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Last week I began corresponding with a Japanese penpal. I initially addressed her with 丁寧語, but she responded using 尊敬語/謙譲語 so I began responding that way as well. We've been addressing each other with さん付け. In her most recent e-mail she wrote the following (I've replaced the names with aliases):

ちなみに私の「京子」という呼び名はHNであり、本名は「亜沙美」と申します。 「京子」でも「亜沙美」でも呼びやすい方で呼んで頂ければ幸いです。

I assume this is an invitation to call her 亜沙美さん or 京子さん. Since we've only known each other for about a week and are using 敬語 at her instigation, I would not expect to be invited to 呼び捨て. However, her use of quotation marks makes me a little uncertain. Googling suggests that in the common phrase "○○と呼んでください," ○○ is often written without quotation marks, and may or may not be followed by an honorific. Even if it is written without an honorific, based on the context of the examples I found, that does not necessarily seem to constitute an invitation to 呼び捨て. However, if quotation marks are used, and without an honorific, does that constitute an invitation to refer to the person in question as literally indicated, i.e., with no honorific?

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    You are overthinking it. She's just differentiating names from the text for readability. Reversing your question:'do you suppose someone would ask you to call themselves "京子さん", or "京子様"? – macraf Sep 19 '17 at 2:07
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Generally, Japanese quotation marks are used somewhat more loosely and frequently than the English equivalent.

Those brackets are just to highlight those words. At least there is no grammatical reason to interpret it as a clear invitation to do 呼び捨て. She's just saying you can use either 亜沙美 or 京子, but the usage of name suffix is another story. If her letter were very casual, it could have been interpreted that you can use 呼び捨て, but judging from her writing style, it is unlikely that you can do so.

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I do not believe there is such a thing as an "invitation to do 呼び捨て". I know of three cases in which it is used:

  • To be (very) rude
  • Between men who went to school together (because that is how they have always called each other)
  • When addressing (Western) non-Japanese, in the erroneous belief that this is "English" (or something)

In English (I'm English, so I really mean "European culture"), one of the differences of formality level is between addressing by given name versus family name plus handle. I am Brian to my friends, and Mr Chandler to my bank (I have had to explain to them that they are not my friends). And in English I can say "Call me Brian", just as on the continent there are expressions for inviting the other person to use "tu" vs the formal "vous" (etc etc).

But this does not correspond to any Japanese distinction. In particular, in any formal situation involving different members of the same family, firstly "relative" words are used (奥さん、お父さん etc), and when there is no obvious such term given names (下の名前) are used (with さん of course). This is absolutely not "informal" at all.

As has been said, those brackets (「カギ括弧」; better to call them 'kagi-kakko' than "quotation marks") are for clarity, and do not change the meaning at all. They certainly could not be an "invitation to yobisute" even if there were such a thing.

  • Does this answer mean Japanese people almost never say "下の名前で呼んで", "さん付けなんか要らないよ" or "呼び捨てでいいよ" to their penpal? I doubt it. – naruto Sep 19 '17 at 10:41

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