家族內的稱呼 – confusing family titles

Breaking news! Lina and her husband are going to be  an aunt and uncle! My husband’s cousin’s wife is pregnant – the best grandchild, one and only son of a son now oficially made another generation of little human(s). It’s still to early to kno313860_270927653040133_91142847_n_zps576ee1edw the gender of a child or maybe even children, but I’m already getting crazy! My husband’s reaction? ‘Nah, it’s not ours beside we won’t see it much’. Best. Uncle. Ever.

Because of that for last few days I keep walking around and telling everyone how great aunt I will be. And here there’s Best. Uncle. Ever. part again when he crushes my dream saying that I can only be an ‘outside aunt’ and that’s the best case. I end up as 表姨. Wait, why? Because we don’t share a surname with them. OK… then what’s with our sister when she gets married, will she stay an ‘inside aunt’ because of the surname? No, when she gets married even thought she doesn’t change the surname she is already given to another family and that makes her an outise aunt. Too bad he couldn’t answer ‘What if she doesn’t get married at all’.

After that I kept asking him like a child fifty thousand times ‘Why? But why? And why that?’ so he introduced me to all the titles I should know about our closest family a.k.a. family members I’ve met before. And who am I for them. Honestly, I got so happy I haven’t met a whole family, all those aunts and uncles and their children because I would run away screaming. It’s much more simple in western society just add a name after ‘aunt’, ‘uncle’ or ‘cousin’. If it’s your or younger generation it might be acceptable to use a name or a childhood nickname but saying ‘uncle Wing’ might be as disrespectful as ‘come and eat old bastard’. OK, maybe I’m overreacting a bit but it’s really confusing! Beside being polite they think if you don’t use term describing ‘outside uncle of the 3 elder brother’ no one will know who you talk about. What’s the point of having a name? Argh.

So let’s take a look on my family-challenge.

Here’s me. . I’m married to my husband – 老公 (lóuhgùng) and I’m his 老婆 (lóuhpòh). His mother is my 家婆 (gāpó) and his father is 老爺 (lóuhyèh). To them I’m 新抱 (sànpóuh). He also has a younger sister 姑仔 (gùjái) who can call me 阿嫂 (a sóu) – a wife of an older brother. Now there’s the funny part.


My mother in law has two older siblings. First one and the oldest one is to him we are 外甥 – sister’s son and 外甥媳婦 sister’s son’s wife. For my husband he is 舅父 mother’s brother no matter if he’s older or younder. If she had more than one brother you add numbers or make is as big brother, 2nd brother, 3rd brother, small brother. It works with every tittle when you have more than 1 sibling. Bless one child policy now. He has a wife, not just an aunt, it’s 舅姆 – mother’s brother’s wife. In this probably some of you were as naive as me thinking we have same relationship to her as to his uncle. NOPE. Why? Because female is a speaker. To her we become 姨甥 and 姨甥媳婦. They also have a son, mentioned before as a future daddy. My husband is his father’s sister’s son who is younger than him so he can be called 表弟 and he can call me 表嫂. For us he’s 表兄, his wife is our 表嫂.

My mother’s older sister is our 姨母 and her husband 姨夫. They can use the same term for us that is used by her brother and his family. Lucky they have only one son – 表兄弟. Don’t forget about the grandparents. For my husband they are ‘outside grandparents’ because they don’t share one surname, as son of a daughter – grandfather 外父 and grandmother 外婆 so in return we are 外孫 – daughter’s son and his wife – 外孫媳婦, daughter’s son’s wife.

Uff, let’s stay with the family members I met. My husband’s father is one of the 5 children, every one of them has at least another 2 children… Imagine that family meeting. I think I will keep using the nicknames we gave to them: little chick (my husband’s sister), big cousin (son of a son), handsome cousin (other cousin, son of a daughter) or big mama (mother’s-in-law sister).

If you want to get more information about all the family title’s that work in Chinese culture check this site out http://www.kwanfamily.info/culture/familytitles_table.php or watch a hilarious video made by ‘Off the Great Wall’ and I think I got their picture in the top of this post. Anyway that’s the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCFRoILS1jY&noredirect=1 – The Complicated Chinese Family Tree.

After all I’m so happy I can call my part of the family with their names not get confused by all the crazy titles. I hope I didn’t mess up too much with Cantonese and Mandarin but it was just too hard for me to find all of those complicated relationship titles. Do you have titles in your country? Or if you’re Chinese – which one of them are yours? Do you like them? Share your experience! 🙂


28 thoughts on “家族內的稱呼 – confusing family titles

  1. Damn, you stole my post! I had that video ready in a draft because my boyfriend’s family are visiting tomorrow from Hong Kong!!! 😛 I guess i’ll just have to save it for a few months until everyone forgets 😉

    It really is so confusing. I asked my boyfriend about it and he says he doesn’t even know what all the different names are. He just knows what he calls his family members, which is often by their real names. Luckily he told me I wouldn’t have to remember anything like that, he says they all have English names and he wants me to call them by that 😀

    Also congrats on being an Auntie!!!


