Names and Introductions

As is customary in any foreign language course, we'll do lots of common expressions early on. But rather than just giving you a list, I'll explain what each means and the differences between variants.

In this section you'll learn how to introduce yourself, ask for someone's name, and use Japanese name suffixes. No grammar knowledge is required, but you should at least know the basics of Japanese pronunciation before you start.

Recommended background:

Introductions

When meeting someone for the first time, the standard introduction has two parts.

First, each person says:

はじめまして。 Hajimemashite. exp. "It's our first time meeting."

Pronunciation note: the 'shi' in "hajimemashite" has an unvoiced vowel, so it sounds like ha-ji-me-ma-*sh*-te. You can read about vowel devoicing here.

The expression is derived from the verb "hajimeru", meaning "to do (something) for the first time". The closest English equivalent is "How do you do?".

Next, one person gives their name, using one of two patterns.

[Name]です。 [Name] desu. (I'm) [Name].
[Name]と もうします。 [Name] to moushimasu. (I) call myself [Name].

Pronunciation note: The 'su' in "desu" and "masu" is always devoiced, so they sound like de-s and ma-s respectively.

"[Name] desu" is pattern to remember. It's short for:

わたしは [Name]です。 Watashi wa [Name] desu. As for me, (I'm) [Name].

Read more about the topic marker "wa" and the copula "desu"

The "watashi wa" portion of sentences with "I" as the subject can be stiff sounding and usually omitted if obvious from context. Introductions definitely count as such a context.

"[Name] to moushimasu" is much more polite as it uses a humble verb, and is typically used when introducing yourself to someone of a higher rank. This one is optional for now, but I've included it here for completeness.

After giving their name, the speaker ends with one of the following expressions.

どうぞ よろしく おねがいします。 Douzo yoroshiku o-negai shimasu. exp. "Please treat me kindly."
よろしく おねがいします。 Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu. exp. "Please treat me kindly."
どうぞ よろしく。 Douzo yoroshiku. exp. "Please treat me kindly."

All of these mean roughly the same thing, though omitting "o-negai shimasu" makes it less formal. An even more informal version would be "yoroshiku" or "yoroshiku, ne". The closest English equivalent of all of these is "Nice to meet you".

To understand this one better, let's break it down. "Douzo" means "please", in the sense of "please sit down". It carries politeness, but is not a command. You'll learn the other Japanese word translated as "please" (kudasai) when we get to command verbs.

"Yoroshiku" means "well", understandably enough. It comes from the polite adjective "yoroshii", meaning good.

"Negai" is a wish. The prefix "o" is an honorific, shows respect towards the listener. "Shimasu" is a verb meaning "to do", so "o-negai shimasu" means to wish for something. This expression is often used as part of a request. Put these three parts together and you should be able to understand the standard translation, a request for the other person to treat them well.

After the first person finishes, the other person will then give their name and "yoroshiku".

So, in summary, here is a (perhaps overly) typical exchange:

  1. A:はじめまして。
  2. B:はじめまして。
  3. A:[Name] です。(どうぞ)よろしく おねがいします。
  4. B:[Name] です。(どうぞ)よろしく おねがいします。
  1. A: Hajimemashite.
  2. B: Hajimemashite.
  3. A: [Name] desu. (Douzo) yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
  4. B: [Name] desu. (Douzo) yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

In reality, there's some variation, but this much is fine for now.

Asking for Names

Asking for someone's name is a simple task.

おなまえは? O-namae wa? (What is your) name?

"Namae" means "name". "O-namae wa?" is short for the question:

おなまえは なんですか。 O-namae wa nan desu ka? What is (your) name?

Read more about the question marker "ka"

But the short form is generally used instead. This is often used after giving one's name to prompt the other person to give theirs. The response is "[Name] desu", just as before. Note that you would never refer to your own name as o-namae, it would be just namae.

Name Suffixes

When actually using someone's name, you would generally include a name suffix as well. Name suffixes are another example of Japanese honorifics, but unlike "o", they are never optional. They also depend on the speaker and listener's relative ranks. There are just a few common ones.

さん san General purpose, gender neutral, equivalent to Mr./Mrs./Ms.
くん kun Often with male students, and with male friends (children and young adults). Occasionally used with both males and females of lower rank.
ちゃん chan A diminuative, used with young children and with close female friends. Also sometimes used with pets and other cute animals.
さま sama Very similar to "san", but more polite. Used for those with a much higher rank.
せんせい sensei Literally "one who has gone before", used with teachers, professors, doctors, and masters of any trade. Often simply used in place of the persons name when addressing them directly, or when it's obvious which teacher you're referring to.

Instead of saying "you", in Japanese you simply say the person's name with the appropriate name suffix. This is the same way you would always refer to the person, even when they're not around: with the suffix that represents your relationship to them. So if someone is san to you when you're talking to them face to face, they're san all the time.

No suffix at all is a very intimate way to address someone, and is usually not appropriate. On the other hand, you should never use a suffix with your own name.

Japanese Name Order

Full names in Japanese are always said with the family name (surname) first, personal name (given name) second. The exception is for foreigners, whose names can go in either order. (Note: Japanese people don't use middle names.) This is rather like Japanese addresses, which go from broad (one of 47 prefectures) to specific (house number), also the reverse of the English order.

In most cases, you would address someone by their family name, even if you would call them by their personal name under the same circumstances in English. Personal names are generally only used among family and very close friends. In any case, you should attach the correct suffix.

What Next?

Greetings and Other Expressions

Classroom Expressions

The Structure of a Japanese Sentence


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