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.
|Hanyu Pinyin /|
|Father (other way to say it)||爸爸||bàba||阿爸||āba|
|Mother (other way to say it)||媽媽||māma||阿母||āmu|
|Older Brother||哥哥***||gēge***||阿兄||āheenyah / biaoheenyah|
|Younger Brother||弟弟***||dìdi***||小弟||xiodi / biaodi|
|Older Sister||姊姊***||jiějie***||阿姊||āji / biaojih|
|Younger Sister||妹妹***||mèimei***||小妹||xiomei / biaomei|
|Father-in-law (Wife's Father)||丈人||zhàngrén||丈人||dǜnlang|
|Father-in-law (Husband's father)||公公||gōnggong||達家干||da-gwa|
|Mother-in-law (Wife's mother)||丈母娘||zhàngmǔniáng||丈母|
|Mother-in-law (Husband's mother)||婆婆||pópo||達家||da-gei|
|Brother-in-law (married to older sister)||姊夫||jiěfu||姊夫||zay-hu|
|Brother-in-law (married to younger sister)||妹夫||mèifu||妹婿||mei-hu|
|Brother-in-law (Husband's older brother)||大伯||dàbó||大伯||dwa-bei|
|Brother-in-law (Husband's younger brother)||小叔||xiǎoshū||小叔||xio-jhie|
|Sister-in-Law (married to older brother)||嫂子||sǎozi||阿嫂||a-se|
|Sister-in-Law (married to younger brother)||弟妹||dìmèi||弟妹||di-mei|
|Sister-in-Law (Wife's older sister)||大姨子||dàyízi||大姨||dwa-yiya|
|Sister-in-Law (Wife's younger sister)||小姨子||xiǎoyízi||小姨||sei-yiya|
|Son||兒子||érzi||兒子||gyeeah / haosei|
|Grandson (Son's child)||孫子||sūnzi||孫||sun|
|Grandson (Daughter's child)||外孫子||wàisūn||外孫||wasun|
|Grandaughter (Son's child)||孫女||sūnnǚ||sunzaogyeeah|
|Grandaughter (Daughter's child)||外孫女||wàisūnnǚ||wasun|
|Hanyu Pinyin /|
|Uncle (Father's older brother)||伯父||bófù||阿伯||ah-bei|
|Uncle (Father's younger brother)||叔叔||shūshu||阿叔||ah-jhiet|
|Uncle (Married to father's sister)||姑丈||gūzhàng||姑丈||gou-dǜn|
|Aunt (Father's sister)||姑姑||gūgu||阿姑||ah-gou|
|Aunt (Married to Father's brother)||嬸嬸||shěnshen||阿嬸||ah-mm|
|Great Uncle (Grandfather's older brother)||伯公||bógōng||伯公||bei-gong|
|Great Uncle (Grandfather's younger brother)||叔公||shūgōng||叔公||jhiet-gong|
|Great Uncle (Married to Grandfather's sister)||姑丈公||gūzhànggōng||丈公||dǜn-gong|
|Great Aunt (Grandfather's Sister)||姑婆||gūpó||姑婆||gou-be|
|Great Aunt (Wife of Grandfather's brother)||嬸婆||shěnpó||嬸婆||jing-be|
|Cousin (Father's brother's kids)||堂哥 / 堂弟 / 堂姊 / 堂妹****||tánggē / tángdì / tángjiě / tángmèi****||tángheenyah / tángxiodi / tángjih / tángxiomei /|
|Cousin (Father's sister's kids)||表哥 / 表弟 / 表姊 / 表妹****||biǎogē / biǎodì / biǎojiě / biǎomèi****||biouheenyah / biouxiodi / bioujih / biouxiomei /|
|Niece (Brother's daughter)||姪女||zhínǚ||sǖ-nah|
|Niece (Sister's daughter)||外甥女||wàishēngnǚ||wasǖ-nah|
|Nephew (Brother's son)||姪子||zhízi||sǖ-nah|
|Nephew (Sister's son)||外甥||wàishēng||wasǖ-nah|
|Hanyu Pinyin /|
|Uncle (Mother's brother)||舅舅||jiùjiu||阿舅||a-jiù|
|Uncle (Husband of Mother's sister)||姨丈||yízhàng||姨丈||yi-dǖn|
|Aunt (Mother's sister)||姨媽||yímā||阿姨||ah-yi|
|Aunt (Wife of Mother's brother)||舅媽||jiùmā||ah-ghim|
|Great Uncle (Grandfather's brother)||舅公||jiùgōng||舅公||gu-gong|
|Great Uncle (Husband of Grandfather's sister)||姨丈公||yízhànggōng||丈公||dǖn-gong|
|Great Aunt (Grandfather's sister)||姨婆||yípó||姨婆||yi-be|
|Great Aunt (Married to Grandfather's brother)||舅婆||jiùpó||舅婆||jing-be|
|Cousin||表哥 / 表弟 / 表姊 / 表妹****||biǎogē / biǎodì / biǎojiě / biǎomèi****||biouheenyah / biouxiodi / bioujih / biouxiomei|
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.
The issue has been brought up – 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?
*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 哥 is for your older brother. Follow the same rules for a younger male cousin and older and younger female cousins.