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This question is now moot, because the cat died several years ago at an advanced age, but I have always been curious as to whether it would have been OK or horribly rude or somewhere in between.

Years ago, I attended a conference in Japan, and a young Japanese professor (clearly destined for a great future and who is now well known in his field) was very attentive to the people from the US who were attending the conference, and greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the conference and Japan.

A year later, my husband and I adopted two rescue kittens, and after a weekend of cudgeling our brains for names, decided to name the male after the professor, whose last name was Kit-----, because we could then call the male Kiti for short. We named the female Lady Murasaki, Saki for short.

If the professor had been in the US, I could have easily found a mutual close acquaintance to sound out the professor's likely reaction to the question, and, if positive, asked in a way that put no obligation on him to say yes. But I didn't have mutual acquaintances in Japan, I didn't want to risk a misunderstanding, and at that time I was senior to him. I did the right thing in not asking; that's not the question.

The question is: would it have been intrinsically offensive to ask a Japanese to name a cat after him? Or would it just depend on how much he liked cats?

I am hoping for an answer from someone familiar with Japanese culture. I know that there is a cat, the Japanese Bobtail, that is very popular in Japan, but I don't know if Japanese culture has any position on naming a cat after a person. As I've already said, it may depend simply on how a particular person feels about cats.

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    Do you need permission though? His reaction would probably depend on why you're asking. If you just want a Japanese sounding name and like his, yes that is offensive. If you are close and feel like he helped you in some way, maybe less offensive and more a little weird. – Collatrl Sep 6 '17 at 20:41
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    @Collatri We cat people know we are weird. :) – user1760 Sep 6 '17 at 20:44
  • Is "Kit-----" a family name or given name? Is the name unique enough that anyone would make the connection without you saying so? Also you should make a case why someone would be offended by this. Cats are so cute... – user3169 Sep 7 '17 at 0:14
  • @user3169 edited in response to your comments. Kit----- is his last name, and he is well known in his field. – user1760 Sep 7 '17 at 0:59
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    @ab2 "It doesn't depend on the reason" If you already have a satisfying answer, why bother asking the question ? – ksjohn Sep 7 '17 at 14:41
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You aren't using his full name, you are using a kawaii name based on a pun on an English word inspired by his name. There is no need to ask him -- rather, it is better not to tell him it was named after him unless he jokes a lot and doesn't take himself seriously. If he is a serious type, and if you used his actual name, and not 'kiti', then it would be fine to ask him, I think, but rather than saying his name is like a cat, say that you really like his name/you respect him, or a reason that doesn't make him feel like he is being made fun of.

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If I understood everything:

  • You called your cat Kitty but didn't want to name it like that, but still wanted a name that looked like it.
  • That Japanese person you saw once had his own name that began with the same three letters, which was what you were looking for, so you named your cat after him.
  • You couldn't ask him the permission so you solved the problem by doing it anyway.
  • You want to know how would a Japanese person would have taken it if asked.

Am I correct ?

I am not a Japanese, but I assume that Japanese people's reaction to this situation would greatly vary from one to another, as in any other country in the world. Except by asking that particular person, you won't know. Japanese people are not identical and substitutable with each other.


However, given that your solution when you couldn't get his opinion and permission at all was to simply do it, I doubt you are actually interested in his permission.

If I want to ask your permission before entering in your home but you don't respond to your doorbell/phone, do I solve it by entering in your home anyway ?

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    I think in this situation the name is unlike the home, because the Professor does not "own" the name. Other people likely share the first name (which I assume is all OP used), and some even the last name. It's also possible that even if OP had never met the professor, he might have been able to come across the name elsewhere. I actually think "asking" to use the name is (slightly) more offensive than just adopting it, since it implies that you want that person's name specifically, instead of the sequence of characters that happens to be their name. – Jonathan Pullano Sep 7 '17 at 17:41
  • @JonathanPullano I completely agree. That's why I pointed out that the reason why the op didn't ask was because the professor couldn't be reached although the OP stated to have wanted to ask for permission. My best guess is that deep down the OP wanted the professor to know about it and was maybe interested in his opinion, and might have prefered to get his agreement, but that it was apparently not that important, but that's just a guess so I didn't based my answer on it. – ksjohn Sep 8 '17 at 7:17
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I don't know about him, but in his place I would find it offensive.

Particularly because I am a professor, and I spent 14 years in college becoming a professor, and you are equating such a person to a pet animal.

Do you want to name your child after him because you admired his work and wanted your child to aspire to such greatness? That might have been acceptable. Naming your cat after him because his name reminds you of "cat": That was demeaning to his stature, no matter how you mentally justified it.

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    Are you Japanese? This question seems to hinge very specifically on the culture of the professor. – Catija Sep 7 '17 at 16:39
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    @Catija Please read my response, I began with "I don't know about him." I do not have to be Japanese to talk about how I would feel if asked the same question. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Sep 7 '17 at 16:50
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    @Amadeus One of the reasons that it was out of the question for me to ask the professor, was because at that time, I was senior to him -- by his standards. I stated this in the Q. I knew enough about Japanese culture to know that I would have put him on the spot, asking him for a favor. I am sure you can think of a culture and an animal where it would be a deliberate insult to name the animal after a person. I am wondering if Japanese culture has any such feature -- or not. – user1760 Sep 7 '17 at 18:17
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    The question is not if someone from your undeclared culture is likely to be so thoroughly offended by hearing the story that they feel the need to insult the OPs entire country. The question was if someone with Japanese cultural background and good education would be offended by having a kitty named after him. I could post an answer stating that someone from my undeclared culture wouldn't be offended at all, they'd find it cute, but that would neither address the question nor would it be helpful to the OP. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Sep 7 '17 at 18:39
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    You said it would be offensive to you (while liberally dropping incredibly offensive remarks yourself). Which is entirely irrelevant to a question which asks about a specific cultural background in the title, body, and tag section. That makes your comment not an answer, therefore I downvoted. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Sep 7 '17 at 18:53

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