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Let's discuss Japanese names

This week’s featured article

Kyodo

In a break from the long tradition of adopting Western name order in Roman script, the government Friday decided to put surnames first when writing Japanese names in official documents.

“In a globalized world, it has become increasingly important to be aware of the diversity of languages that humans possess. It’s better to follow the Japanese tradition when writing Japanese names in the Roman alphabet,” education minister Masahiko Shibayama said at a news conference.

Shibayama proposed the idea and won approval from his fellow Cabinet ministers at a meeting Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said details still need to be worked out but the government will step up preparations for the change.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will decide whether to ask the private sector to follow the government’s decision, according to Suga.

Critics have wondered whether the change is necessary and whether the public will support it.

Japanese are accustomed to writing their given name first when using a foreign language such as English, a practice that began in the 19th to early 20th centuries due to the growing influence of Western culture.

When asked if he will request to be referred to as Suga Yoshihide, the top government spokesman said he thinks he will.

Shibayama is not the only member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet to call for an end to reversing the name order.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who studied in the United States, also raised the issue, noting that Asian leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in retain their original name order in English.

On the official English website of the education ministry, Shibayama’s name is written in the same name order as in Japanese.

Many other high-ranking Japanese officials, including Kono, continued to be listed in the Western order. As of Friday, the Foreign Ministry website was using “Taro Kono.”

First published in The Japan Times on Sept. 6.

Warm up

One minute chat about your name.

Game

Collect words related to change:

e.g., new, revive, different, etc.

New words

1) possess: to own, e.g. “I possess a Canadian passport.”

2) entity: an organization, e.g. “The entities involved in disaster relief voted to donate more money.”

Guess the headline

Government to put Japanese f_ _ _ _ _ names first when using Roman a_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Questions

1) What is the change mentioned in the article?

2) Why is the government trying to change the order?

Let’s discuss the article

1) How often do you introduce yourself in Western name order?

2) What do you think about this change by the government?

Reference

外国人に自己紹介をする時は名前から名乗るという習慣は、多くの日本人にとって馴染みのあることでしょう。しかし、今は当たり前となっているその方法が国の方針により変わる可能性が出てきました。名前のFirst Name、苗字のLast Nameという英語での言い方も、国際化が進むにつれてGiven Name, Family Nameなどの言い方へと変化しつつあります。変更が決定すればしばらくは混乱しそうですが、言語の多様性を尊重していくためには、混乱は避けられないのでしょうか。外国語でも日本語と同じ順番で名乗るという習慣が日本人に定着する日は来るのか、朝英語の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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