This article was originally going to be about the pronoun kikou (貴公), but research led me to a much deeper topic, namely that of how one translates and even conversely render other titles from one language to the other. Today we shall be looking at the title of duke, namely its usage in Japanese titles of nobility, pronouns and honorifics.

The Title:

The kanji 公 refers to the ancient title of administrative nobility of the Zhou dynasty, namely the Gong. It was considered the pinnacle of the hierarchy of Chinese nobility during the 1000s to the 700s BCE, it switched in significance over the dynasties, but nevertheless remained a high degree of status.

How then, do Japanese translators treat its supposed Western counterpart, duke or more specifically dux in the Latin original form. To see this we must take one of the oldest English attestations of the title, as appended to the style of a monarch, namely John I, or in Latin Johannes I, in the preface to the Magna Carta of 1215:

Johannes del gracia rex Anglie, dominus Hibernie, dux Normannie, Aquitannie et comes Andegravie

"John, by the Grace of God, the King of England, the Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and the Count of Anjou."

Straight forward enough and par the course for monarch's introductory panoply of titles.

Dux in its original context referred in Roman times to the army-leaders, literally derived from the Latin duco ("I lead"), thus literally being those who directed the armies on behalf of the Emperor of Rome.

The Anglo-Saxons used the the term to refer to the predecessor to the modern title of nobility, whereof it referred to the chiefs of war-bands - William the Conqueror was referred to initially as a earl, but later on within a few hundred years became duc, both in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles of 1066 - 1129 and the Royal Gloucester Chronicle from 1297, though this bordered on the Middle English period.

Then it appears, apropos, in its Middle English guise as dux - OED cites its earliest appearances as in Layamon's 1275 Arthurian epic Brut - and up until the Wycliffe Bible from 1380, do we finally see its emergence in the form duk, only one step away from the modern spelling of duke - albeit in the above Middle English attestations is it used in the loose sense of "A leader; a leader of an army, a captain or general; a chief, ruler. (OED)." Noted by OED as obsolete in our times. The reference to the original Roman military title only occurs much later in the 1650s.

Returning to the Magna Carta, in the Eikoku Kenpou (英國憲法, "The Constitution of the United Kingdom") by Sabotani Zenshirou (坪谷善四郎) from 1888, the aforesaid translator renders the introduction as this:


Shinmei no keiai te uketaru eikoku koutei ken Airurando ou Noruman oyobi Akkuitain kou Anjû haku Jon

"John, by the Grace of God, Emperor of Great Britain, Prince of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Earl of Anjou."

Literally that he is the kou (公) of "Normandy and Aquitaine", and furthermore perhaps surprisingly koutei (皇帝, "emperor") of "Great Britain" by the keiai (恵愛, "charity, compassionate love"), which is quite a rare term, so much so that I had to look it up in the more sizeable online dictionaries. That he is ou (王) of Ireland, can also be translated as "King/Ruler/Lord", though "Prince" is used here as a catch-all for them, in the sense of feudal lord rather than traditional sense of the son of a king.

Kou is thus used to translate part of dux, which by the time of John I's reign referred to the ancestral duchy of Aquitaine.

The Honorific:

Returning back to the ancient Chinese title of nobility, it was used as such also in the name of gods, such as the "Thunder Duke," Lei Gung, or in Japanese Raikou, who ranks as the Chinese god of thunder and

The title was used in Japan as a lordly honorific with a loose sense of the addressee having an actual position of power or have had it in the past thus earning them the respect. Its usage arose and persisted during the early 1100s and continued, albeit nowadays it is highly archaic and only roams the landscape of theatre and fiction.

Such as:

謙信公! やはりこの世界にあっても……。

Kenshin-kou! Yahari kono sekai ni atte mo ... ...
Warera Uesugi ga tsuranku beki wa "gi" de shou ka?

"Lord Kenshin! I knew that you too would be in this world......
We, the Uesugi, shall also stick to our "Justice", shan't we?"
(Musou Orochi 2 Ultimate, KOEI-Tecmo)

As seen here Uesugi Kenshin, based off the same historical Japanese warlord, from his depiction in the action game Musou Orochi 2 Ultimate, is talked to by one of his loyal retainers Naoe Kanetsugu upon realising that they have been teleported to a mystical world. Historically it would not have been unfeasible for retainers to refer to their liege-lord in such a way as Naoe does towards Uesugi.

The pronoun is spelled with the kanji 貴公, literally "honourable duke," fitting in with other pronouns such as kikun (貴君, "honourable prince"), though this arose in part from confusing the pronunciation of kihou (貴方), an older pronunciation for anata. Nevertheless it belongs to the category of polite pronouns that use quasi-noble appellation in terms of equal to higher respect. The words kei (卿, "lord") and kimi (君, "prince") also belong to this category, though the latter has become a regular informal second person pronoun and the former an archaic formal second person pronoun.

Thus, we came from the imperial and royal courts of China and Europe to those of Japan and then straight back to video games- which is what I cover the most here, though I will perhaps be delving more into history in the future.