Since people often just use someone’s name to say “you” do you always need an honorific?

Like could I just say 「ボブの犬が大好きな!」to say “I love your dog!” to Bob? Or would it need be ボブさん?

1 Answer 1


In Japanese, the social norm is to call a person's name with an honorific, unless they have expressly asked you not to, even when referencing something using their name. Not using an honorific implies a level of intimacy that might not be there, which could come across as rude.

In addition, when speaking to someone, unless they have asked you to call them by a first name or a nickname, the polite and safe way to address most anyone is by using their family name + さん. This is even if you are talking to someone about someone else, as it shows respect for that person. Not using an honorific may lead the other party to think that you and that person have a level of intimacy which may not be there, and could be confusing and misleading.

Say that you are a man and you meet a woman by the name of 高橋{たかはし}みちこ. Here, the family name is 高橋{たかはし}.

If you meet her in a public context, that is, she is a classmate, a co-worker, or just a passerby on the street, to you she should be 高橋{たかはし}さん. The さん here has similar effect to Mr., Ms., or Mrs. would in English, except that there is no gender differentiation. You may use さん for men and women alike.

There are other honorific titles, such as:

ちゃん (which normally is reserved for little children and is considered "cute")
くん (which normally is used for younger males, boys, etc.)
さま (which usually represents a higher level of respect, such as admiration, for that person)

As I said before, not using an honorific at all implies a very high level of intimacy with that person. Say that you start socializing with 高橋さん. On some karaoke night, she says that you can just call her 高橋, or more likely, she'll tell you you can drop the さん when addressing her. It usually means she would like to be more personal, maybe as friends.

Or, say you start dating 高橋さん. After some dates, she says that you can call her みちこ, without an honorific. That's a very intimate way to address someone, and without having been asked to do so, assumes a lot of closeness.

However, if ever you are unsure, begin with the family name + さん and go from there, when addressing people. Most people will respond with their preference, but this is the polite way to address the majority of people.

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