What are the origins of the san suffix for names?

The word san (さん) is a derivation from a more respectful word sama (). Sama means "appearance", but it also became used to show respect. The suffix chan (ちゃん) for children and "cute" people comes from the s -> ch sound change which is typical of "baby talk" in Japanese. Another example of this sound change is chitchai for chiisai. See What is the difference between , , and ? for more about the various titles used in Japanese.

San is used for other people, not when talking about oneself, although there is a pronoun ore-sama. See What are the personal pronouns of Japanese? San has no kanji form and is written in hiragana.

San may also be used in place of an honorific prefix when talking about some things like fish, as in sakana-san (魚さん). However, the san in the names of mountains is not related to the san used for people. See What is the name of Mount Fuji?

See also What is Japanese respect language? for more on Japanese titles and respect language.


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