[lg policy] News Navigator: Will switching Japanese name order in alphabet catch on?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Jun 10 10:44:21 EDT 2019

News Navigator: Will switching Japanese name order in alphabet catch on?

June 10, 2019 (Mainichi Japan)

Japanese version <https://mainichi.jp/articles/20190608/ddm/003/070/121000c>
The names of the three most senior politicians at the Ministry of
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are seen with their
names in traditional surname first order, in this image taken from its
website on June 6, 2019.

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about
the order of Japanese names when rendered into the Latin alphabet.

   - 【Related】Minister to ask foreign media to write Japanese names in
   'family name first' order
   - 【Related】News Navigator: Can Japanese people change their names?
   - 【Related】Education minister to ask local gov'ts to write Japanese
   surnames first in English

Question: Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama has called for Japanese
names to be put in their traditional order of family name first when
written using the alphabet. Why?

Answer: In Japan, it's most common to see the given name first when they're
rendered into alphabetic spellings. This came about due to
"Europeanization" policies in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when the order was
established to conform to American and European naming conventions. But in
2000, a Japanese language policy council recommended that the family name
first order should be adopted. They reasoned that in an increasingly
internationalized world, it is important for Japan to show its diversity.
Following its recommendation, the Agency of Cultural Affairs sought
cooperation on the change from organizations including central government
bodies, prefectural governments, universities, newspapers and publishers.
Despite their efforts, it did not become standard practice.

Q: So why has this become a hot topic again in 2019?

A: Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono has brought the issue up several
times in recent press conferences. The G-20 Osaka Summit scheduled for the
end of June 2019 has also become an opportunity to draw attention to the
matter. With the meeting set to be broadcast and reported on by news media
organizations all over the world, the Japanese government is seeking for
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be referred to by family name first as "Abe
Shinzo " in summit news items.

Q: How do other countries fare on name order?

A: China and South Korea have the same naming conventions as Japan, with
family name given first and most foreign media news outlets refer to them
surname first, as in the cases of Chinese President Xi Jinping and South
Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Q: Perhaps family-name-first ordering will catch on this time?

Junior high school English textbooks have used the Japanese order since
around 2002, and passports also observe the same surname-forename sequence.
On the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
website, the politicians in its three most senior positions have all had
their name order changed to reflect the renewed initiatives. But, looking
at other ministries, you can still see many instances of the same
given-name-first sequence. The Education Ministry intends to encourage
related organizations to switch to the surname-forename sequence in the
near future, but it has no power to force an alteration, so it remains to
be seen if it will foster a total national change.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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