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Roy Greenhilt: So Miko... Wait, should I call you "Miko" or "Miyazaki"? I mean, "Miko" clearly sounds like your given name, but I thought that the surname came first in feudal Japan.

Miko Miyazaki: What is this "Japan" you speak of? I have never heard of it before.

Roy Greenhilt: Good point.

Modern cultures use different conventions for what constitutes a personal name, resulting in all kinds of misunderstandings when speaking about foreign names. Additionally, there may be different conventions in the same country, most notably formal documents or lists sorted by family name. On this wiki, since most tropers are Westerners, the most noticeable of them is the treatment of Japanese names, usually when speaking about anime.

Name orders include:

  • Western: given name, followed by middle names (if any), followed by family name. Thus, William Shakespeare was William of the Shakespeare family. Since this is the convention best known to English speakers, the given and family name are usually called the "first" and "last" name in English. Incidentally, the only European culture that places the family name first is the Hungarians[1].
    • Hispanic: given name, father's first family name, mother's first family name. Thus, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime minister of Spain, is the son of Juan Rodríguez and Purificación Zapatero. Common thing among Hispanics in other countries is to merge the two family names into one single surname, sometimes with a hyphen.
    • Lusitanic: given name, mother's last family name, father last family name.
    • Icelandic: given name, father's given name plus -sson if male or -sdottir if female. Thus, Ólafur Grímsson, President of Iceland, is Ólafur, son of Grím.
    • France: the family name comes last, except in some official documents. Thankfully, it is sometimes clarified by putting the family name in all caps.
  • Ancient Roman: given name, followed by the name of the clan (gens), followed by the name of a family within the clan. (Women, however, generally only had a given name.) Thus, Gaius Julius Caesar was Gaius of the Caesar family within the Julius clan. What creates confusion is arbitrary shortening of names: Caesar's one-time allies in the First Triumvirate, commonly known as Crassus and Pompey, had different components taken out, as their full names were Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Some famous (or infamous) Romans got a fourth name (agnomen) for their achievements, such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who got the nickname Felix (fortunate).
  • East Asian: for the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, family name, followed by given name. However, the names are often (and inconsistently) swapped in the West to match the Western convention: Thus, Hayao of the Miyazaki family, known as Hayao Miyazaki in the West, is known as Miyazaki Hayao (宮崎 駿) back in Japan. Korean given names consist of two syllables, usually hyphenated in the West (such as Kim Jong-il, Jong-il of the Kim family).
    • Hong Kong: If a person has a Western given name in addition to a Chinese one, then in English-language sources their full name order will be the Western given name, followed by the family name, followed by the Chinese given name. For example, the Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen, Yam-Kuen, or Donald, of the Tseng family.
      • Chinese given names may be one or two syllable affairs and may or may not be hyphenated. In some cases, the second syllable maps directly into the western idea of a "middle name". For some, the English given name may be a pet name and may not appear in formal documents.
    • To further complicate Japanese name transliterations, historical persons' (defined to be anyone born before Meiji Restoration) names are not supposed to be swapped around, ie. Tokugawa Ieyasu is Tokugawa Ieyasu in English, not Ieyasu Tokugawa (Except in other Western languages besides English). Too bad that they forgot to tell this to the Japanese who have a tendency to automatically swap name order in all names when writing them in the Latin alphabet, assuming that this is the correct way.
  • Vietnamese often put their family names last in Western countries, but because about 40% of the country shares the last name Nguyen, newspapers will often refer to people by their first names. Mr. Thuc Nguyen might be Mr. Thuc in the news. Since everyone knows it's a first name, they assume the last name is Nguyen.
  • Russian: given name, followed by patronymic, followed by family name. Thus, Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, was also known as Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, which means Nikolai, son of Aleksandr, of the Romanovs family. The patronymic is often left out by Russians -- except when addressing or referring to someone deferentially (e.g., a teacher or significantly older acquaintance), in which case only the given name and patronymic will be used. And to add to the confusion, most Russian formal documents place the family name first; e.g., "Romanov Nikolai Aleksandrovich". One troper has heard of a case when the Japanese, upon seeing a Russian name written in this form, thought the patronymic was the given name because it came last.
  • Arabic: a full-blown Arabic name has, in the following order, an optional kunya (a reverse patronymic, meaning mother/father of), an ism (a given name), a nasab (a patronymic or string of patronymics), a laqab (a descriptive, sort of like a nickname) and a nisba (a family laqab, closely approaching the European "family name"). Fortunately, most contemporary Arabs only use the given name and one or more patronymics on an everyday basis. Some countries have adopted fully western conventions, and most use them for international documents, though westerners may be required to construct such a full name for internal documents, such as visa applications.
Examples of confusion:

