by

kareshi

Photo by enixii

I just read a great article by awesome j-blog WhatJapanThinks, which translates Japanese surveys into English for your enjoyment. This particular article is titled “How Japanese Call Their Partners.” i.e., what Japanese guys and gals call their significant others. I thought it was a particularly interesting study, and since what you call someone says a lot about someone in Japanese (There’s a lesson about this on TextFugu, if you’re a member), but this article goes deeper into one particular niche… the girlfriend / boyfriend. Oh baby oh baby.

Survey Results

Although you can read about the entire survey here, here are the most important bits of information for this particular article. Data was collected by iShare, and translated by WhatJapanThinks.

★ How do you most often refer to your partner? (Sample size=383)

All Male
Female
Given name only 29.8% 36.0% 21.1%
Given name plus chan, kun 27.2% 24.8% 30.4%
Nickname 21.9% 21.2% 23.0%
Given name plus san 8.4% 7.7% 9.3%
Family name plus san 3.9% 2.7% 5.6%
Oy, Hey, etc (don’t use name) 3.7% 3.2% 4.3%
Family name only 2.3% 1.8% 3.1%
You (don’t use name) 1.3% 0.5% 2.5%
Other 1.6% 2.3% 0.6%

*Most Common nicknames were those with -tan or -nyan added to the end of names

★ How does your partner most often refer to you? (Sample size=383)

All Male
Female
Given name plus chan, kun 31.3% 34.7% 26.7%
Given name only 24.3% 17.1% 34.2%
Nickname 20.9% 23.4% 17.4%
Given name plus san 13.6% 15.8% 10.6%
Family name plus san 3.7% 5.0% 1.9%
Oy, Hey, etc (doesn’t use name) 2.6% 2.7% 2.5%
Family name only 1.8% 0.0% 4.3%
You (doesn’t use name) 0.8% 0.5% 1.2%
Other 1.0% 0.9% 1.2%

*Most Common nicknames were those with -tan or -nyan added to the end of names

★ If you were to be called a name by a partner, which would you most want to be called? (Sample size=484)

All Male
Female
Given name only 31.6% 26.3% 39.5%
Given name plus chan, kun 24.2% 27.0% 20.0%
Nickname 15.7% 15.9% 15.4%
Given name plus san 13.0% 15.2% 9.7%
You (doesn’t use name) 3.9% 4.8% 2.6%
Family name plus san 3.3% 3.5% 3.1%
Family name only 2.5% 1.4% 4.1%
Oy, Hey, etc (doesn’t use name) 1.2% 1.7% 0.5%
Other 4.5% 4.2% 5.1%

Now, this data that was collected consisted of 289 males, and 195 females, which means the “All” percentages will tend to lean toward the male point of view, and this is what I want to focus on, especially with my special interest in male / female speech patterns (which I wrote about in the Japan Times in 2009). Let’s take a look at the top results, broken down by male/female from each data-set, and compare.

How do you refer to your partner?

  • Men: Given Name Only (i.e. first name without -kun, -san, -chan, etc., name enders). 36%
  • Women: Given Name plus -chan, -kun. 30.4%

In this data block, it’s interesting to see that the largest group of men who took the survey refer to their girlfriends without using name-enders like -kun, -chan, etc., whereas women response shows that their largets percentage block do call their boyfriends by name + chan / kun. Let’s keep this in mind while we move on to the next data-set.

How does your partner refer to you?

  • Men: Given name plus chan, kun. 34.7%
  • Women: Given name only. 34.2%

Of course, the opposite of the first dataset should be true, and that’s reflected here. Men are referred to by their name + chan / kun, and women are referred to by their given name only. This helps to validate the above data set even further.

What would you like to be called most?

  • Men: Given name plus chan, kun. 27%
  • Women: Given name only. 39.5%

This is the most interesting table, I think. Although it was fairly split up amongst men (#1 was given name + chan / kun, but there was a close second, which was “given name only”), the women pretty much only had one answer that really stood out, which was “given name only.” I find it really interesting that women are most interested in being called by their given name only, though they are more often calling their significant others by given name + chan / kun.

Although I have very little real data to back this up, I think there are some interesting hypothesis that can be.. er… hypothesized from this.

  1. This is part of the whole “women must talk like women” thing… i.e. more polite, more submissive, etc. Even though kun / chan aren’t necessarily considered to be “polite” in the purest sense (nothing wrong with using these on your significant other, though), it is considered more “polite” than just doing given name without adding an honorific to the end.
  2. Since “given name only” was a close second for men (26.3% versus 27%), and the top spot for “what would you like to be called most” when you add male/female responses together, this could be showing a change in the Japanese language towards a more Western style of language (i.e. just calling people by their first names, at least in casual situations). I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, but the Japanese language does change very quickly, and this could be one of those changes. People surveyed in this study were between the ages of 20-50, which, overall, is pretty young, and could represent a more “modern” generation that is making various changes to the language. It’s hard to look at this data and get too much more out of it without looking at the age groups individually, and then getting more results per age group.
  3. Everyone actually calls each other “snuggy-bottoms” and just don’t want to admit it.

What insight can you pull from the survey data? Personally, I’m not all that good with numbers / statistics unless it involves baseball, so I’m sure I’m missing something, and would love to hear what you think, even if it’s something like “Koichi, you’re full of #$!@.”

What Should You Call YOUR Japanese Sweetheart?

If, by chance, you had a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend, and you didn’t want to call them Snuggy-bottoms, I’d stick with the given name + kun / chan. It’s safe, it works, and there’s nothing wrong with it. The four “main” ways to do it are:

  1. Given name only
  2. Given name plus kun, chan
  3. Nickname (i.e. snuggy bottoms)
  4. Given name plus -san

Everything else drops way off there, and seem kind of weird. I feel sad for the 1-2% of people who are just called “you” or “Hey” or “Oy!” … unless their name is actually “you” or “hey” or “oy,” then I guess it’s okay.

Oh, and before you go, you should follow me on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/Riechanster Valerie

    interesting numbers :D
    How would you translate snuggy bottoms in Japanese?
    I'm curious :D
    btw, I am already following you on twitter ^^

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Snuggy bottoms?!?!?! Is that your petnam for Erin?

  • http://www.phrasalverbsinbritain.com/ Phrasal verb lesson

    HI,
    Well love doesn't know any language because love birds are speech less. So there is no need of language. I think this was really one of the sweet post you have submitted so that i really enjoyed.
    Anyways keep it up and keep continue with your valuable thoughts.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/gotpika Kevin

    For those that don't know using Kun,San,Chan, and Tan is like referring to someone like this

    Chan is the equivalent for girlfriends and boyfriends of saying Sweetie,Baby, or Honey

    Tan is a play on tan kinda like how baby's and kids say ''I wuv u''

    San basically like saying ''Mr. or ''Ms.''

    Kun kinda like saying dude, boy, or man like for example like how to boys say ''Hey dude wats up''

    Just wanted to clear that up :)

  • SethraLogoth

    I'm curious, with all the choices there, is “other” for those that refer to their other half with insults? I just can't figure out what else that “other” would cover. If it is, I think I feel sorry for the ones that chose it as how they would prefer to be referred to… *giggle*

    Although… given the choice between that and snuggy-bottoms… I seriously don't want to know why that was the first example to come to mind there, K. LOL

  • http://gakuranman.com Gakuranman

    The secret's out! Now just to find out what he calls his cat! XD

    Out of interest for your survey, I've usually called my girlfriend by her real name, although I sprinkle that with nicknames/plays on words and the occasional 'chan'. It might also be interesting to analyse at what stage of the relationship nicknames and such are used. I would hazard a guess that couples with a longer history may not use nicknames so much.

    Best wishes to you and snuggle-bottoms.

  • JackiJinx

    Well, I'd call the person primarily by their given name, but if they had a longer name (ie likes to be called John, but was born as Johnathan), I'd call them Johnathan in much more intimate situations to show caring. I like that with my name as well.

  • http://culturequirk.blogspot.com/ Delphine

    Interesting results…. I haven't really thought about this kind of thing too much, but I think for me it would depend on the situation. Although I've never had a Japanese boyfriend, I do have Japanese friends, and what we call each other seems to change all the time (笑). In a more happy, casual setting, we'll add the “chan” or “kun” to be sort of cutesy… But if it's a more serious situation then we just use the first name. (Or for example, I'm trying to get someone's attention but they're not listening: “Moto-kun… Moto-kuuuun…. Oi! Moto!” “Huh what?”) Sometimes I'll also call them “Nii-san”/”Nee-san” etc if they're older, but that doesn't really apply to this haha.
    Are we weird for doing that? It might be different if it was an actual *boyfriend* I guess…

  • http://muddle.nl/ Galerius

    But you can also use chan as an endearment, like close friends. At least I think it works like that otherwise I abused the chan suffix… ;)

    And kun can also be used as an endearment for close friends (towards boys).

    I personally prefer the 'Oy, Hey, etc (don’t use name)' option, it's easier to remember. :P

  • http://www.twitter.com/gotpika Kevin

    Seems kinda strange to use Chan Kun and Tan since most people her in america don't know what they mean but I enjoy using it toward people when i go visit some of my family in little Osaka though I sometimes feels strange being called Tan by some people. I know chan is used mostly for younger children I just like the way it sounds.

  • Pingback: How Japanese call their partners | 世論 What Japan Thinks()

  • Wafukari

    I took a look at your cheat sheet for masculine and feminine speech. I noticed that it doesn't take dialect into account. I was wondering if you had any ideas of doing something on different dialects?

  • meiji

    actually “snuggy bottoms” *is* japanese. it's the extremely polite way form of “hey dork”.

  • http://stlinusjapanese.blogspot.com/ Christine

    In class, we were always taught that “anata” was used to talk to your significant other. Guess that's old school now.

  • mountaincritter

    I've read that wives still call their husbands “anata”, with the connotative meaning of “honey” or “darling”, so I reckon your info isn't outdated yet. : )

  • kanmuri

    When we speak Japanese, I usually call my husband by his first name without kun or chan. He also calls me by my name. In English, I call him “baby” but he still only calls me by my name although he will use sweetheart in emails.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Casanters Casey Harris

    I picked up a really bad habit of “お前.”
    Don't know where, but one day we were joking around, and it just stuck. Too well.
    Eh, sounds like we're arguing half the time, but that's how life works.

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  • Anonymous

    Japanese Sweetheart? But I’not have one.
    so I don’t know how to call her. maybe “honey” or ‘baby” HAHA!!!…

  • Siapa Aja Boleh

    This is interesting. My friend calls her Japanese boyfriend using the first two syllable of his family name.

  • Ryan Shaffer

    I think connotations and perspectives are important here. We Westerners often translate あなた simply as “you,” so in that perspective, it’s easy to assume that using it for significant others is basically addressing them as “Hey! You!” (which makes the relationship sound/ quite abusive, actually). But the question is: How do the Japanese mean it?