I'm writing to my Japanese friend, but I don't know the Kanji for her name. Should I use hiragana or katakana for her name when writing to her?


2 Answers 2


If you can't recall her kanji name, and when you are writing to her informally and personally, using hiragana is usually safer. But before resorting to that, you should always try to find her kanji name first. (And make sure that her real name is actually in kanji. There are a few Japanese people whose real name is in katakana, in which case using hiragana makes no sense.)

Note, however, that it's different in business scenes. When talking on the phone, the kanji of someone's name is often unknown, and in such cases, katakana is usually preferred. When names are printed in kana on cash cards or identification cards, katakana is typically used. See: Are personal names spelled in hiragana or katakana if the kanji isn't known?


If she hasn't told you her name in kanji, there is no reason why you could possibly know how to write it in kanji; almost every name has multiple "spellings" for the same sound. (And some people, almost exclusively women, do only have their name in hiragana with no kanji at all. This harkens back to the days when hiragana was considered "elegant" and "feminine," and women didn't write kanji, just because.)

So writing it in hiragana would not at all be offensive, although one of the first things I ever do when meeting a person and being introduced is asking "how do you write your name?," ex: (in this example this person is called Kanae) "かなえってどう書くんですか?". Incidentally this also helps to memorize their name; it activates your brain to process the kanji, bringing that information to the forefront and telling your brain this information is important enough to pay attention to and remember.

Katakana would feel a bit stilted, as if you are drawing attention to the actual sounds of the name being pronounced. It can be used in a pinch, but is not advisable if there are any other options.

Addendum: of course, both hiragana and katakana are very bad in a business context, but there you have sorely ****ed up if you don't have their name in kanji by then. (Did you not accept their business card?)

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