Anime and Manga

  • Tower of God adds to the confusion with a third family name, as in Koon Agero Agnis or Ha Yuri Zahard. The first name is the family name, usually of the father, as in Koon's case. The second name is the given name, where as the thrid name can be the maiden name of the mother (as in Koon's case, who had multiple wives with multiple children) or the family name of ones mentor, like Zahard's Princesses.
  • Osaka of Azumanga Daioh wondered whether "Blue Three" (Buruu Surii; i.e., Bruce Lee) had "Blue" for his surname, but Tomo pointed out that he's a foreigner, so his surname would be "Three". (It didn't occur to the girls that Bruce Lee was of Chinese descent — China uses the same name order as Japan.) Translators usually change this joke because it would be too confusing for western viewers, in part because translated anime tends to reverse the name order anyway; we're introduced to Tomo Takino, not Takino Tomo.
    • The manga adapted this by having Osaka and Tomo argue about (Jean-Claude) Van Damme. Tomo thinks the right order must be "Damme Van". The followup joke is also different — instead of wondering who Blue One and Two would be, Osaka wonders whether there's a Damn Car.
    • "Bruce Lee" actually is his name in western order, and the name "Bruce" was a second name thought up by a doctor for the first three months of his life spent in San Francisco. His original name in eastern order is...a lot of things.
  • Being part gaijin (non-Japanese, in this case part German and possibly American), Asuka's name in Neon Genesis Evangelion is prone to this. Her full name is stated to be Sohryu Asuka Langley, with her gaijin last name coming after her given name as per Western culture, and her Japanese last name coming before her given name. There's no indication from the ordering as to which last name comes from which parent, although we can surmiss that "Langley" is her father's last name, as it didn't come from her mother.
    • Speaking of her mother, she has the same problem: her full name is Sohryu Kyoko Zeppelin, as she's part German. Again, the ordering doesn't really tell us which side of her family is German, although she could perfectly have passed on her mother's last name to her daughter, according to Japanese customs. On the other hand, Germans usually pass on the father's last name to the children, so there's simply no way to know save for Word of God.
    • Some casual fans have even been known to confuse "Langley" and "Zeppelin" for their middle names, especially if the names are switched to Western "last name last" format and the Western names end up in the middle. Regardless, the rest of the cast shows none of this ambiguity and usually refer to them as "Sohryu" per Japanese Last-Name Basis standard.
  • Some people still think the Starlights/Three Lights in Sailor Moon are siblings, because their names are Kou Seiya, Kou Yaten and Kou Taiki. However, these names are written in the western order, so they in fact share the same given name, "kou" being the Japanese word for light.
  • In School Rumble, much fun was had with Harima Kenji and Harry MacKenzie, which works only with the right order for each one.

Film - Animated

  • The trope is referenced in Team America when Hans Blix calls Kim Jong-Il "Mr. Il".


  • The decision to keep use the Japanese name order in the first issue of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book has caused plenty of confusion in its adaptations, particularly when it comes to Oroku Saki, The Shredder. While Oroku was clearly the character's family name in the original story--his brother, Oroku Nagi, is introduced in the same issue--the first cartoon (which, like all adaptations, kept his name unreversed as "Oroku Saki") would play both "Oroku" and "Saki" as the character's given name, depending on the episode. Later, the second cartoon established "Oroku" as the given name and "Saki" as the family name within its continuity, despite it's general faithfulness to the comic, and the fact that it kept parallel character Hamato Yoshi's name intact. Despite this change, which is kept consistent through the series and carries over to his daughter, who is consistently referred to as "Miss Saki", several fans will insist that it is a mistake, and that the character's proper family name is "Oroku", as in the comics.


