Japanese List of Name Honorifics

Just because I need to refresh my mind and memory of my Japanese language lesson… But well… I have to googled it to copy it all here.

Besides, I will let you laugh on me for the fact: I never heard “dono” before. So, when I watched Rurouni Kenshin and The Last Samurai (1979), I noticed [namae]-dono on those movie.

Yes, that is the real reason why this post have to be written (at least for my new lesson).

In Japan, when talking about other people, one uses honorific titles. These go after the person’s name. The most common title issan. It means all of “Mr”, “Mrs”, and “Ms.” Mr Tanaka is referred to as Tanaka-san, as is Mrs Tanaka, and their unmarried daughter. Other common titles include sama, a more polite version of san, sensei, for teachers, kun and chan. These titles are placed after the name. These titles are not usually used with one’s own name.

Correct use of titles is considered very important in Japan. Calling somebody by just their name, without adding a title, is calledyobisute (呼び捨て), and is bad manners.

Although titles are usually added to people’s names, there are some exceptions. They are not used when talking about a family member, or another member of one’s “in-group”, to someone from outside the group. At work, Ms. Shimizu calls her boss “Tanaka san” when she talks to him, or about him to other people. But when she talks to a customer from outside their company, she calls him just “Tanaka”.

Common honorific titles


San (さん) is the most common honorific title. San is similar to “Mr”, “Ms.”, “Mrs”, and so on. There is no kanji form for san, it’s written in hiragana.

San may also be used with a characteristic of a person. A bookseller might be hon’ya-san, “Mr. Bookseller”. A foreigner might be referred to as gaijin-san. (See also 6.3. Is a derogatory term?.)

San is also used when talking about entities such as companies. For example, the offices or shop of a company called Kojima denkimight be referred to as Kojima Denki-san by another nearby company. This may be seen on the small maps often used in phone books and business cards in Japan, where the names of surrounding companies are written using san.
San is also applied to some kinds of foods. For example, fish used for cooking are sometimes referred to as sakana-san.

Both san and its more formal equivalent, sama, imply familiarity. In formal speech or writing, the title shi may be preferred.


Kun (君) is informal and mostly used for males, such as boys or juniors at work. It is used by superiors to inferiors, by males of the same age and status to each other, and in addressing male children. In business settings junior women may also be addressed askun by superiors.

Schoolteachers typically address male students using kun, while female students are addressed as san or chan.

In the Diet of Japan, diet members and ministers are called kun by the chairpersons. For example, Junichiro Koizumi is calledKoizumi Jun’ichirō kun. However, when Takako Doi, a woman, was the chairperson of the lower house, she used the san title.


Schwarzenegger AKA Shuwa-chan

Chan (ちゃん) is a form of san used to refer to children and female family members, close friends and lovers. The change from san to chan is typical of a kind of “baby talk” in Japanese where “sh” sounds are turned into “ch” sounds, such as chitchai for chiisai, “small”.

Chan is also used for adults who are considered to be kawaii (cute or loveable). For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger gained the nickname Shuwa-chan (シュワちゃん).

Chan is sometimes applied to male children if the name does not fit with the kun suffix. For example, a boy called Tetsuya may be nicknamed Tetchan rather than Tekkun for reasons more to do with phonetics than anything else.

Although it is usually said that honorifics are not applied to oneself, some women refer to themselves in the third person using chan. For example, a young woman named Makimight call herself Maki-chan rather than using a first person pronoun like watashi. Chanis also used for pets and animals, such as usagi-chan. (See also 9.1. What are the personal pronouns of Japanese?.)

In the same way that chan is a version of san, there is also chama (ちゃま) from sama. Other variations of chan include chin (ちん), and tan (たん).

Senpai and Kōhai

Senpai and Kōhai

Senpai (先輩) is used by students to refer to or address senior students in an academic or other learning environment, or in athletics and sports clubs, and also in business settings to refer to those in more senior positions. Kōhai (後輩) is the reverse of this. It is used to refer to or address juniors.


Sensei (先生) is used to refer to or address teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, or other authority figures. It is also used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in some skill. It is used by fans of novelists, musicians, and artists. For example, Japanese manga fans refer to manga artist Rumiko Takahashi as Takahashi-sensei.


Sama (様) is the formal version of san. It’s used in addressing persons higher in rank than oneself, and in commercial and business settings to address and refer to customers. It also forms parts of set phrases such as o-kyaku-sama (customer) or o-machidō-sama (“I am sorry to keep you waiting”).Sama also follows the addressee’s name on postal packages and letters.

Sama is also often used for people considered to have some high ability or be particularly attractive. At the peak of his popularity, Leonardo DiCaprio gained the nickname Leo-sama in Japan.

Sama is also occasionally used about oneself, as in the arrogant male pronoun ore-sama, “my esteemed self”, meaning “I”. However, this is not common outside fiction or humour. (See also 9.1. What are the personal pronouns of Japanese?.)


