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What Should We Call Friends and Family Members in Chinese?

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Cultures all over the world have different ways to address family members, friends, and new acquaintances. In some countries, how people address each other can be paramount to showing respect. In Korea, many people maintain the use of titles when addressing one another in order to be polite. Using the wrong name could cause offense, and so it is extremely important within Korean culture to learn and use correct titles. Although not as traditional as Korea, there are similar expectations within Chinese culture, based on a person’s age, status and job.

Below is a list of Chinese family names from ‘father’ to ‘great-granddaughter’ and also a list of terms that we, as foreigners might use to address certain people in China. You will also find some useful questions for asking a person’s name and how to respond.

Asking Someone’s Name

These are the commonly used words for ‘name’ in Chinese.

姓名 (xìng míng) – Full name

 (xìng) Family name

名字 (míng zi) Name

Informal: 你叫什么名字?(nǐ jiào shén me míng zi) What are you called?

Informal: 我叫。。。(wǒ jiào…) I’m called…

This is the most common and polite way to ask someone’s family name in Chinese, however, in general it is not customary to simply ask for the family name:

Polite: 你贵姓?(nǐ guì xìng) What is your family name?

Polite: 敝姓王。((bì) xìng wáng) My humble family name is Wang.

怎么称呼你? (zěn me chēng hu nǐ) What should I call you?

Chinese Names

Traditionally, in Chinese, the family name, which can also be one or two characters, comes first, followed by one of two characters for the given name.

There are over 3500 Chinese family names, but only 100 are widely used. The most common family names can be found in the book named 百家姓 (bǎi jiā xìng) ‘The Book of Family Names’. The three most commonly used Chinese surnames are  (lǐ),  (wáng) and  (zhāng).

Chinese given names often have a special meaning for the family, or express characteristics the parents wish their child to have. In ancient China, the first character of a given name would be the ‘generational’ name. This means that all children in a family of the same gender and born in the same generation share the same first character. The second character would be a personality trait. Given names are quite personal, and are only used by good friends and within a setting such as a family, class or office, where there is a well-defined group.

Immediate Family Names

Most of the time, people use kinship terms instead of names when talking to each other.

父亲 (fù qīn) Father

爸爸 (bà ba) Dad

哥哥 (gē ge) Older brother

弟弟 (dì di) Younger brother

母亲 (mǔ qīn) Mother

妈妈 (mā ma) Mum

姐姐 (jiě jie) Older Sister

妹妹 (mèi mei) Younger sister

老婆 (lǎo pó) Wife

老公 (lǎo gōng) Husband

未婚夫 (wèi hūn fū) Fiancé (man who will be married)

未婚妻 (wèi hūn qī) Fiancée (woman who will be married)

男朋友 (nán péng you) Boyfriend

女朋友 (nǚ péng you) Girlfriend

婆婆 (pó po) Mother-in-law (husband’s mother)

公公 (gōng gong) Father-in-law (husband’s mother)

岳母 (yuè mǔ) Mother-in-law (wife’s mother)

岳父 (yuè fù) Father-in-law (wife’s father)

儿子 (ér zi) Son

女儿 (nǚ ér) Daughter

侄女 (zhí nǚ) Niece (brother’s daughter)

甥女 (shēng nǚ) Niece (sister’s daughter)

侄子 (zhí zi) Nephew (brother’s son)

外甥 (wài shēng) Nephew (sister’s son)

孙子 (sūn zi) Grandson (son’s son)

外孙 (wài sūn) Grandson (daughter’s son)

曾孙 (zēng sūn) Great-grandson

孙女 (sūn nǚ) Granddaughter (son’s daughter)

外孙女 (wài sūn nǚ) Granddaughter (daughter’s daughter)

曾孙女 (zēng sūn nǚ) Great-granddaughter

Paternal Family

爷爷 (yé ye) Paternal Grandfather

奶奶 (nǎi nai) Paternal Grandmother

伯伯 (bó bo) Uncle (older brother of father)

伯母 (bó mǔ) Aunt (older brother of father’s wife)

叔叔 (shū shu) Uncle (younger brother of father)

婶婶 (shěn shen) Aunt (younger brother of father’s wife)

姑姑 (gū gu) Aunt (father’s side)

