- Onamae wa nan desu ka – asking someone’s name in Japanese
- What is YOUR name in Japanese
- Watashi no namae wa – telling your name in Japanese
- Example conversation
- More polite expression to ask someone’s name
- Casual way to ask someone’s name – just saying “onamae wa”
Onamae wa nan desu ka – asking someone’s name in JapaneseFirst of all, let me explain a meaning of the expression, “onamae wa nan desu ka”, and its components in detail.
- onamae wa nan desu ka – お名前は何ですか (おなまえはなんですか) : a Japanese expression for “what is your name?”
The example above doesn’t contain any word corresponding to the English possessive word, “your”. As you may know, Japanese people often omit the subject word in sentence. Sometimes, however, we need to designate whose name we ask for. An example below is worth knowing.
What is YOUR name in Japanese
- anata – あなた : a pronoun meaning ‘you’.
- no – の : a case particle widely used to make the possessive case. In the example, it is put just after the pronoun, “anata”, to make its possessive case. A formed phrase, “anata no”, corresponds well to the English word, “your”.
- o – お : a prefix used to make its following word more polite. In the example, it makes the following word, “namae”, more polite. When Japanese people ask someone’s name, the prefix, “o”, is normally used together with “namae” since they need to be polite. When they do self introduction, in other words, when they tell their own name to others, they use “namae”. They don’t have to express their respect to their own name. Learn more about the prefix, “o”, through a Japanese word, “omotenashi”.
- namae – 名前 (なまえ) : a noun meaning ‘name’.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. In the example, it works in both ways. It helps the noun, “namae”, to become the subject. Plus, it offers a topic.
- nan – 何 (なん) : an indefinite pronoun meaning ‘what’. It is very similar to another pronoun, “nani”, which also means ‘what’ in Japanese. They are basically the same, but depending on other words used together, their meanings can be different.
- desu – です : an auxiliary verb put after a noun or adjective to make its polite expression. Probably, it is well known for a part of desu form.
- ka – か : a sentence ending particle widely used to make simple interrogative sentences, namely, questions. In the example, it is put after the plain formed auxiliary verb, “desu”, to change the whole sentence to a question.
Before going to its example conversation, let me explain how to answer this question in Japanese.
Watashi no namae wa – telling your name in JapaneseIn English, we often use phrases like “my name is blah blah” or “I’m blah blah” to tell our name to others. There is a similar expression in Japanese. Below is the one.
- watashi no namae wa – 私の名前は (わたしのなまえは) : a Japanese expression for “my name is”.
- watashi – 私 (わたし) : a pronoun meaning ‘I’. In the example, “watashi” and the case particle, “no”, form the phrase, “watashi no”. It corresponds to the English possessive word, “my”.
If we need to be more polite, we can use another Japanese expression which corresponds well to “may I ask your name?” In Japanese, we can say it as follows.
More polite expression to ask someone’s name
- wo – を : a case particle widely used to make the objective case. In the example, it is put just after the noun, “namae”, to make the objective word in the sentence. It’s written as “wo”, but its actual pronunciation is “o”.
- okiki – お聞き (おきき) : a noun meaning ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’. In a way, hearing someone’s name means that we’ve succeeded in asking someone’s name. In Japanese, ‘hearing’ can be considered to contain ‘asking’. The first character, “o”, is the prefix used to make polite expressions.
- shite – して : a te form of the verb, “suru”, meaning ‘to do’. “Suru” is often put after a noun to make its verb form. In the example, it is put after the noun, “okiki”, to make its verb form which means ‘to ask politely’.
- mo – も : a binding particle to ask for permission to do something described by the prior te formed verb or adjective. In the example, it is used to ask for permission to ask someone’s name.
- yoroshii – よろしい : an i-adjective meaning ‘fine’, ‘good’, ‘okay’, ‘alright’ or some such.
- deshou – でしょう : a combination of the auxiliary verb, “desu”, and another auxiliary verb, “u”. It is widely used to ask, request or offer something politely. The auxiliary verb, “u”, can add a nuance of English modal verbs like “may”, “can” or “would”.
So far, I’ve explained polite ways. Sometimes, however, we need to use a more casual expression to ask someone’s name. In the following paragraphs, I will explain it.
Casual way to ask someone’s name – just saying “onamae wa”For a casual way to ask someone’s name in Japanese, I recommend Japanese learners to say just “onamae wa”. As you can see, it is a part of the expression, “onamae wa nan desu ka”. This kind of abbreviation is possible thanks to the trait of the particle “wa”.
I explained it in detail in another blog post about the phrase, “anata wa”, meaning ‘and you?’ in Japanese.
As I explained, “wa” is a binding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. In reality, however, Japanese people often use it like a sentence ending particle. From the grammatical point of view, it is not. But Japanese people put it at the end of sentence quite often. A reason why this happens is that they often omit all words after “wa” in interrogative sentences. So, in a way, we can consider “anata wa” as an abbreviated form of questions. As a result of this kind of omission, “wa” appears to be like a sentence ending particle. This is how the phrase,”anata wa”, is made and also why it can be translated to “and you?”The same thing happens to “onamae wa nan desu ka”. Words after the particle, “wa”, have been omitted and then only “onamae wa” remains. Japanese native speakers are very familiar with this kind of omission. Therefore, just saying “onamae wa” is very acceptable. They can understand it is an abbreviated expression and means ‘what is your name?’
“Onamae wa” is less polite than the full sentence, so would fit with casual situations. Yet, the prefix, “o”, still remains, so the abbreviated expression is still a bit polite. Thanks to this fact, “onamae wa” is very flexible. Perhaps, it would fit with more situations than its full sentence does.
Depending on the situation, we can omit the prefix, “o”, too. This means, we can say “namae wa”. However, this could sound rude. We need to be very careful with its use.
SummaryI’ve explained the Japanese expression for ‘what is your name?’ Plus, I’ve also explained its related expressions. Let me summarize them as follows.
- onamae wa nan desu ka – お名前は何ですか (おなまえはなんですか) : a Japanese expression for “what is your name?” It is polite enough to fit with various situations.
- watashi no namae wa – 私の名前は (わたしのなまえは) : a Japanese expression for “my name is”. It can be used to answer the question, “onamae wa nan desu ka?”
- onamae wo okiki shite mo yoroshii deshou ka – お名前をお聞きしてもよろしいでしょうか (おなまえをおききしてもよろしいでしょうか) : a Japanese expression for ‘may I ask your name?’ This is very polite expression.
- onamae wa – お名前は (おなまえは) : an abbreviated expression of “onamae wa nan desu ka”. It would fit with casual situations.
Japanese Particles Master
Masaki Mori is a Japanese particles master. Through teaching Japanese language, he is trying to spread the culture of Japan. His goal is to preserve it as much as possible.