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I understand that a foreigners name is spelled in katakana, but wanted to know the appropriate way of spelling a Japanese persons name. Would hiragana be preferred? Would a choice be made between a foreign name (katakana) and a native Japanese name?

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Whichever is fine, but katakana tends to be preferred in formal settings. For example, when you take a message over the phone from someone who only called himself Saiki, then you can say サイキ様からお電話がありました. Saiki can be 佐伯, 斉木, 西城 and so on in kanji. Writing さいき様 is not wrong, but it may look childish.

Traditionally, katakana has been used as the default script when kanji is not available for some reason. This is why old telegraphs and old computers only supported katakana.

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  • Another common example (though technically in reverse direction of the question): some restaurants have queue sheets, where you'd write down your name and the size of your party instead of having to physically stand in the queue; the waitstaff calls your name when they are ready to seat you. One writes down one's name in katakana, not kanji, in order not to embarrass the waitstaff. – Amadan Aug 6 '19 at 11:58
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Yes, hiragana is the preferred way of spelling a name without knowing the actual characters.

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    I don't think it is that straightforward. The kanji names are often intentionally replaced by hiragana e.g. on the name tags of shop employees to make it easy to everyone to read. But, if we talk about a more "official / serious" use [like e.g. authorities referring to a person with a name with unknown spelling and one wants to avoid misunderstandings + make it clear that the correct spelling is not known, katakana would be preferred, as using hiragana could lead to a confusion where one might think (that even for the surname) the hiragana would actually be the correct spelling. – Tuomo Aug 5 '19 at 0:25
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    Hmm maybe it is! I know that I've always been taught that hiragana is the go-to in these situations and while I was studying in Japan this same question was answered this way. Of course I do see your point there. – deadpanexistence Aug 5 '19 at 0:36

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