Home »Grammar Lessons » Name Titles

敬称 Name Titles

A look at the many name titles in Japanese


Polite ‘Mr.’ Enders

Anyone who has seen the Karate Kid movies knows “Daniel-san.” The ‘san’ is an example of what’s called 敬称 keishou in Japanese. ‘San’ may be the most used example, but it is far from the only one. Each 敬称 has its own connotation and level of politeness. This short article will explore the most common 敬称.

Meanings: respect
On Readings: ケイ
Kun Readings: うやま・う

Common Jukugo:
敬語 keigo polite/honorific language
尊敬 sonkei respect

Meanings: praise
On Readings: ショウ
Kun Readings:

Common Jukugo:
称賛 shousan praise, applause
対称 taishou symmetry
称号 shougou a title, a name, a degree

In English we also use 敬称. Mr., Miss, Ms., Dr. are a few. But Japanese has many more and are used far more than their English cousins.

The most used 敬称:

さん san – most common and safest everyday 敬称: Said to both men and women
sama – very polite and safe; use freely when meeting people for the first time and with people you don’t know very well: Said to both men and women
ちゃん chan – a cuter way to say san. A hybrid of chan and sama is ちゃま. Said to young girls and sometimes very young boys. Pets also often have ちゃん or ちゃま added to their names
kun – same kanji as kimi (you): Said to boys mostly or men under the speaker’s status (boss to employee, for example)
先生 sensei – teachers, doctors and other professionals get this title Said to both men and women

博士 hakase – Dr. (doctorate, PhD): Said to both men and women. 山内博士 yamauchi hakase – Dr. Yamauchi
shi – polite; can be used to refer to an individual, a couple or a clan/family: 朝倉氏 asakura shi – the Asakura Clan; 平氏 hei shi – the Taira clan; In 電車男 (densha otoko – a TV show) a character named まつなが is affectionally called まつなが氏 throughout. This character is far from what one would imagine a ‘氏’ should be.

Not so useful in the ‘real’ world, but heard from time to time:

殿 dono – used in official writings or letters.
okina – perhaps similar to the English ‘old man…’ Used for elderly men who are respected or in mukashi banashi it can be used like おじいさ; 青木翁 aokiokina old man Aoki
伯爵 haku shaku – count, earl For example: ドラキュラ伯爵 dorakyura hakushaku Count Dracula
jou – Miss Better not use this one. It can have エッチ connotations. Of course it totally depends on the context.

And then you have common phrases/titles that use 敬称:

お母さん okaasan – mommy
お父さん otousan – daddy
(お)兄さん niisan – older brother Can be used by children to call older boys and men whose names they don’t know
(お)姉ちゃん neechan – older sister: You can also say 姉さん. Doing a quick Google search, -さん and -ちゃん seem to pull up the same amount of hits. This is used to call young women regardless of the age of the speaker.
お嬢様 ojousama

ma’am, madam You can also say お嬢さん; said to young women (in their 20-30’s??)
お客様 okyakusama – ‘honored customer’ Heard in every store in Japan! That and いらっしゃい! (welcome!)

I am sure as a beginner you were told over and over again don’t call yourself ‘san’!! While this is still good advice, there is at least one case where 敬称 is used in the first person:

俺様 oresama – I, me; The oft found-in-manga-but-not-in-real-life, “Mr. Number One”

There are many more in Japanese – for example 敬称 pertaining to the Emperor or the business world. But that would be going well beyond my knowledge. If you know of others and can give examples, please post them here. Corrections also welcomed.

Check out our money-saving bundles. Most of these digital instant download bundles are over half off the regular individual price! Something for everyone. Click here to check it out.The Japan Shop Bundles

Sharing is Caring...

This Week’s TheJapanShop.com Sale

Makoto #22

Support Us On Patreon

become TheJapanesePage patreon







Get Clay’s Kanji 100 eBook For FREE


Get Clay's Fiction eBook for FREE