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This question overlaps with this one, but I am including a lot more detail that was not present in that one, so I hope it merits another look.

As everyone knows, Japanese names are given in the order family name - given name, and it would be totally unexpected to hear them in any other order.

However, it's not as clear with Western names. For example, famous people's names are always given in given name - family name order, both in speech and in resources like Wikipedia. For example:

  • マイケル・ジャクソン
  • アルベルト・アインシュタイン
  • ジョー・バイデン

This is even true if the foreigner has a Japanese family name, for example:

  • ジェイク・シマブクロ

However, sometimes on the news, the names of (non-famous) foreigners are given in Japanese order. (Sometimes it's hard to tell for sure if they have a name like "John Michael," but it's obvious that the family name has been given first if their name is "John Smith.")

My experience with Japanese business cards is also that they often represent the names of foreigners in Western order, though it seems like there is some variation.

Therefore, as a foreigner with a Western name giving a self-introduction in Japanese, it seems that it would be the most normal to give your name in given name - family name order, but sometimes I second-guess myself. So my questions are:

In a self-introduction in Japanese...

  • If your name is "John Smith," is ジョン・スミス the expected order?
  • If your name is "John Suzuki," is ジョン・スズキ still the expected order?
  • If your name is "Takashi Suzuki" but you were born and raised outside of Japan, what is the correct order?
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    From my experience in Japan (hence the reason this is not an answer) and with Japanese people in general, it is Westerners who obsess and worry about this a lot more than the Japanese. English speakers usually go by their first names; Germans are more concerned with proper titles etc. But the Japanese don't much worry about this, particularly when it comes to foreigners. On official forms, you can indicate clearly your family name and given name. If the Japanese feel it's unclear about how you wish to be called, then they will ask.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Apr 24 at 18:14
  • Those "foreigners" you hear the names of on the news might be Japanese nationals.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 24 at 20:42
  • @aguijonazo Thank you for the reply. That is certainly true. I unfortunately have no way of going back and checking, but I recall that in at least some cases they were explicitly described as visitors from other countries. So I don't think that's what's happening, but I'll definitely pay closer attention next time. Commented Apr 24 at 20:51
  • @A.Ellett Thank you for the reply. I suppose it's more just trying to nail down what is normal and expected in a self-introduction, and also to explore whether the rules change when you are famous. It's hard to imagine Joe Biden introducing himself as バイデン・ジョー, but is that because his name is almost a sort of brand name? These are the issues I'd like to explore. Commented Apr 24 at 20:56
  • Or it could be that the police give suspects' names in the "Japanese" order in official announcements and media simply adopt it.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 24 at 21:02

2 Answers 2

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Generally I agree with sundowner's answer, but I guess multiple answers for this kind of questions can add some confidence to the reader.

  • Most Japanese know that (1) There are different structures of names in different cultures, (2) It's mostly Given-Family order in Europe, (3) It's Family-Given order in at least in Japan, China and Korea and such.
  • We are struggling to find the best way to introduce Japanese names in English:
    • The mainstream has been Given-Family order (conforming to the English language), but there are movements towards Family-Given order.
    • In 2019 the Minister of Foreign Affairs then wanted foreign presses to use Family-Given order for Japanese names (see BBC article and NHK article) and the Japanese government decided to use Family-Given order unless otherwise required (kantei.go.jp) around that time.
  • I think we always identify names in English in Given-Family order, i.e. how they are called in their native language. It isn't that we treat famous people differently. Also it does not depend on the root of the family name: Kazuo Ishiguro is still カズオ・イシグロ, .
  • Also, aside from a few exceptions like John, it's difficult for a Japanese speaker to tell if a piece of a name (Boris, May, Cameron, Brown...) is likely to be a given name or a family name, so any confusion can occur anywhere anyway

the names of (non-famous) foreigners are given in Japanese order

I haven't experienced this kind of situation and personally it's hard for me to believe it was intentional.

These are my personal opinions:

  • Generally I'll expect the order in the native language of the person.
  • There are no correct choice: there can always be confusion anyway, and when one need to be sure they'll ask. Choose which is comfortable, and tell them what you'd like them to call you too.
  • If your name is "John Smith," is ジョン・スミス the expected order?
    • Yes. I would perceive スミス・ジョン as a deliberate choice.
  • If your name is "John Suzuki," is ジョン・スズキ still the expected order?
    • Yes, just as John Smith is. I might infer スズキ・ジョン to be 鈴木 ジョン, like John is married to 鈴木 and chose that as their family name (or born to international marriage).
  • If your name is "Takashi Suzuki" but you were born and raised outside of Japan, what is the correct order?
    • Unless you identify yourself as a Japanese, I would tend to expect タケシ・スズキ. If you feel you are back to Japan, you can definitely choose スズキ タケシ and additionaly ask your parents to choose Kanji for you.
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    One thing that makes it a little awkward for me as an expat living in Japan is that my IDs and also any other auto-generated content (e.g., reservations, websites, or anything else that I fill out a form for) is shown in a Family-Given. But then I’m expected to write it Given-Family in any place I can control the order, so it’s actually impossible to keep it consistent… Commented Apr 28 at 1:30
  • Thank you very much. Knowing that the default expectation is that the introduction happens in the order of the person's native language, and that doing it differently feels like a deliberate choice, is very helpful. Commented Apr 29 at 17:49
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I think the answer can be only subjective, but here's my opinion.

Generally, as commented, it does not matter much. People will ask if not sure.

Still I expect Western names to be presented as Firstname Lastname (and Chinese names in Lastname Firstname when speaking in Japanese - not sure about other south-east Asian name conventions)

For example, assuming your Japanese is foreigner-like and you look non-Japanese (or non-Asian), there's nothing odd about ジョン・スミスと申します. And the same even if you are Joe Biden.

On the other hand, suppose I meet someone whose parents are Japanese and s/he speaks Japanese naturally enough, looks like a normal Japanese, has a Japanese name, still grew up totally abroad. If their name is presented in Firstname Lastname(たかし・すずきと申します)due to their habit in the language they grew up in, most probably I will find it odd. But again it does not really matter since it's clear which is surname. Probably the oddness diminishes if part of the name is foreign (ジョン・スズキと申します may surprise me less).


Hungarian names are Lastname Firstname. So they might present it in that order, but I would just have to ask which is surname because often it is not clear to me.

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  • Thank you very much. The "I expect Western names to be presented as Firstname Lastname" is really what I was looking for here. Not so much what is "correct" but what is expected as default behavior. Commented Apr 29 at 17:46

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