filled to suit their taste. I’m pretty sure I am registered in at least three or four different ways; like, why not try a few different kana there, or a new order?

My advice: at least decide on the kana and stop people from just making things up on the spot.

For the usage, it depends on the company, but the default is the surname, but for foreigners they are more likely to get a nickname or be called by the first name as I can see :slight_smile:


Thanks for your help. I just found an article discussing this along with Japan’s Foreign Minister recently asking foreign media to adopt the Surname-Given Name order when referring to Japanese people in English language media, and the article and comments on the article was basically a flurry of confusion admitting there is no single accepted standard order (for Japanese names in English or for English names in Japanese) and there are disparities between what uses are common among the public, media, government, institutions, etc. so it seems like a bit of a crapshoot and I think the best I can do is pick a format and stick with it so that I can easily explain to any Japanese person I meet which is my surname and which is my first name, and how I’d like to be referred to.

Obviously, much easier to follow protocol when a form tells you which one to use. Thanks again!

For a sample size of one Japanese person, I asked my girlfriend which order she would expect from a foreigner introducing themself to her, and she said “given / surname”.

Thanks. My friend who is a native Japanese suggested to me to use surname / given when writing in kana, so I guess these two responses already illustrate that it is going to probably be something people will think of differently and I may have to just explain it to those who are unsure.

The article I read did say that English names in Japanese media are almost always in the native order of given/surname (e.g. ブラッド・ピット), so I bet that would have an influence on what many Japanese would expect.

You also have to consider that there is a dynamic, Japanese people are not expecting a certain order for foreign names, they expect that you have a native order, but maybe that native order has been changed by you to accommodate them, or kept as is to make it easier for them to match the “real” order … Their expectation is be confused and hopefully to figure out the name gracefully.

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That’s very true. If I met a Japanese visitor here in the US, without extensive language of Japanese surnames and given names, I bet most Americans would assume the person is giving their given name in an introduction, but they may well be giving their surname as they are used to introducing that way. I guess when in doubt you just have to ask. In fact I have had trouble in the past knowing which name is which with Japanese names because there seems to be variance in how English speakers write them as well. E.g. I’ve seen articles about Yoko Kanno and Kanno Yoko. I know which name is which now, but it often confuses me when I see a Japanese name in writing in English now because I never know what format the author has chosen unless the name is already familiar to me.


As you found, there’s no consistent rule. Just know that when you do any official government/banking stuff you should use

姓: last name
名: first name middle name

I left my middle name off a couple forms ‘cause of course there’s never a box for it, it caused a bunch of confusion when it didn’t fully match my ID card etc.

Of course that’s assuming there’s enough space to write your whole name which is a whole other can of worms…


The issue of how to refer to Japanese people in English comes up semi-regularly for ALTs. It’s a common question I get asked by students, which order should they write their name. And I usually tell them that there is no standard and each person can choose the way they prefer. They have the same issue when introducing themselves, because most non-Japanese are not intimately familiar with Japanese names.

If I told you someone was named Hitomi Minami (not a real name, just one I made up where either one could be given or surname) we Japanese language enthusiasts can tell it’s a woman, but beyond that you wouldn’t know which is which. Kanji would likely help a bit.

Like for ひとみ, 人見 is more likely to be a surname, 仁美 is more likely to be given.
For みなみ, 南 is more likely to be a surname, 美波 is more likely to be given.

But in romaji, it’s just a guessing game.


Thank you.

This is a noob question that has never dawned on me before because I’m still in the beginning stages of learning Japanese, but… if Japanese primarily are referred by their surnames, then when multiple members of a family or unrelated people with the same surname are adressed or spoken of in public, how do they know who is being referred to?

If a father, son, and daughter, for example, are present, and all are Suzuki-san, and this is in public and not a family setting, what happens if a third party begins to talk to/about “Suzuki-san”. How do they know who is being referred to? Is it all implied through context or are there other words used to differentiate it?

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This is a point of contention for some long term residents I know. Many Japanese, whether close to you or not, with just start calling you by your given name upon first meeting, but they would never think of doing this to a Japanese person. They say this smacks of racism-the rules should be uniformly applied to everyone. Personally, I generally don’t care one way or the other, although I’d probably take issue if I was called by my given name at the hospital or places like that. I think it would be the same in business. In my experience though, working in schools in the past and dealing with my own children’s schools now, some teachers go by their given names, at least at elementary level. This leads me to a problem-I’ve taught many kids over the years and they know me by my given name, so their parents also know me by my given name. Now when I encounter these people through school, PTA, community events, they all call me by my given name. Yet all I get is their family name. It seems weird. All in all, it’s confusing as hell and after many years living here I struggle with how to call people or knowing when to switch from surname to given name.


That sounds confusing and frustrating and I can entirely see how the difference in how the names/rules are applied could smack of racism or at least preferential treatment of native Japanese. I’ve decided since reading all these suggestions and a few articles that I will introduce myself to Japanese natives by my surname so that I am addressed the same way as they are addressed. This seems the most equal to me and infers equal respect. Of course if we are speaking in English then I would feel more compelled to use what is more suited to the situation in English (which can even vary then… as some situations are still formal enough to go by a title and surname rather than just first name).

I feel for you on the name situation. If you wanted to change to using your surname now it could be difficult to get everyone on the same page or to understand why. I have a similar problem of my own doing in my personal life. I stopped going by my first name in my personal life about 6 years ago, opting for my middle name instead, as I liked it and just wanted a sort of fresh start at that time and was meeting almost entirely new friends. The exception was that I didn’t expect my family to change what they’ve always known me as so they still call me by my first name and I kept my first name for all things business and work related. I got into a relationship since then so my boyfriend only knows me as my middle name and finds it weird when I’m called by my first name. His entire family knows me by my middle name, and now our families are on totally different pages with what they call me, so I feel like if/when they meet it is going to get real confusing. These days I decided that I would rather just stick with my original first name after all but I don’t actually care enough to stop others who only knew me by my middle name from calling me by it, so I created a confusing monster and the only way to undo it would be to firmly and definitively decide one name as the only appropriate option and tell everyone that’s the one, which… as capricious as I am sometimes, I don’t want to do. Haha.

So as not to screw myself that way in Japanese too, I’m just going to strictly follow their cultural conventions when speaking in Japanese because that makes the most sense to me and would make me feel I am on “the same level” and not looked down on or something. Even as a non-Japanese, (given-name)-san sounds weirdly “cutesy” to me, almost like calling me Mr. (given name).

Did you also read this article? (How to address the foreign elephant in the room — in Japanese? | The Japan Times)
Found it very interesting.

I’m a student in Japan, and no one knows or uses my last name. I introduce myself by first name only, and most Japanese students I interact with actually do the same. I only find out their last names upon further asking, actually. But maybe they only do it with foreigners, I don’t know.
I would feel weird being adressed by my friends with my last name, and even as a tourist when talking to random people, I would use my first name (even if they decide they are gonna introduce themselves with their last name).
I can see how it would feel weird in a business setting where you also adress everyone else with their last names, but just for casual conversations, aquaintances, random encounters I definitely prefer using my first name, even if it might not be “even” or something.


would you use a kanji in place of katakana if your last name was a word that had a kanji?