How should you state the name of an important Japanese figure in English?

Currently, I am writing a paper, and in this paper, I have them listed as:
Mr. [Firstname] [Lastname]
My professor has said to change it, as the Japanese have a different set of nomenclature rules that should be followed in my paper.

It there a better way to formally write out these names in English?
How would names usually appear on a business card? Is it listed the same way as I can put down in my paper?

  • 1
    Did he say what to change it to? If you have not altered the order of the words in the name, and merely prefixed Mr, then what is the objection? Perhaps the objection is the use of the English "Mr"? This question might be better asked on Japanese Language, but at the moment I don't feel there's enough information to migrate it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 31, 2017 at 9:33
  • If that happened to me I would ring the nearest Japanese Embassy or consulate and ask someone in the cultural section to give a definitive answer, preferably in writing. Feb 11, 2017 at 22:38
  • The thing to avoid is the first name, which in Japan would be considered overly familiar. However, because the last name by itself looks somewhat "bare" in English, it's common to add "Mr.", at least for men. The absolute worst thing to do is try to mimic a Japanese honorific like -san or -sama, or to dwell on titles like "Teacher", since it is almost impossible for a non-Japanese speaker to do this consistently across all the people that must be mentioned in a document of any size. You just end up looking gauche.
    – user205876
    Feb 2, 2018 at 2:24

1 Answer 1


Japanese honorifics don't easily translate into English. "-san" is roughly equivalent to English "Mr." or "Ms.", but other honorifics in Japanese don't have good English equivalents since Anglo-American culture doesn't have the same fine graded degree of status/politeness gradation that Japanese culture does.

For example, "sensei" is a more prestigious honorific than the literal translation "teacher". It is closer in prestige to titles such as "Rabbi", "Reverend", "Dr." or "Professor" or "Honorable" but does not exactly correspond to any single U.S. title or honorific.

Likewise, there is no real English equivalent to diminutives like "-kun".

Similarly, there is no real English equivalent to the presumption of intimacy in the Japanese language that is associated with not using any honorific.

Many translations from Japanese to English would leave the Japanese honorifics in place in romanized form, and would include a footnote or explanation statement somewhere explaining what they mean.

Translations also vary in whether they retain or reverse Asian name order. Follow your advisors direction, or if you aren't clear, use the model of previous works similar to your own.

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