  2. It’s mind-boggling to remember all the ‘titles’. Usually when you first meet a distant relative, they will tell you how we are related through the blood lines/ family trees and how what ‘titles’ we get. Geez, imagine when you are a grand aunty to someone your age!!!


  3. Indeed that’s one of the hardest parts of learning Chinese. I just try to remember the main ones, big sister and little brother and the maternal-paternal grandparents etc. 表 is easy to get for the male female cousins, literally like ‘extended siblings.’ Beyond that I don’t want to learn all the different versions of aunts and uncles.

    Prepare for the family reunion!


  4. I have been reading your blog for sometime and I got to say I appreciated your effort in learning Chinese culture, it’s nice seeing all those progress in learning and love between the lines. For Chinese family relations they separate family trees in accordance to paternal side (dad’s side – sharing surname) and maternal side (mom’s side – not sharing same surname). So there goes inner family and outer family by this surname. Then goes the rank/hierarchy of one person in the family tree, with brother/sisters at same tier, sons and daughters in lower tier. It is often common in big Chinese families to have uncles and aunts aged younger than the nephew and niece.

    Thank you for sharing and looking forward to next blog article. 😀


  5. Titles are for respect. How many people called their parents by name as a child? Why do military officers answer their commanding officer via “sir” or “mam”?

    In most cultures women marry in (e.g. take on the husband’s lastname) but even in China there are tribes and instances where men marry into the wife’s family.

    Why the distinction between cousins with the same last name? Well the children of the brothers in Chinese culture refer to each other as true brothers and sisters even though we refer to them as “tong” to the outside. While we call the children from aunts as cousins. In the end we like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s have to choose sides. And it would be awkward to attend a McCoy’s family reunion with a last name of Hatfield.


  6. Oh, those titles… I have a post scheduled for the future with one situation where I didn’t remember how I should call my husband’s daye (or dabo). I just remembered shushu, the only word for “uncle” I knew. Since he seems to be very traditional and is the head of the family, he was pretty pissed, to say the least.


  7. Oh to heck with third cousin or 3rd elder sister titles.

    My parents just gave up most of this stuff when they immigrated to Canada. Heck, they’re just happy we can still speak a small amount of Chinese.

    Believe me, the threat of language loss, assimilation truly forces Chinese speaking parents to get real on such trivial formalities.


  8. I had a video of the first picture explanation. Quite comical. We Chinese are proud of our extended family network and every one has a unique title and a name for their position in the family tree. Your effort in understanding the Chinese culture is awesome! 🙂


  9. Oh god yes, family titles are so confusing! Thankfully, it’s not an issue I have to deal with in my life, but I definitely remember it from back when I was learning Chinese in high school. I was flipping ahead to a chapter to browse and came across a page of all the different family titles and was just like, “Nope, nope, nope, I can’t learn all these!” But good on you for learning them! And congratulations to the soon-to-be parents!


  10. Omg, these are mostly all different from the titles I know for addressing relatives in Chinese (I live in Hebei Province). As if it wasn’t confusing enough!


  11. Finally! an article of this topic! 😀
    I am going to save the link to this post so that I can send it to people when I need to explain Chinese family titles. L-O-L! (No, I’m not lazy… I’m just… not really good in doing this! ha ha ha)


  12. Hi Lina,
    This is my comment on your blog! This was an excellent post. Like everyone has mentioned, I really admire how much you’re embracing your husband’s family and culture. I have so much respect for you. On this topic of family relationship titles, I have to give you an A because for someone like me who’s 2nd generation American, it’s hard to get it straight. So kudos to you! Keep it up.

    I’ve read your first 3 months of posts of 2013 and I”m afraid I’ll finish it all before the year’s end. :p keep up your thoughts!


  13. I think there is a little bit of a mistake here. The title for the Dad’s mother, should have been “Maa Maa”. 嫲嫲.
    This family-tree, only applies to you though, cos it is very specific. Family-trees can only be from the perspective of the child. In relation to… etc etc. I’ve forgotten mine. My mother used to say, if it was removed, quite a few times, just call them all “aunties”. Lol… “Ah MMm”… (But this is HK walled clan culture.) In truth, the chances of us relating was very high.


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