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

Mandarin / 中文
Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin Pronunciation
Taiwanese / 台語*
Taiwanese Pronunciation**
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
Husband (additional)老公lǎogōng
Wife (additional)老婆lǎopó
Son兒子érzi兒子gyeeah / haosei
Grandson (Son's child)孫子sūnzisun
Grandson (Daughter's child)外孫子wàisūn外孫wasun
Grandaughter (Son's child)孫女sūnnǚsunzaogyeeah
Grandaughter (Daughter's child)外孫女wàisūnnǚwasun
Immediate family names

Father's Side

Mandarin / 中文
Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin Pronunciation
Taiwanese / 台語*
Taiwanese Pronunciation**
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zhínǚsǖ-nah
Niece (Sister's daughter)外甥女wàishēngnǚwasǖ-nah
Nephew (Brother's son)姪子zhízisǖ-nah
Nephew (Sister's son)外甥wàishēngwasǖ-nah
Father's side family names

Mother's Side

Mandarin / 中文
Hanyu Pinyin / Mandarin Pronunciation
Taiwanese / 台語*
Taiwanese Pronunciation**
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jiùmāah-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
Mother's side family names

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).[

**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 is for your older brother. Follow the same rules for a younger male cousin and older and younger female cousins.

3 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

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