Call him Abe Shinzo, not Shinzo Abe, Japan asks the world

23 Mai, 2019, 04:34 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • In Japanese etiquette people tend to introduce themselves or call each other by their surnames

That is, if at least two ministers in the Cabinet get their way in pushing for a reversal of the given-name-first convention that Japan has been following since the early 20th century.

Taro Kono told reporters he plans to ask overseas media to write personal names in the Japanese style, so Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will become "Abe Shinzo", for example, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reports. The Japanese diplomat says that the family name should be first when referred to in English, as it is when it is written or spoken in Japanese.

Ahead of a series of important global events in Japan, including a visit from US President Donald Trump this weekend, Japan's foreign minister has issued a request to the English-speaking world: Call our prime minister Abe Shinzo, not Shinzo Abe. The custom is believed to date back to the 19th century, during a period when the Meiji dynasty reformed Japan's complicated naming culture - and encouraged both foreigners and Japanese people themselves to write their family name second when writing in English, part of a broader attempt to conform to worldwide standards. This order came in vogue during a period of rapid westernisation in the Meiji era (1868-1912). If we change this for Abe-san, then we would have to change all other articles about Japanese people. First names are used only among friends or peers and signal a close relationship. The first name-first style has become a standard on credit cards and at many private companies.

But Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki said that the public should be consulted before the move.

Mr Kono said previous studies had indicated the desirability of the change, and the establishment of the new "Reiwa" era was a good time to start.

Mr Kono, whose business card reads "KONO Taro" and who is very fluent in English, said: "It is preferred that Abe Shinzo's name is written as Abe Shinzo in English".

Kono noted that news organizations generally give Chinese and Korean names with the family name first, as in Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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The education secretary, Masahiko Shibayama, is among those who support the change, saying this week the ministry would recommend a reversion to the Japanese system among public bodies, educational institutions and the media.

The recommendation was widely ignored. This is the order used in Japanese but it has become conventional when using the Roman alphabet to switch the order to conform with the western custom.

The question of changing the order of names has been around for decades.

The Yomiuri daily reported on Wednesday that Japanese passports have been following the surname-first order since 1992, although the given name-first order is still in popular use. In general, it says, "follow an individual's preferred spelling".

Abe had his first stint as PM from 2006-2007, before being re-elected to the notoriously unstable post at the head of Japanese government in 2012.

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