Rules of Japanese Nicknaming in Japanese Culture

rules of japanese nicknaming

Here are the rules of Japanese nicknaming in Japanese culture. Check it out!

No matter where you come from, I am 100% sure that you have a nickname. Whether it is a shortened version of your name or a completely different name, every one of us has a nickname. 

Some are given to us by our family and some by our friends, and most of the time, we have no idea why we were christened with the nickname in the first place!

Nicknames are used as a way of showing affection and respect. Often they are used to lovingly tease your close ones. 

Japanese nicknames are a little bit different from Western nicknames. Japanese nicknames are somewhat more respectful and thought through. 

There are different ways in which you can come up with Japanese nicknames. Since Japanese is a rather respectful and formal language, of course, we have a few rules!

Rules of Japanese Nicknaming

You Can Combine The First And Last Names Of The Person.

This is a popular trend among the younger Japanese generation where they merge two names to come up with a nickname. 

This is not a popular thing in the West though. However, in Japan, the surname holds a lot of importance as they are a sign of honour to the family name. 

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A good example of this is Kimura Takuya, a Japanese actor. He is fondly referred to as Kimu Taku in Japan. 

Of course, this rule works best on Japanese names. If you want to try this with names of other cultural origins, you may want to add a little Japanese magic and “Japanify” the name first. 

Use A Shortened Version Of The Given Name

This is perhaps the most common way of coming up with a nickname. This holds true in the West and in Japan. 

It’s simple and comes almost naturally in most cases. For example, Veronica can be shortened to Ronnie, Nicholas to Nikki, and Takeshi to Take.

Use A Japanese Suffix Or Honorific

As I mentioned before, the Japanese people are rather respectful. This next way of nicknaming in Japanese is one of the more respectful ones. 

In Japan, honorifics and certain suffixes hold a very important place culturally. It’s quite similar to how we use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. in the English language. When these titles are used while addressing someone in English, you are being respectful and formal. 

In the same way, Japanese honorifics are used to address specific individuals like friends, children, and older people.

The following are a few of the most common Japanese honorifics:

  • さん — -san

This is something that you would use for an equal like a fellow colleague or classmate. It is used by adding it to the person’s surname. However, it is a formal title and can’t be used for close friends.

  • 様 (さま) — -sama

This suffix is similar to the previous one. Just that it’s a little more formal. But like “san”, it is used by adding it to the surname and not the given name. You would use this for clients, customers and others of that sort. 

  • ちゃん — -chan
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“Chan” is an informal honorific. You can use this for your close friends and people who are younger than you. It is usually used for young girls, but you can also use it for your male friends if you have known them for a long time. Unlike the previous honorifics, this one is usually used by attaching it to the person’s given name, but it can also be used with the surname. 

  • たん — -tan

This is a cuter variation of “chan”. It’s super informal and affectionate. It is mostly used for babies and little children when baby talking to them. 

  • 凛 -rin

Just like “tan”, “rin” is another variation for “chan”. It is a sweet and cute way of addressing babies and adorable children. It is used by adding it to their given name.

  • 君 (くん) — -kun

This honorific is used for children but mostly for younger boys. You can use it for your younger male friends by either combing it with their given name or last name. 

  • 先生 (せんせい) ― -sensei

This is a popular honorific and I’m sure you have heard of it. It is usually used for someone in a place of authority and is a master of some skill like a doctor or a teacher. It is usually used with the last name but can also be added to given names.

  • 先輩 (せんぱい) — -senpai

Like “sensei”, “senpai” is also popular. You’ve probably come across it while reading manga or watching anime. It is usually used for someone in a higher rank or position than you, basically a senior. Like the previous one, it is commonly used with the last name of a person but can also be used with the given name. 

Use An Adjective That Best Describes The Person

This is another universal practise when coming up with a nickname for someone. This is my favourite way of coming up with a nickname for someone. You can come up with something absolutely adorable and it’s also a great way of having a personal joke. But, of course, be careful not to accidentally insult somebody. 

Play With Different Translations Of Kanji

Okay, so this one may take a little more effort. You would have to be good at kanji and know what you are doing. You can use an alternative version of the kanji of the person’s name. It’s almost like making a pun of the person’s name, just that you will be using the kanji of their name. 

Use The Person’s Last Name As A Nickname

Coming up with a suitable nickname can be difficult sometimes. It takes time and effort to find something that is not offensive, catchy and befitting of the person. So one of the easiest ways to nickname someone is to just use their last name. This is actually quite a popular trend in Japan among men and women. Surnames are an important part of your identity in Japan and they are honoured. While using surnames as nicknames, they are often shortened and honorifics or suffixes are added.

The Rules of Japanese Nicknaming: FAQs

Written by Ava Sato

Hiya! I'm the main author of Japan Truly. I love everything Japan and love testing out Japanese products, be it skincare and makeup or gadgets! You'll find reviews of some of the best selling Japanese products (tried and tested) right here!

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