sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins

3.2. What are the origins of the san suffix for names?

The word san (さん) is a derivation from a more respectful word sama (様). 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.

San is used for other people, not when talking about oneself, although there is a pronoun ore-sama. See 9.1. 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 3.1. What is the name of Mount Fuji?.

See also 13.1. What is Japanese respect language? for more on Japanese titles and respect language.


sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins

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