An Expatriate in Taiwan

Mandarin and Taiwanese family names

One of the most interesting things about learning Chinese is learning the various names for members of the family. In Germanic languages (such as English), this is relatively easy. A brother of either of your parents is an Uncle. Simple. Your parents’ mothers are Grandmothers. Simple. In Chinese, it just isn’t so.

Chinese people place a great deal of importance on family and familial relations. To that end, they have a special name for just about everyone you are related to. Different names for uncles depending on which side of the family they’re on and how old they are. Different names for your sisters-in-law depending on if they are older or younger than your wife. It really is quite complicated.

In Taiwan, this is made doubly so, because you not only have to learn the Mandarin words and pronunciation for each of these members, but you also learn the Taiwanese pronunciation. This more or less doubles the already incredibly large database of family names you must learn. To that end, I’ve tried to make a list for you. Many thanks go to Miss Expatriate and her mom, who somehow manages to keep all of these straight and inform us ahead of time who we’ll be meeting and what we should call them.

[table “1” not found /]
[table “2” not found /]

Immediate Family

EnglishMandarin / 中文Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin PronunciationTaiwanese / 台語*Taiwanese Pronunciation**            
Father (other way to say it)爸爸bàba老爸lāu-pē
Mother (other way to say it)媽媽māma阿母a-bú
Older Brother哥哥***gēge***阿兄a-hiann
Younger Brother弟弟***dìdi***小弟sió-tī
Older Sister姊姊***jiějie***阿姊a-tsí
Younger Sister妹妹***mèimei***小妹sió-muē/sió-bē
Father-in-law (Wife's Father)丈人zhàngrén丈人tiūnn-lâng
Father-in-law (Husband's father)公公gōnggong大家官ta-ke-kuann
Mother-in-law (Wife's mother)丈母娘zhàngmǔniáng丈姆tiūnn-ḿ
Mother-in-law (Husband's mother)婆婆pópo大家ta-ke
Brother-in-law (married to older sister)姊夫jiěfu姊夫tsí-hu
Brother-in-law (married to younger sister)妹夫mèifu妹婿muē-sài/bē-sài
Brother-in-law (Husband's older brother)大伯dàbó大伯tuā-peh
Brother-in-law (Husband's younger brother)小叔xiǎoshū小叔sió-tsik
Sister-in-Law (married to older brother)嫂子sǎozi阿嫂a-só
Sister-in-Law (married to younger brother)弟妹dìmèi弟妹tī-muē
Sister-in-Law (Wife's older sister)大姨子dàyízi大姨tuā-î
Sister-in-Law (Wife's younger sister)小姨子xiǎoyízi小姨sió-î
Husband (additional)老公lǎogōngang
Wife (additional)老婆lǎopóbóo
Grandson (Son's child)孫子sūnzi孫仔sun-á
Grandson (Daughter's child)外孫子wàisūn外孫guā-sun
Grandaughter (Son's child)孫女sūnnǚ查某孫tsa-bóo-sun
Grandaughter (Daughter's child)外孫女wàisūnnǚ

I know what you’re thinking – what about step- family? Step-father? Step-sister? Well, there is no special way to say that in Chinese. A step-father is the same as father: 爸爸. At least that part is easy, right?

As you can see, some information is still missing. If you want to correct my spelling or have any other ideas for something to add, please contact me. This post won’t be updated, but you can view these tables and the updates on its own page found here or by clicking the “Family Names” page at the top of this website.

*Although Taiwanese is generally regarded as a spoken language, rather than a written one, we can use Mandarin characters (漢字) to represent the Taiwanese. When we do this, we either use a Mandarin character that represents the sound of the Taiwanese (e.g. 哇/wā is commonly used in Taiwanese to represent “I” rather than the Mandarin 我/wǒ) or, more commonly, we simply use the Mandarin and pronounce it in Taiwanese (e.g. 哇國寶了 would be wā guó bǎo le in Mandarin but it’s a famous Taiwanese saying pronounced like wā guò bòu lei).[

**There is no standard Pinyin for representing Taiwanese, although Tongyong Pinyin would come close. However, I don’t know Tongyong Pinyin, so I’ve tried to come as close as I can here using Hanyu and common pronunciations. Some of these come from various corners of the web or books, but most are just me listening to Miss Expatriate and her mom pronouncing the words and attempting to type them out as correctly as I can. If you have any suggestions for better Pinyinization, please contact me.

***If you have only one older brother, you will simply call him 哥哥/gēgē or 大哥/dàgē. However, if you have two older brothers, the oldest will be 大哥/dàgē and the second oldest will be 二哥/èrgē for First Older Brother, Second Older Brother, and so on. Same goes for younger brothers and older and younger sisters. Thanks to Luuke for clearing this up.

****The cousins are grouped together here, but it should be noticed that they follow the same rules as brothers and sisters. That is, if the cousin is a male and is older than you, than he will be 表哥/biǎogē because å“¥ is for your older brother. Follow the same rules for a younger male cousin and older and younger female cousins.

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15 thoughts on “Mandarin and Taiwanese family names

  1. Pingback: An Epic Update… « Becky's Blog

  2. luuke

    Actually, 繼父 is used for step-father, and 繼母 for step-mother.
    There is no word for step-sister or step-brother though.
    Also, 阿嬷 would be a word only used where there is Hokkien influence, since
    it comes from the Hokkien language, AKA Taiwanese here in Taiwan.

    1. The Expatriate Post author

      You are correct that 繼父 and 繼母 are used for step-father and step-mother, respectively. However, these are more like titles than what people would use. A Taiwanese person speaking to their step father would not call them 繼父; instead, they would just call them 爸爸.

  3. luuke

    Sorry for posting so much! I just saw the part regarding older brothers.
    The more common term referring to the eldest brother is actually 大哥.
    The second oldest is 二哥. The 哥 part is not repeated.

  4. simplicity778

    What about your father’s/mother’s cousins? I remember calling my mother’s male cousin “agu” (same as mother’s brother?) but didn’t see that on your list.

    1. The Expatriate Post author

      I’m not sure, as I’ve never run into any of Mrs. Expatriate’s father’s/mother’s cousins. In English, it would be a “1st cousin once removed” which is getting pretty far out there. If I remember, I’ll ask Mrs. Expatriate next time, although that starts getting into really extended family.

  5. simplicity778

    I call my cousins the same as if they were my siblings (gehgeh, jiehjieh, etc), so that’s why I figure one would refer the same to the parent’s oounsins. Maybe the Mrs does the same?

  6. Happy

    Hi, does anyone know how to call the son/daughter of your cousin (who is your dad’s brother’s kids)å ‚å“¥ / 堂弟 / 堂姊 / 堂妹? And vice versa – how would they call you? This has always been a mystery for me.

  7. dan

    came across this entry through a google search… this is great. i’m always confused what to call certain family members when i go visit them in taiwan.

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