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Learn Japanese - Do you know what Japanese name suffixes mean? (Forum Spotlight)

Welcome to Forum Spotlight! Here we’ll be introducing interesting and useful posts made by members at our very own JapanesePod101.com Forum. This week’s forum spotlight post is a question asked by slehner about the various name suffixes that exist in Japanese that was answered by Psy.

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Question:
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I’m new to the Japanese language and I’ve seen a few suffixes used with names before but I do not know how to use them or understand the usage of them.

I am familiar with “san” and and “sensei”** and their basic use but the ones I’m curious about I’ll list below. I know its quite a list but I’m mostly looking for an understanding of what they mean and how they relate to ones name and the relationship it might place between that person and the one using it.

-tan
-chan
-kun
-sempai
-kōhai
-shi
-sama

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Answer:
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Here’s how I understand it:

-tan
This I think is geek-speak. The only time I’ve heard it is the anime/pasokon otaku subcultures. (note: -tan is a “cutesy” suffix derived from -chan)

-chan
Very common for younger girls/females close within your social circle that are younger than you. I’ve seen it used with boys too in really familiar situations.

-kun
For boys and young men. Sort of like the yang to -chan’s yin. Bosses will use it a lot for their inferiors as well.
-sempai / -kōhai
Mentor & Pupil. Sempai is typically someone a year ahead in school, filling sort of a “big brother” social role for kōhai.

-shi
This is often “Mr,” and you’ll see on the news and in papers. It’s used to denote a name without applying any particular sort of respect to it, while at the same time avoiding disrespect by having no suffix.

-sama
This is a very polite suffix, indicating a great deal of distance between the speaker and listener (for instance, a salesperson addressing a customer will use -sama). It is also used as a form of address in letters and the like.

**Note: In case anyone is wondering, -san is a commonly-used polite name suffix similar to “Mr.” or “Mrs.” that is commonly used after both first and last names. The suffix -sensei is used for professionals such as teachers an doctors. This can be used after first and last names, and it can also be used by itself to address someone.

Thank you Psy for the explanation!

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