Have you watched the movie, “The King’s Speech“? It’s a story about how Prince Albert, the second son of King George V of England, overcame a stuttering condition he had endured since his youth. When Prince Albert first met his therapist, Logue, the therapist breached the royal etiquette by referring the prince as “Bertie,” a name used only by his family. Prince Albert was more than astonished and deemed Logue’s manner inappropriate.
I guess Logue should have called Prince Albert “your highness”? Anyway, not only England, but countries around the world have assumed various levels of respect when addressing people. There’s no exception in Japan, and for foreigners to learn their language they have to learn to distinguish when to use a certain honorific title (suffix) for whom, etc.
The gender-neutral suffix “-san” is the most common one, which can be used in both formal and informal settings. It is a title of respect typically used between equals of any age. Contrary to what some people think, it is not necessarily the equivalent of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Miss” because it can also be used for animals or even inanimate objects! 🙂 Besides, nobody will call a friend or family member “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in English (except perhaps Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” 😛 ), but in Japan, some married couples refer to their spouses with “-san” .
To make things more complicated, it’s possible for Japanese to change the suffix (thus level of respect) for the same person under different situations . In other words, the politeness is not tied to a fixed status (like Lord, Lady, etc.), and it may vary depending on the circumstances. For example, when a husband teaches a wife how to do something because he’s more knowledgeable, she can call him “sensei” (another honorific title) at that particular moment.
Another gender neutral suffix, “-sama”, is considered a more respectful version of “-san”. In Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS), Albert was known to be Granduncle William-sama. Also, people customarily use “-sama” as the suffix on postal packages or letters. Thus, in CCFS, Candy almost always used “-sama” when writing letters to different people (except for Albert-san). For example, she wrote “Terrus Graham-sama” in her unsent letter to him, and likewise, Candy wrote “Anthony Brown-sama” in her mental letter to him. Otherwise, she simply called them Terry and Anthony respectively.
Sometimes, when someone is particularly attractive or popular, he or she can earn the title “-sama”. A girl may use it for a guy she admires, or she can use that to flatter her boyfriend. Therefore, Candy used “-sama” whenever she addressed Prince on the Hill. For real princes, Candy should have used a very formal honorific title (something like your highness in Japanese).
Dropping the honorific suffix when referring to a person implies a high degree of intimacy, so it is generally reserved for one’s spouse, younger family members, and good friends. Hence, not using any honorific suffix for the first time essentially marks an important milestone in a relationship (from acquaintances to close friends or from close friends to lovers, for instance). Alternatively, people can use yet another honorific, “-chan”, for best friends, children, lovers, etc. I think it’s probably a matter of personal taste. 😛
While Candy called her friends Annie, Patty, Archie, Stear, etc., she always used the suffix “-san” for Albert mainly because of age difference as explained in Passion’s comment. If indeed “-san” means “Mr.” and formality, when they lived together in the House of Magnolia, the neighbors would have found it very odd, don’t you think? 😉 After all, they pretended to be brother and sister. In Japan, people may call their older brothers o-nii-san (お兄さん) or older sisters o-nē-san (お姉さん). Similarly, they added “-san” when addressing their mothers and fathers, uncles and aunties, and so on.
Note that chichi-ue (父上) is yet another way to call a father, which is not very common nowadays, but it shows very high level of respect. In one of the earlier letters, Candy asked Albert if she should call him chichi-ue-sama (父上-sama). The way she asked was playful, and to paraphrase the question, it is “Really, do I have to call you chichi-ue-sama?!” Yes, she used “?!” to end her question, so she was teasing him, knowing that her prince-sama wouldn’t be mad at her. I believe Mizuki was inspired by Judy’s last letter in Daddy-long-legs. (SPOILER ALERT) In that letter to Master Jervie, Judy described in detail how happy she was to discover that she was in love with her ‘Daddy’ all along, but she asked him nonetheless, “Shall I call you Daddy?” Obviously, Judy was joking; she didn’t really mean to call Master Jervie “Daddy”. 😉
Yet, in Candy’s case, she used such a formal term for a father that it threw Albert off. He complained mildly to her (he sounded upset in his brief letter) before his business trip to São Paulo (I’ll discuss his reply in another post). I have a strong feeling that this terrible thought must have haunted Albert so much that he determined to do something about it. Therefore, after writing a heartfelt letter to Candy in a São Paulo hotel, rather than calling himself Albert as always, he signed Bert.