Shi (氏) is used in formal writing, and sometimes in very polite speech, for referring to a person who is unfamiliar to the speaker, typically a person who the speaker has never met. For example, the shi title is common in the speech of newsreaders. It is preferred in legal documents, academic journals, and certain other formal written styles because of the familiarity which san or sama imply. Once a person’s name has been used with shi, the person can be referred to with shi alone, without the name, as long as there is only one person being referred to.

Other titles

Director Yasujiro Ozu

Occupation-related titles

Instead of the above general honorifics, it is fairly common to use the name of the person’s job after the name. It is common for sports athletes to be referred to as name + senshu (選手) rather than name + san. A master carpenter called Suzuki might have the title tōryō (棟梁), meaning “master carpenter”, attached to his name, and be referred to as Suzuki-Tōryō rather than Suzuki-San. Television lawyer Kazuya Maruyama is referred to as Maruyama Bengoshi (丸山弁護士) (literally “Maruyama-lawyer”) rather than Maruyama-san.

Inside companies, it is also common to refer to people using their company rank, particularly for those of a high rank, such as company president, shachō (社長) or other titles such as buchō (部長), department chief, etc.

Honorific job titles

The name of a job may have two versions. For example, “translator” may be hon’yakuka (翻訳家) or hon’yakusha (翻訳者). Job titles ending in ka (家), meaning “expert”, usually imply some kind of expertise, thus, by the rules of modesty in Japanese, they are not usually used for oneself. The plain form with sha (者), meaning “person”, may be used by the person or in plain text, such as the book title. Use of the ka ending implies respect. Similarly, judo practitioners are jūdōka (柔道家), or “judo experts”, and manga authors are mangaka (漫画家) or “manga experts”.

In the case of farmers, the old name hyakushō (百姓) (literally “one hundred surnames”) is now considered offensive, and farmers are referred to, and refer to themselves as, nōka (農家), or “farming experts”.

Honorific job titles such as sensei, which is applied to teachers and doctors, also have plain forms. For example, in plain language, a teacher is a kyōshi (教師) and a doctor is an isha (医者) or ishi (医師). The polite versions are used when addressing or talking about the person, but the plain forms of the jobs are used in other cases.

Dewi Fujin,
“Mrs Dewi” or “Madam Dewi”


Fujin (夫人) is a title similar to “Mrs” in English, used to specify the wife of a couple. It tends to be used with persons of high status, such as television celebrity Dewi Fujin (デヴィ夫人), former wife of Indonesian president Sukarno.

Titles for criminals and the accused

Convicted criminals are referred to with the title hikoku (被告) instead of san. For example,Matsumoto hikoku of Aum Shinrikyo. Suspects awaiting trial are referred to by the title yōgisha(容疑者).

Titles for companies

As mentioned above, companies often refer to each other’s offices informally using the company name plus san. In correspondence, the title onchū (御中) is added to the company name when the letter is not addressed to a specific person in the company. Furthermore, the legal status of the company is usually included, either incorporated, kabushikigaisha (株式会社), or limited, yūgen gaisha (有限会社). These may be abbreviated with the kanji kabu (株) or (有) in brackets.

There are also separate words for “our company”, heisha (弊社), which literally means “clumsy/poor company”, and “your company”,kisha (貴社) or onsha (御社), meaning “honoured company”.

Organizations that provide professional services, such as law or accounting firms, may have sha substituted by jimusho (事務所), meaning “office”.

Dono and Tono

Dono and tono, both written “殿” in kanji, roughly mean “lord”. This title is no longer used in daily conversation, though it is still used in some types of written business correspondence. It is also seen on drug prescriptions, certificates and awards.


Ue (上) literally means “above” and, appropriately, denotes a high level of respect. While its use is no longer very common, it is still seen in constructions like chichi-ue (父上) and haha-ue (母上), reverent terms for father and mother.


Iemoto (家元) is an even more polite version of sensei used for the highest ranking persons in traditional art forms such as calligraphy or the tea ceremony.

Titles for royalty and others

  • Heika (陛下) is affixed to the end of a royal title, with a meaning similar to “Majesty”. For example, Tennō heika (天皇陛下) means “His Majesty, the Emperor” and Joō heika (女王陛下) means “Her Majesty, the Queen”. Heika by itself can also be used as a direct term of address, similar to “Your Majesty”.
  • Denka (殿下) is affixed to the end of a royal title, with a meaning similar to “Royal Highness” or “Majesty”. For exampleSuwēden Ōkoku Bikutoria Kōtaishi denka (スウェーデン王国 ビクトリア皇太子殿下) “Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of the Kingdom of Sweden”.
  • Kakka (閣下) means “Your Excellency” and is used for ambassadors and some heads of state.

(original post from: Japan FAQ / Etiquette )



Overview: This is the most common. It can be used on boys or girls. It can be used in formal and (somewhat) informal situations. Pretty much, san is your fail safe when you don’t know which one ot use. You probably won’t get in trouble if you use this one, so it’s good to use with frequency.

Do Not: Refer to yourself as [your name]-san. This is very rude. You might as well start asking people to get on their knees and bow down to you. Only use this on other people.

Other Uses: You can also attach san to some nouns, usually jobs. For example, booksellers are called honya-san. I know that some uses like this are more common than others so I’d say it’s best not to jump to conclusions and start turning every noun you see into name-honorific enders.

