An Expatriate in Taiwan

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.

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

Father's Side

EnglishMandarin / 中文Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin PronunciationTaiwanese / 台語*Taiwanese Pronunciation**
Uncle (Father's older brother)伯父bófù阿伯a-peh
Uncle (Father's younger brother)叔叔shūshu阿叔a-tsik
Uncle (Married to father's sister)姑丈gūzhàng姑丈koo-tiūnn
Aunt (Father's sister)姑姑gūgu阿姑a-koo
Aunt (Married to Father's brother)嬸嬸shěnshen阿嬸a-tsím
Grandmother奶奶nǎinai 阿媽a-má
Great Uncle (Grandfather's older brother)伯公bógōng伯公peh-kong
Great Uncle (Grandfather's younger brother)叔公shūgōng叔公tsik-kong
Great Uncle (Married to Grandfather's sister)姑丈公gūzhànggōng丈公tiūnn-kong
Great Aunt (Grandfather's Sister)姑婆gūpó姑婆koo-pô
Great Aunt (Wife of Grandfather's brother)嬸婆shěnpó嬸婆tsím-pô
Cousin (Father's brother's kids)堂哥 / 堂弟 / 堂姊 / 堂妹****tánggē / tángdì / tángjiě / tángmèi****堂兄/堂弟/堂姊/堂妹tn̂g-hiann/tn̂g-tī/tn̂g-tsí/tn̂g-muē
Cousin (Father's sister's kids)表哥 / 表弟 / 表姊 / 表妹****biǎogē / biǎodì / biǎojiě / biǎomèi****表兄/表弟/表姊/表妹piáu-hiann/piáu-tī/piáu-tsí/piáu-muē
Niece (Brother's daughter)姪女zhínǚ
Niece (Sister's daughter)外甥女wàishēngnǚ
Nephew (Brother's son)姪子zhízi姪仔ti̍t-á
Nephew (Sister's son)外甥wàishēng外甥guē-sing

Mother's Side

EnglishMandarin / 中文Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin PronunciationTaiwanese / 台語*Taiwanese Pronunciation**
Uncle (Mother's brother)舅舅jiùjiu阿舅a-kū
Uncle (Husband of Mother's sister)姨丈yízhàng姨丈a-tiūnn
Aunt (Mother's sister)姨媽yímā阿姨a-î
Aunt (Wife of Mother's brother)舅媽jiùmā阿妗a-kīm
Great Uncle (Grandfather's brother)舅公jiùgōng舅公kū-kong
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tiūnn-kong
Great Aunt (Married to Grandfather's brother)舅婆jiùpó舅婆kīm-pô
Cousin表哥 / 表弟 / 表姊 / 表妹****biǎogē / biǎodì / biǎojiě / biǎomèi****表兄/表弟/表姊/表妹piáu-hiann/piáu-tī/piáu-tsí/piáu-muē

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. /wā is commonly used in Taiwanese to represent “I” rather than the Mandarin /wǒ) or, more commonly, we simply use the Mandarin and pronounce it in Taiwanese (e.g. 我國寶了 would be wāguóbǎole in Mandarin but it’s a famous Taiwanese saying pronounced like wāguòbòulei).[

**I’m using Pe̍h-ōe-jī, which is the standard in Taiwan. If you have any suggestions for better Romanization, 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 is for your older brother. Follow the same rules for a younger male cousin and older and younger female cousins.

15 thoughts on “Family names

  1. Pingback: Mandarin and Taiwanese family names | An Expatriate in Taiwan

  2. robert

    Thank you this is a big help to me, as i am in taiwan now meeting my new inlaws and yeah learn mandarin then come here and feel like you had never studied

  3. Les

    This is excellent. I do have one question as to why many Taiwanese call their peers little sister/little brother or call adults aunt or uncle?

    1. The Expatriate Post author

      I believe it’s just a term of affection/intimacy. Often if they are colleagues/coworkers, you might hear them called 帥哥 and 美女 (Handsome Brother and Beautiful Woman), also as a term of friendship.

  4. Alison

    I’m curious about the collective or plural forms, specifically for grandparents. I find myself repeating “ah-ma and ah-gong” a lot, as in, “We’re going to ah-ma and ah-gong’s house tonight.” Is there a term for referring for them both together, as if to say “your grandparents’ house”? I forgot to ask my in-laws about this the last time I saw them!

    1. The Expatriate Post author

      Not that I know of. Generally, people will just say, “We’re going to go see grandpa and grandma!” or, in Chinese, “我們去看阿公阿媽!” It’s short and simple enough, and the Chinese don’t seem to need a phrase that means “grandparents” in the plural form.

  5. Lou

    Thanks for this page!!
    I’ve got my children calling their grandparents A-Gong and A-ma (I’m a Taiwanese father). What is the proper term for my children to call their grandmothers brothers/sisters? I see names for grandfather’s brothers/sister on the father’s side, but I didn’t see terms for grandmother’s brothers/sisters on the father’s side.

    Of all of my relatives, my aunts (mother’s younger sisters) visit most often, and I’m not sure if I’m even saying one term properly- one of them told me to have my kids call her something that sounded like “ee-burr”. I suppose the “ee” part is related to the fact that I refer to those aunts as “a-i / A-Yi”, but I’m lost on the proper pronunciation of the 2nd half of the term.

    Thanks for any help!

    1. Jonny

      I’ll let the author correct me if I am mistaken, but I think the term you refer to, “ee-burr”, might be 姨婆, which I believe is “î-pô” in Pe̍h-ōe-jī Romanisation.

      This is what my wife’s family (both young and old generations) call the younger sister of my wife’s maternal grandmother. Hope that helps, this confuses the hell out of me too!

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  7. Jonny

    Thank you for providing such a comprehensive page! I speak and read Chinese(s) but have always struggled with the correct terms for family, especially in different Chinese languages. Your page has been vital for me meeting my in-laws in Tainan! 佩服!

  8. Holly

    Thanks for putting this together! My daughter and her fiancé (Caucasian) are in Taiwan and have found this really helpful after I sent the link to them. I learned Péh-ōi-ji when I was young from vacation Bible school. However I have lost the ability due to lack of use for several decades. I have made my own pronunciation spellings for my daughter and her cousins. A-Gon is grandfather, A-Gu is uncle from mother side, A-Gim is A-Gu’s wife and so on. I have found this is so endearing about have a different name to everyone you are related to, which also makes an unique Takwanese culture.

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