姑父 (gū fu) Uncle (father’s sister’s husband)

堂哥 (táng gē) Older Male Cousin (father’s side)

堂弟 (táng dì) Younger Male Cousin (father’s side)

堂姐 (táng jiě) Older Female Cousin (father’s side)

堂妹 (táng mèi) Younger Female Cousin (father’s side)

                 

Maternal Family

外公 (wài gōng) Maternal Grandfather

外婆 (wài pó) Maternal Grandmother

舅舅 (jiù jiu) Uncle (mother’s side)

舅妈 (jiù mā) Aunt (mother’s brother’s wife)

姨妈 (yí mā) Aunt (mother’s side)

姨父 (yí fu)Uncle (mother’s sister’s husband)

表哥 (biǎo gē) Older Male Cousin (mother’s side)

表弟 (biǎo dì) Younger Male Cousin (mother’s side)

表姐 (biǎo jiě) Older Female Cousin (mother’s side)

表妹 (biǎo mèi) Younger Female Cousin (mother’s side)

If there is more than one uncle who is older or younger in the family, they become 大 (dà) + uncle.

For example, if your father has two older brothers, you would call the eldest brother 大伯 (dà bó), ‘big uncle’ and the next eldest 二伯 (èr bó) ‘2nd uncle’.

Titles

Titles refer to gender, marital status, education, and profession. You would use these titles when introducing your husband or wife at a formal event.

Family name + given name + title

先生 (xiān sheng) Mr.

太太 (tài tai) Mrs.

小姐 (xiǎo jie) Miss

Professional Titles

医生 (yī shēng) Doctor

大夫 (dài fu) Doctor

护士 (hù shi) Nurse

师傅 (shī fu) Master (skilled worker)

老师 (lǎo shī) Teacher

教授 (jiào shòu) Professor

律师 (lǜ shī) Lawyer

法官 (fǎ guān) Judge

主席 (zhǔ xí) Chairperson

校长 (xiào zhǎng) Principal

警察 (jǐng chá) Police officer

秘书 (mì shū) Secretary

主任 (zhǔ rèn) Director of a government department

司机 (sī jī) Driver

总统 (zǒng tǒng) President

经理 (jīng lǐ) Manager

总经理 (zǒng jīng lǐ) General Manager (shortened to  (zǒng))

博士 (bó shì) Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)

Addressing People

Friends and Acquaintances

Close friends would address each other using given names:

[given name], 最近怎么样? (…zuì jìn zěn me yàng) How’re you doing?

Within a family, given names are sometimes replaced with kinship terms, but these can also be used with people who are not relatives.

大哥 (dà gē) Older brother (close to your age, but older)

大姐 (dà jiě) Older sister (close to your age, but older)

叔叔 (shū shu) Uncle (title for a man of around your father’s age)

阿姨 (ā yí) Aunt (title for a woman who is around you mother’s age)

爷爷 (yé ye) Grandfather (title for a man who is around your grandfather’s age)

奶奶 (nǎi nai) Grandmother (title for a woman who is around your grandmother’s age)

Addressing Strangers

Titles are a common way to address people and can be used along without knowing the person’s family name. 先生 (xiān sheng), 太太 (tài tai), 小姐 (xiǎo jie),阿姨 (ā yí), 大爷 (dà ye) and 师傅 (shī fu) can be used to address a stranger.

师傅 (shī fu) and 大爷 (dà ye) are informal terms and can be used in many different contexts, including taxi drivers and maintenance workers. 小姐 (xiǎo jie) would be used to address a young woman in a service job and 阿姨 (ā yí) would be used to address an older one.

It is becoming more common for customers to refer to their servers as 美女 (měi nǚ), meaning ‘beautiful woman’ and occasionally 帅哥 (shuài ge), for ‘handsome guy’ to get the attention of a waiter or shop assistant. In a restaurant, you can also use the term for waiter, 服务员 (fú wù yuán).

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Facebook Comments

  • Danilo Pablo

    I love how you guys seem to always have a post for “everything” I wonder about. Haha. Thank you a lot

    • Hollie Sowden

      We can read minds :p

    • Hollie Sowden

      On a serious note, if there’s a topic you’re looking for that we don’t have yet, please let me know 🙂