Candy couldn’t help asking Albert about “Bert” in her subsequent reply (despite deliberately withholding her words). After this, we don’t get to see any letter from Albert again. Instead, we read another letter from Candy to Albert (very long and detailed this time), in which she addressed him as Chitchana Bert several times without the suffix “-san”. In CCFS, this is the first time we read about this nickname. See the spoilers below:
Dear Mr William Albert Ardray
or little Bert,
Little Bert, are you still working now?
I’m back from Happy Martin Clinic as always and have just put the children to sleep.
Little Bert … I’m very very happy you have told me this name!
Your sister Rosemary — Anthony’s mother called you so, I didn’t know that.
It was only Rosemary who called me so …
But you allow me call you by this name!
Chitchana was translated to “little”, but “tiny” is probably closer to its meaning. For your interest, please click the link to see other possible meanings, and people can use it for babies, young kids or any tiny objects. There’s another similar endearing term for young children, ochibi-chan (おチビちゃん), which was exactly how Prince on the Hill had called little Candy on Pony’s Hill many years ago. In English, there exist many endearments for loved ones too, such as sweetie, sweetie pie, sweetheart, honey, cutie, cutie pie, darling, etc. Even adults can use such endearments for their lovers or invent some special names reserved only for their significant others. 🙂
At any rate, Albert had taken the initiative to introduce the name Bert to Candy. After reading her aforementioned short letter (apparently filled with yearning), he suddenly appeared at Pony’s Home one day after his business trip to São Paulo as per her request, and he spent an entire day with Candy, driving her all the way to his family villa in Lakewood (at least a few hours one way) and back. That day, Albert related to Candy the endearing nickname his beloved late sister had given him. Due to the wide age gap, Rosemary was like a mother to Albert, so it was understandable why she had called her baby brother that. Besides, she was the only one who had ever called him Chitchana Bert, which wasn’t unlike Cutie Bert in interpretation. Would Albert disclose this secret to anyone else? Highly unlikely. Remember he was the all-powerful family patriarch and the chief of a huge business empire, so he had an esteemed image to maintain. 🙂
Thus, Albert trusted Candy enough to be his confidante. This wasn’t the first time he revealed to her something important about his past, but this time he actually gave her the privilege to call him Chitchana Bert, which was the extreme opposite of chichi-ue-sama (父上-sama). 😉 To me, it was his answer to her teasing question earlier (like he was saying, don’t call me father but call me Cutie Bert). I don’t think she would have expected this from him, and that’s why when she wrote in her letter about him giving her his permission, she wrote in a slightly formal way (she was normally very casual when writing to him) as though she still found it unbelievable. 😛
What caused a man of such stature, the only heir to a prestigious family and a coveted bachelor, to frequent an orphanage in a remote town? Albert had to drive hours to get to Pony’s Home in the first place, not to mention that he had done it more than once just to give Candy surprise visits. Furthermore, he had written several deep and very personal letters to her. If you were Candy, how would you have felt? 🙄 She had valid reasons to believe her prince had developed feelings for her.
With “Little Bert” being a new secret between the two of them, Candy should be able to understand what that signified, as indicated by Evelyn in her comment. What’s more, Candy was the only woman who could call Albert such a silly but affectionate nickname. The fact that she liked the name and accepted this privilege speaks volumes, don’t you think? I bet she would only address him that way in private, like she called him Prince on the Hill in her letters. It doesn’t matter whether the readers like this nickname or not because however silly a couple called each other was none of others’ business. 😆
If omitting the honorific suffix in Japanese means someone is ready to advance in a relationship with another, what more does it mean by a man letting a young lady call him with an endearing nickname!? Using the example from Prince Albert above, it’s well known that his loving wife called him Bertie. Besides his mother, could any other woman do that? Of course not! 😛
So “Little Bert” is like “Bertie”. No wonder Candy said she was very, very happy (highlighted above), because nobody knew about “Little Bert” but her. As a matter of fact, Candy used sugoku (すごく) twice in a row, meaning incredibly, immensely, etc. That means she was immensely, incredibly happy, having the absolute evidence that she was someone extremely special to Albert. She could use this secret nickname whenever she liked, and she called him as such in her letter to him, which would undoubtedly delight him. Why? By willingly calling Albert “Little Bert”, Candy essentially affirmed her relationship with Albert had advanced to a level where it was natural for them to use endearments with each other (if she had had no special feelings for him, she would have flatly refused). 🙂 So do you now see why Candy ended this letter with love? I’ll talk more about that in the near future.
For your interest, below are my references if you want to know more details about Japanese honorifics: