What Do You Call Your Japanese Sweetheart? I love you, Sweetie-chan

    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.

    Japanese sweethearts playing around with a vintage camera
    Source: enixii

    I thought it was a particularly interesting study, and since what you call someone says a lot about someone in Japanese. This article just goes into one particular niche: girlfriend and boyfriend.

    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%
    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 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.