The Japanese word kun (くん) can actually mean 4 different things depending on whether it is written in Kanji or in Hiragana. In anime and everyday life, however, you will most commonly encounter it when it is added to a person’s name. So in this situation, when kun is written as くん or 君, what does it mean?
Kun (君, くん) is a Japanese honorific title mainly used for young men or juniors. In daily life, boys and girls use it to address their close male friends. At work, it is used by people with a higher position to address young employees. Kun is also sometimes used with women especially in the office.
This is just a brief explanation of what “kun” means in Japanese. As with the other honorific suffixes san, chan, sama, and so on, there’s so much more you should know about its usage and function. So below you will find in detail when, how, and why you should address someone with kun plus its other meanings.
What Does “Kun” Mean in Japanese?
As with many other words in Japanese kun (くん) has a variety of meanings depending on how it is written. When it is written as くん or 君 it is a horrific suffix or honorific title. But when it is written as 訓 (kun) or 勲 (kun) it means something totally different as you can see in the table below.
|君, くん||kun||Mr (junior), master, boy|
|訓||kun||Japanese reading of kanji|
|勲||kun||order of merit|
|クンクン||kun kun||sniff, sniff-sniff|
In daily life and in anime, it is most likely that you will hear it in combination with a person’s name. For example, Hinata usually addresses Naruto with Naruto-kun, and Sakura commonly cries out to Sasuke calling him Sasuke-kun.
So for the rest of this blog post I want to discuss its meaning as an honorific.
Meaning of Kun in Japanese After a Name (Honorific Title)
When the Japanese word kun (君, くん) is added to a person’s name it turns into a so-called honorific title or honorific suffix. If you look up what it means in English, you will get “Mr. (junior)“, “master“, or “boy“. However, these translations are rather confusing and don’t really help understanding its real meaning.
Especially since the meaning of the suffix “kun” depends on whether it is used with men or women.
If it is used with same-aged or younger males, for example, it either implies a close friendship or that the speaker has a higher position or status than the other person.
When used with women it is actually a more respectful way of addressing them than by using the more feminine and rather cute honorific suffix “chan”. In daily life, kun (君, くん) is rarely added to female names, though.
So as long as you don’t work in Japan you only have to remember that the Japanese honorific title kun (君, くん) usually shows that the speaker sees you or the person he talks about as a close or good friend. If used by a girl it can also imply that she thinks of you or the other guy as someone dear to her.
The Kanji 君 has an additional reading and meaning, by the way. It can also be pronounced “kimi” and means “you“.
When & How to Use “Kun” in Japanese?
The honorific title kun (君, くん) is used in informal, formal, and business situations. Together with the polite honorific san (さん) and the feminine honorific chan (ちゃん) it is one of the most common suffixes used in everyday life in Japan and anime. So when and how to use kun in Japanese?
Kun (君, くん) can be added after someone’s first or last name and should only be used with close friends or one’s juniors. In informal situations, it is more commonly used for boys and with their first name. At work, it can be used for younger employees in general and both given names or surnames.
Let’s look at some concrete examples of when and how kun is used in more casual and more formal situations.
1. Using Kun in Informal & Daily Situations
Once you have made some close male friends you can address them by either using their first or last name and adding the honorific suffix kun. Since the suffix is usually only used with people you are close with it is more common to attach it to someone’s first name, though.
It is often used among same-aged teenage boys at school or when they are hanging out together in their free time. Girls, of course, can also use kun (君, くん) when they talk to or about a close male friend usually around the same age.
Using kun in these kinds of situations shows that the speaker and the other person are close friends that have been knowing each other for a long time. It also implies some kind of emotional attachment to the other person. Usually just friendship but sometimes it can mean that there is more.
Even in daily life, kun can be used to address girls, however, it is extremely rare and I don’t have any Japanese friend who does this. Wikipedia, however, states that when two sisters have the same name, one might be called Miku-chan and the other one Miku-kun (more often Miku-san, though).
By the way, when kun is used for girls it is not a bad thing! Rather the opposite. It sounds more respectful while still implying similar sweetness and kindness as when using chan.
Kun is also the go-to honorific suffix when addressing male children or one’s younger brother. For male babies, however, chan is more common.
2. Using Kun in Formal & Business Situations
At work or in a more formal setting kun (君, くん) is used by someone with a higher position towards younger employees or people with a lower status. A superior, senior coworker might use kun. Teachers, too, however usually only for male students.
While in everyday life kun expresses close friendship, in the office or formal situations it rather indicates hierarchy and the addressee’s lower position.
However, when a superior or coworker uses kun (君, くん) instead of chan with a female employee it actually expresses respect. Since it sounds less cute and childlike and therefore more professional.
I assume that in business situations, kun is also more often used with an employee’s given name than their surname, but honestly, I am not sure. In general either way should be fine.
Also, please keep in mind that while using kun might seem a bit rude, it is actually more polite than just calling someone by their name. No matter if you call them by their first or last name.
Kun is also used in the National Diet. Usually, the chairperson attaches kun when addressing Diet members and ministers.
Can You Use Kun For a Girl?
While the honorific suffix kun (君, くん) is generally used for boys this rule is not set in stone. Sometimes it is also used for a close friend or family member regardless of their gender. In the office, it is more common that women are addressed with kun than it is in real life.
Sometimes a male teacher might also address his female students by adding kun after their name. More commonly san is used in this situation, though.
Since I have moved to Japan in 2015 I have never ever heard someone referring to a girl or a younger woman using the honorific suffix kun. So judging from my personal experience it is really, really rare.
Kun vs Chan – What’s the Difference?
Kun (君, くん) and chan (ちゃん) are both honorific suffixes that are used for people you are close with. In comparison, kun is more often used for boys and young men. While chan, on the other hand, is mostly used for girls, younger or lovely women, and cute things or animals.
Both suffixes are associated with affection and intimacy, but chan sounds cuter and more feminine.
Same as with chan (ちゃん) be careful not to switch to the more casual kun (君, くん) too quickly. It should only be used with someone you know pretty well. In case you are unsure it is always better to use the politer suffix san (さん).
Kun vs San – What’s the Difference?
The difference between kun and san is pretty straight forward. They are both suffixes used after names, but san (さん) is the politer and more respectful honorific compared with kun.
While you use kun (君, くん) with close friends and younger employees, san (さん) is used with people you don’t know very well like strangers or acquaintances.
That’s why you also should use san when addressing superiors and your seniors at work or at school. But you use kun when talking to close friends or family members.
Whenever you are unsure it is better to use san. It is also the common honorific used when talking to older people.
Why Do Japanese Add “Kun” to Names?
Last but not least let’s answer the question about the reason behind adding honorific suffixes such as kun (君, くん) to names. This is an important part of Japanese culture and speech, and here is why.
Japanese add the honorific kun (君, くん) to someone’s name to indicate that the other person is a close and respected friend. While in business situations, it is added to politely address a person with a lower status. Dropping the suffix after a name sounds too casual and can even be considered rude.
Not adding any type of honorific title is called yobisute (呼び捨て). It is okay to do this with really close friends or buddies, your partner or spouse, or younger family members. However, be aware that it implies a high degree of familiarity and intimacy so it shouldn’t be done lightly.
Summary & Recap: The Japanese Honorific “Kun”
- Kun is the most common used honorific for young men
- Sometimes it is used for girls, but mostly in the office
- It can be attached to both someone’s first and last name
- In informal situations, you should only use it with close (male) friends
- In formal situations, it should only be used with people who have a lower status or position
- Never use kun with your own name
- Don’t address strangers, acquaintances, or superiors with kun
- Shouldn’t be used with older people except when you are really close
- Kyun (きゅん) is the baby talk version of kun but it is hardly ever used outside of anime or the internet
- San is more polite and respectful than kun
- However, chan sounds cuter and more feminine than kun
|last name (male)||Tanaka-kun|
|last name (female)||Fukada-kun|
|first name (male)||Yuuma-kun|
|first name (female)||Yuko-kun|