To put it simply, is there any inherent difference between 苗字 and 家名 ? Since both of these words means "Surname" or "Last Name".

Does there a differ in how they are used?

Does 苗字 refer to the surname in historical sense and 家名 refer to surname in modern sense?

2 Answers 2


There is a difference and it is not so small.

「[苗字]{みょうじ}」 is the word we use to refer to one's family name (as opposed to one's given name) in our everyday life.

In saying things like "What's your family name?", "I only know his family name: I forgot his given name.", "She has the same family name as I do.", everyone will use 「苗字」. No one would use 「[家名]{かめい}」 to say these.

「家名」 is a much bigger and nuanced word than 「苗字」. Any toddler would know what 「苗字」 means even though 「[上]{うえ}の[名前]{なまえ}」 might be the term that toddlers actively use.

「家名」 refers more to the family reputation and/or family honor than to just the family name itself.

We say 「家名を[汚]{けが}す」 to mean "to bring disgrace on one's family". You would sound pretty funny (and uneducated) if you said 「苗字を汚す」.

  • So..... What if there a sentence that contain both of them like 「苗字にあたる家名はない」 "I don't have surname that can be called as a family name?" Oct 26, 2015 at 10:45
  • That sentence makes no sense, so I could not comment on it.
    – user4032
    Oct 27, 2015 at 1:41
  • Maybe it would be worth to clarify if 苗字 and 家名-referring-to-a-particular-family-name could ever differ from each other. I don't know... Adoption, disinheritance, receiving the Fujiwara name from the Emperor, obligation to a former clan or family...
    – macraf
    Oct 27, 2015 at 4:54
  • Since surname can be translated with both of the words I'm curious about thediffernet context where we could apply them....... Oct 28, 2015 at 3:31
  • @SatoriWita 苗字にあたる家名はない — I would interpret that to mean “Does not have a family name that functions as a surname”, e.g. talking about how in previous eras commoners did not have surnames. Perhaps you can say 苗字 is more about the functional aspect of names as identifiers, which are not necessarily tied to the notion of a family.
    – mirka
    Nov 7, 2015 at 14:30

Recently we never use "家名". It means big family, and the old feudalistic custom transmitted from antiquity.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .