The Sunday Times says

When naming conventions are in order

No one speaks of Shakespeare William the great playwright, Einstein Albert the theoretical physicist, Jackson Michael the singer, or Trump Donald the President of America. That is understandably so. The sequential order in which their given names and surnames appear reflects their cultural heritage. In Western societies, the privileging of the former over the latter could signify the agency of individuality over that of progeny. That choice is fine because those societies desire to be named and ordered that way. Equally, then, other societies must be able to choose how to name themselves. The general Chinese preference, for surnames to be followed by given names, reflects the emphasis placed on inherited identities without denying the individual's role in personalising and extending those identities.

That choice is as legitimate as Indonesians preferring often to go by a single name, a choice that does not erase received identities but does not name them. In the circumstances, it is also perfectly understandable that at least two ministers in the Japanese Cabinet are pushing for a reversal of the given-name-first convention that Japan has followed since the early 20th century.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 26, 2019, with the headline 'When naming conventions are in order'. Print Edition | Subscribe