Trivial Fact: Ever notice how a lot of Japanese usernames on the net end with three? I just read this on Wikipedia, and it completely makes sense. Since the number three in Japanese is san, some people use this to end their names. I think it’s clever, anyways.

Also, in the Kansai area of Japan (they speak a different dialect, kind of like how people in Texas would have “southern accents” in America), some people use han instead of san (apparently). I can’t confirm this from experience, but that’s what I read.


Overview: Most likely, you’ll never run into an appropriate situation to use sama, unless of course you want to be a little sarcastic. The only time you’ll be using sama is if 1) you’re working for a company and you’re talking to a customre, or 2) you want to be sarcastic about someone who thinks really highly about themselves.

Do Not: EVER refer to yourself as sama…well, that is, unless you’re making fun of yourself. Otherwise, there’s no reason to do it, and if you do it with a serious face, people will think you’re a big stuck up snob.

Trivial Fact: Aparently, there’s also a “Chama” version of sama. Typically, you would use this when talking to someone who is older.


Overview: This is where you start getting more casual. Kun is primarily used when refering to other males, usually by someone of high status to someone younger / lower status than them. A good example would be a teacher talking to a (usually male) student. Some (masculine) females get called (name)-kun, though this is less common.

Do Not: Use this on someone of higher status than you. That means teachers, people that are older than you, parents, etc. You get the picture. If you aren’t sure, then just use san – at least you’ll be safe that way.


Overview: Now we’re in deep waters. Chan is primarily used on children, female family members, lovers, and close friends. Really, it’s a term of indearment. Often times, one’s name will be shortened to addchan to it. For example, I get the Kochan treatment instead of Koichi-chan, which just sounds awkward.

Do Not: (once again), use it on anyone of higher status than you. If you are using chan, the person should be much younger, or you better know that person really well.

Trivial Fact: Unlike all the other name honorifics, it’s actually not too horrible to refer to yourself and add the chan to the end. Children do this a lot, but so do some adults. Adding chan to a name can sometimes become a nickname that’s used instead of the real name, at which point it becomes acceptable to refer to yourself while using the honorific.

Another interesting thing about chan is that it is paired up with ojii and obaa (oji-chan / oba-chan), roughly meaning grandma and grandpa. Once Gma and Gpa get old, they come full circle, and you get to use the honorific reserved for children on them. Poor guys.


If you were confused by that, then just know this is barely touching the surface. Knowing what name honorific to use in what situation is one of the easiest things to learn in terms of the whole hierarchy in Japanese speech. It gets so much worse. Anime, I think, will often give people the wrong idea when it comes to how to use san, kun, sama, & chan (another good reason to get yourself a teacher of some sort). Anyways, speaking of anime messing honorifics up, next time I’ll be talking about the difference between senpai, kohai, and sensei. Actually, come ot think of it, this might be one of the few things they might be getting right.

(original post from: Koichi )


ちゃん – Usually used by a higher authority (older person, person of higher rank…) on females. The boss of a company on her female secretary, for example. “chan” can also be used on small kids, no matter they are male or female. “chan” is also used by very small kids on their family members, no matter they are male or female. For example, they often call their grandfather 「おじいちゃん」. They may also call their parents 「おとうちゃん」and「おかあちゃん」.

くん – Used by a higher authority on males. For example, a senior in school (せんぱい) would use this suffix on their juniors.

さん – Most commonly used. There are no gender restrictions on the usage of “san”. A general feeling of respect is associated with it, so it is normally used on people that you are not familiar with. However, at the same time, “san” doesn’t create the kind of “distance” between individuals like “sama” does. Well, just use it when you want to be polite, whether it is between friends, strangers, family members…

様(さま)- Confers a higher level of respect than “san”. “sama” is often used for someone who has a much higher authority than you, someone that you admire (you do see in anime that girls always add a “sama” after the name of a particular male they really admire) and someone who is famous and recognised. However, as mentioned before, “sama” sort of creates a uncomfortable “distance” between two individuals, as if “sama” is showing the difference in status between the two. I’ve heard that at car aunctions in Japan, any potential customer would be addressed as “sama”. After the car is bought, the company keeps in touch with the buyer using “san”. Not to say that the respect is lowered once the customer has already bought a car, but rather, “san” is used because the buyer is now considered “familiar” and more closer to the company. Also “sama” is used for the addressee on the envelope. You will always find “….様” on the envelope and “…” is the name of the person that you are writing to.

殿(どの)- Confers the highest level of respect. I think “dono” used to be a suffix used to address royalty, although I am not sure how the general Japanese public address their Emperor. “dono” is sometimes used like “sama”, on someone of extreme authority or one who is very very much more experienced and senior compared to you, almost as if that person is your master. Like “sama”, using “dono” would be equivalent to drawing a clear line of status difference between the two, and thus, not as intimate as “san”. “dono” is quite rare in real life I think, I only hear and see them a lot in anime and manga.

(original post from: Sunny Pig )


I hope that I won’t be confused anymore. LOL


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