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

What like, if your last name was Roman and then instead of ローマン you went with 浪漫 or something, matching the reading?
Or do you mean like if your name was Eastman and then instead of イーストマン you went with 東男, matching the meaning.

Both are kind of weird. And it would almost certainly confuse Japanese people unless you, by some chance, had a name that converted to a common Japanese surname. Like, I guess Tiger Woods could go by はやしとら, and it would feel like a Japanese name and match the meaning of the words in his name.

If you had other ideas, go ahead and explain what you mean.

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Good luck! As you mentioned, the names we use varies in different situations even in English so you may find yourself in situations where you feel comfortable using your given name. Then just wait until you start having to add the suffixes to names and the variety is boggling. The rules for the name suffixes you learn in textbooks are definitely not hard and fast rules. My husband’s longterm friend calls him given name-san, but his wife calls him family name-kun. Another male friend is Nan-chan and my husband struggles to even remember his real name. And I regularly get Mrs. Given Name from my university or young company employee students.

Even Japanese descent americans/Canadians/Australians etc I’ve known, that still have the Japanese family name, don’t write their names in kanji, at least not on official documents. One guy I knew married a Japanese woman and she was always having to explain her name-katakana (japanese sounding) family name with her given name in kanji. People were so confused.

For example my last name is speed Would It make more sense to write it out as スピード? Or using the kanji for speed

If you’re actually going to interact with Japanese people in real life, katakana is the way to go. Using kanji for something like that would be needlessly confusing. If you want to use a nickname online or something, I guess that would be different, but it might still end up looking weird to Japanese people.


I hope this isn’t too off topic but I also was wondering if anyone could tell me, since this seems quite related.

Since surname+san is the default for referring to people in Japan, how do people differentiate which person is being spoken to when there are multiple people with the same surname in a group? I could see this being especially confusing in a situation with perhaps a parent and child present, or siblings (or an entire family that has the same surname). If they are both Suzuki-san, how do people know which Suzuki-san is being spoken to/about when the name is used? Is it all implied through context and body language? Does this get kind of tricky? I know that family members can refer to each other by first name, but I’m more referring to if they are in a public setting and talking to non family members, maybe at work or a school, or some kind of gathering.

I could also see this issue coming up when it’s simply a common surname and therefore multiple unrelated people with that surname are present.

I mean, I’m not too sure about the scenario you’re talking about.
I would imagine no one owuld be talking into the distance, but talking to someone in particular, and if they want to talk about a person in their family, they would say “your brother/son/etc” instead of their name, because… obviously there’s no way of knowing which Suzuki-san it is
(Unless obviously there’s context… like idk, If father suzuki has a son Suzuki, and he sees their neighbor girl, and she asks about Suzuki-san’s leg after Suzuki-san’s son had an accident… Father would know the little girl is asking about Suzuki the son and not himself or anybody else, and it’s obviously the one injured)

And yeah, I’m sure there are times when it gets confusing, just the same as to when there are two people in the same name in a family group or friend group and they call the name, and two people say “what?”. They ain’t robots either.

And to the main topic, I really don’t see why it should be so complicated… Westerners are Name + Surname; Japanese people are Surname + Name.
I don’t know why that would be so complicated to leave as a standard.

Not to mention how much I hate when I watch an anime or whatever and they say “My name is X Y”, but then the subs say “My name is Y X”.
Same thing when they replace onii-san/senpai/etc with the actual name of the character

What I’ve learned since posting is that it’s complicated only because there is no real standard, and even within Japan people get confused about which name order to use for foreigners, hence pretty current articles still being written asking which way it should be by Japanese press.

I think there are strong arguments for both ways which is why people get confused. One thing I didn’t think about is how in Japan the first name is considered more intimate/private information, while in America at least, it’s the last name that is. Most people are totally comfortable giving their first name to a stranger but to learn someone’s last name means you really know them well (or have seen their name on paper for formal business reasons). So in this sense I think the “given name + surname” method could still hold just fine in Japan, but I also see the argument for “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” (i.e. use the same name order as Japanese people).

I wonder if this will ever be standardized in Japanese schools, media, or govt and bring about a conclusion.

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There are more honorifics than just -san, though. There’s -kun, which you might use when addressing a social peer, or -chan, for small children. You might even use -sama for an honored elderly person.

The nuances around which of these to use when are probably too dangerous for foreigners unless very fluent, but native Japanese manage them the same way native English speakers manage “sir”, “buddy”, “dude,” and so on.

As @anduril11 said:

When filling out official documents/applications/etc., there will be fields/boxes/spaces that specify which name is required there. 姓 means surname, and 名 means given name(s) (i.e. first name + middle name). Therefore, for those documents, they should be filled in accordingly. I don’t know about other English-speaking countries, but I think it’s the same in the states when dealing with official documentation, isn’t it?

After that, when you are introducing yourself either verbally or in writing, as a non-Japanese you can make the choice. If your name is, for example, Tiger Smith, you can use either タイガー・スミス or スミス タイガー。In writing, as you can see, if you use given name-surname, you can put a ・ in between. If you use the Japanese order surname-given name, you don’t put a ・ in between. I’m not sure if there’s any official rule governing the use of ・in non-Japanese names like this, but it’s the way I was taught. When you introduce yourself verbally, I’ve also found the same expectations as @Leebo said:

and ESPECIALLY this:

Honestly, regardless of which way you choose and the reasoning behind it, expect to be continually asked which name is your 名字 (and this actually means surname, even though it has 名 in it!). If you have a middle name, you’ll probably be asked about that, too.

If all of your communication is in writing and not verbal, though, I’m not sure if you would be asked about it.

Personally, as someone living in Japan almost 10 years and currently working for a Japanese company and having everyday dealings in Japanese, I try to adhere to the Japanese system as much as possible. I introduce myself as surname-given name, and then I will just out right say, 〇〇で呼んで下さい = “Please call me 〇〇”. I personally dislike my surname anyway and dislike being referred to as Ms. (Surname) even in the states, so I always default to my given name. However, if I’m in a formal situation in Japan and referred to as Surnameさん, it doesn’t bother me as much, and I won’t ask the person to use my given name unless I think it’s necessary.

If people know up front how you’d like to be addressed, they will remember that and call you that from then on. You will still probably be asked later about your surname, given name (plus middle name if you have one or many) anyway, because it is indeed confusing for everyone, and it’s also a source of curiosity for Japanese people.


・When filling in official documents, use the order requested
・When introducing yourself, choose whatever name you want, but then ask to be called the name you prefer (right off the bat)
・If you’re not asked at the start what your 名字 is, you can just go ahead and say it so everyone is clear.