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I have been shown a Japanese name in three forms:

  • 工藤 拓
  • くどう たく
  • Taku Kudo

I cannot tell from this whether the rōmaji form, which I need to use in an academic citation, has been written family name first or last. Please tell me which is the family name.

(Advice on how to tell in general would also be welcome.)

(I can't speak or read Japanese. I do know that traditionally Japanese names were written family name first, but that modern speakers may use the Western family-name-last convention, especially in rōmaji.)

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"Last name"・"first name" (on forms usually 性・名) are often translated as "family name"・"given name", because in Japanese the order is reversed, i.e. the family name is given first.

Without being able to read any Japanese, you will not be able to tell which is the first and which is the last name. (You don't know whether 工藤 corresponds to "Taku" or to "Kudo", right?)

jisho.org has a search function for Japanese names (first names, family names, full names), so searching for 工藤 #names gives as first entry

くどう 【工藤】
Place, Family or surname
1. Kudou

I recommend copy/pasting the Japanese name in the search field as the romanization will not always be recognized correctly. (That is because there exist different romanizations for the same name. Here, 工藤 could also be romanized Kudou or Kudoh.)

Sometimes people write their name as Taku KUDO. If it is in this format, you can assume that the capitalized name is the family name.


Edit. The best rule I can come up with is that in names each Chinese character usually corresponds to at least one syllable (but it may be up to three), so in names like 森 健太郎 Kentaro Mori, you can be pretty sure that 森 is the family name (because it is written first) and it is read Mori (because Mori is very unlikely to correspond to 健太郎).

  • I was pretty sure that 工藤 corresponded to くどう and that it was the family name, but yes, I didn't know how to map it to the romanization (and, unfortunately, I have to use the romanized form in the citation). Thank you. – zwol Feb 28 '16 at 21:15
  • There are also names such as 辻 太郎, with a 1-character last name and a 2-character first name and both have two syllables (Taro TSUJI). It's hard to come up with good rules for guessing which is the family and which the given name. – Earthliŋ Feb 28 '16 at 23:10
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工藤 is the family name. Wikipedia has a list of some famous people with family name Kudo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudo

As a side note, the name order in Japanese has last name first and first name second.

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