  • There is a weird moment early in Bram Stoker's original Dracula, where the count accidentally calls Jonathan Harker "Harker Jonathan" and explains that he slipped into the Romanian tradition of giving the patronymic first. [2]
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Barrayaran culture (or at least, the Vor nobility) has an extensive set of rules governing the naming of children, especially sons. When he first meets his clone-brother, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan is able to tell him instantly that his name should be Mark Pierre Vorkosigan.

Live Action Television

  • An example of the inconsistency comes from the English dub of Iron Chef, where Japanese chefs (whether Iron Chef or challenger) have their names changed to the western, given name first order, but Chinese chefs (including Iron Chef Chen, born in Japan to parents who emigrated from China) had their names left with the family name first. The easiest way to figure it out is probably to listen to the Chariman's undubbed dialogue.
  • Listening to the original Japanese announcer on some seasons - particularly the earlier ones - of G4's Ninja Warrior (the Americanization of the Japanese Game Show Sasuke) occasionally gives one a rare opportunity to hear Western names spoken family name first. In later seasons (when foreign contestants become more common), they tend to match the name order with the contestant's preference.
  • In Star Trek, Bajoran family names come first, followed by the given name. This caused some confusion when Riker, upon first meeting Ro Laren, addressed her as "Ensign Laren", which the ensign was quick to point out was wrong. Most Bajorans tend to forgive this faux pas to outsiders.

Video Game

  • Oerba Yun Fang and Oerba Dia Vanille in Final Fantasy XIII. To people who automatically assume that they're following the Chinese naming scheme and had not gone far in the game, and then read the entry for the game on TV Tropes and reach Les Yay. You'll need to resist the urge to throw in Incest Is Relative, because they're just not relatives. The naming convention for the pair is <village of origin> <clan name> <given name>. Oerba is not their surname!
  • Most pre-20th century Japanese historical figures are referred to in traditional eastern naming order with the family name first. This caused problems in Sengoku Basara; when the third game was brought to the west as Samurai Heroes, they switched the characters' names to western order. This became confusing for people who had already or then watched the anime English dub, which used eastern naming order.
  • The poorly-translated English localizations of the Castle Shikigami games retain the Eastern name order in the manuals, but use the Western order in-game.
  • Certain Dance Dance Revolution remixes feature the song "Telephone Operator" by Pete(r) Shelley, but his name is mis-ordered as Shelley Peter.
  • Quarians in Mass Effect have names organized as given name, apostrophe, family name, vas ship of residence (being space nomads and all). Thus, Tali'Zorah vas Neema is Tali, surnamed Zorah, from Neema, although it's just as common to refer to her as "Tali'Zorah." Tali's ship name changes several times over the course of the series, including to "vas Normandy," to suggest she's more a resident of Shepard's ship than a quarian one. The much-maligned third Mass Effect novel infamously only gave quarians a first name and ship name, and furthermore wrote as if their ship names were their last names.

Web Original

  • Danbooru or similar image sites prefer using the East Asian order, due to their focus on anime and manga (fan)art.

Real Life

  • Some newspaper articles refer to Hu Jintao as if his surname were Jintao. Just remember that Hu's on first (in the PRC), not Jintao.
  • There was a newspaper debate about how to refer to the late Saddam Hussein. The New York Times insists rather formally on "Mr. Hussein" (after he lost office), despite most calling him "Saddam", but the Times thought this was like calling Stalin "Joe". As mentioned above, the Arabic naming system can be complicated, and in Iraq, Saddam was "Saddam al-Tikriti" or "Saddam from the Tikrit region", but usually "Saddam" whether you liked him or not. Saddam himself imposed western-style names on Iraq, choosing Hussein as his family name.
    • The name Hussein is already used for the king of Jordan, anyway.
  • In Hungary, the only European country with "eastern" naming order, it is a very popular factoid that Japan is the only other country with family names coming first, so in case of English sources, the know-it-all translators are very eager to reconstruct the "westernized" Japanese names, often without making sure that they were westernized in the first place.


  1. This is because the culture's only European in terms of location; as the name implies, Hungarians are actually of Asiatic extraction, though they're closer to the Mongols
  2. It's "weird" because he's probably faking it.
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