In Miyazaki's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea Sosuke calls both of his parents by their first names. It is clear they both are his born parents. This is uncommon even in western culture, but in Japanese tradition it feels especially weird. I feel like it should have some symbolic meaning to support the story.

Why does Sosuke call his parents by their first names?


As far as I can tell, Miyazaki has not commented on this, so all that's left is speculation, and people have been speculating since 2008 online on this subject. As you note, in Japan, addressing someone by their first name indicates great familiarity or contempt, and this is an unusual thing for a child to do with their parent.

  1. Contempt is a possibility. With his father often out on military ventures, and his mother leaving him alone to take care of the older people, one could imagine resentment manifesting in disrespectful address. That said, despite Miyazaki's occasionally strained relationship with his son, his films generally feature strong familial bonds, so I think this is unlikely.
  2. Familiarity is also quite possible. Sosuke and his mother evidently work closely together, and it may be that this very informal manner of address is an indication of their close and loving relationship.
  3. Respect is a third possibility. With Sosuke's father often out on maneuvers, he seems to often play the role of the "man of the house". Therefore, his mother allowing (or encouraging) the informal address is a matter of respecting a degree of equality.
  4. Modern/Western family patterns is a fourth possibility I've seen suggested, that Sosuke's parents are being influenced by Western culture, and adopting some of those practices by allowing this degree of informality, treating their son as a colleague and friend instead of a subordinate.

Ultimately, I think that the most likely answer is respect, and a recognition that they allow Sosuke to be independent to a degree not all children enjoy.

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    I kinda disagree with this answer. Calling your parents by their first name seems to me even more out there in Japanese culture. There's even rules to the language of how you address your parents directly - "okaasan" and "otousan" or maybe something like "mama" and "papa," versus how you talk about them to others - "haha" and "chichi," versus how you talk about other people's parents - always "okaasan" and "otousan." I've seen other people on the internet conjecture it's due to "modern parenting" that he calls his parents by their first names, and that seems to me the more likely explanation. – Kai Mar 22 '19 at 14:48
  • @Kal: Yeah, it would be nice to have a Word of God on this one. – FuzzyBoots Mar 22 '19 at 15:26
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    I don't think it is a 5-year old choice on how to call his parents. So it's more likely that Sosuke was taught to call them by names. It looks like some modern parenting style, but still is not clear why would Miyazaki include it in the story. Like in "To kill a Mockingbird" father thought children to call him by name. But there it's explained - he wanted to treat them as equals and teach to be independent. Same situation looks strange without an explanation in Ponyo. – Shana Tar Mar 23 '19 at 7:01

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