Why is that young children call themselves by their first name when referring to themselves? This question is similar to Speaking in the third person; however, young children do not understand the connotations of speaking in the third person.

My fiance's cousin who is six refers to herself as ゆりちゃん. Is the only reason she calls herself by her own name because everyone calls her ゆりちゃん when talking to her? When do children stop referring to themselves in the third person and why?


2 Answers 2


@JesseGood's answer is correct, but just to add to it:

Not only will other people refer to kids by their name, they will often also refer to themselves by title when speaking to them. I.e. their mother/father will likely refer to themselves as "お母さん/お父さん" or "ママ/パパ" and their teacher to him/herself as "先生" when speaking to them. They might not hear personal pronouns much at all in their daily lives.

Thus, it's not surprising that kids learn that people have a label which is used independently from who is using it. Kids have to learn to use pronouns at all, which is quite different from the problem of learning to use I/you correctly, which seems to be common in languages where pronouns are more commonly used.

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    Also, it's common to call a young boy as "boku (僕)." In the end, he associates "boku" like his name with himself, and ends up saying it to mean "I".
    – Axioplase
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 6:23
  • @Axioplase Wow, is that really common? This is the first time I've heard it. What about girls then?
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 0:37
  • @Chris: yes, I think it's very common. For girls, I think you mostly use the child's name, or お嬢ちゃん (ojouchan).
    – Axioplase
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 8:49

According, to the wikipedia article for illeism:

Young children in Japan commonly refer to themselves by their own name (a habit probably picked from their elders who would normally refer to them by name, this is due to the normal Japanese way of speaking where referring to another in the third person is considered more polite rather than using the Japanese words for "you", like Omae[3]) though as the children grow older they normally switch over to using first person references. Japanese Idols also may refer to themselves as so to give off the feeling of childlike cuteness.

Which I think has some truth to it. In Japanese it is more common to refer to children by their name than other languages and also since young women also use it, there is a chance that the child may pick it up by seeing the usage from other people. Also, my own personal opinion is that Japanese is very complicated when it comes to first person and third person pronouns, and that is why children will use their names to avoid having to worry about it. Women generally will stop at an early age although some women might continue using it even up to there early thirties (although people around them might detest it). I think for men, you will only see the usage in very young children (preschool or earlier).

Also, I think it should be known that while English speaking countries find this usage very strange, it is common in other languages such as Thai also.

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