I work in a global company that with many Japanese people has a general rule to add "san" to the names of people. With so many names from different countries and different order rules it is hard to know which is the surname.

Is there a good way of representing "firstname middlename surname san" without making it look like "san" is part of the name.

For example this seems logical but not something I've ever seen: "(firstname middlename surname)-san"

  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about Japanese etiquette. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:00
  • @medica It appears to be about how to represent that etiquette in letters that are presumably written in English, using English characters and punctuation. Essentially, how to incorporate a foreign morpheme at the end of more foreign morphemes (names). It belongs here more than it does on the Japanese SE, though only just.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:02
  • Hello. This is not about Japan or Japanese, it could be applied to more than Japanese culture, hence the title contains no mention of Japan. Thanks. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:12
  • How do your co-workers do it?
    – Wlerin
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


How about italicising -san in order to make it clear that it is merely an honorific that has been attached to the actual name?


For the general question, the accepted practice is pretty much to tack on the word that modifies the larger phrase at the end, with a hyphen, as with -san. Unless of course the "word" carries its own punctuation, as the possessive 's.

For your specific problem, I can think of two options, one of which you've already mentioned.

The first option is to simply use English honorifics (Mr., Ms., Mrs.) when communicating in English, and Japanese honorifics when communicating in Japanese. This does carry the disadvantage that English honorifics are not genderless (and also not really honorifics, exactly), but there are usually other ways to phrase your greeting in the case of unknown gender.

The second is to add -san after the final name (it doesn't matter if it is the surname or not). Perhaps italicize it as Erik Kowal suggests. -san is used in English, but I've no idea what effect reading it would have on your co-workers, if that is not company practice. Which brings me to my final point.

The more I think about it, the more I question whether this is really a matter of English usage, and not rather something you should be asking your employers. It is their company policy, after all, if I understood your opening paragraph correctly. Your best bet is to either ask them directly, or observe how they write their own letters and company documents.

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