My Chinese Husband Calls Me Laopo

White letters jumbled up on a black background
What’s in a name? I may be Jocelyn, but I prefer my Chinese husband to call me “Laopo” or wife in Chinese. (photo by Josep Altarriba)

There’s nothing I love more than when my Chinese husband comes bursts into our apartment after a long day, and calls my name.

Laopo!” he’ll sing out, as he stomps his feet on the mat by the door.

Well, Laopo (老婆, [lǎopó]), which is another word for “wife” in Chinese, isn’t really my name. But the sound of it is as soothing as a cup of Jasmine-scented green tea.

I never thought that I would rather be called “wife” over Jocelyn.

When I was young, my parents never called each other “wife” or “husband,” instead peppering their evening adult conversations with their real names, “Claudia” and “Bob.” The whole idea of using “wife” or “husband” between a wife and husband was the verbal equivalent of turning a marriage into a form letter.

But when I started dating John in Hangzhou many years ago, he began using that “L” word — Laopo — in reference to me.

Wife? Me? We hadn’t even married yet, and all of a sudden, here he was, claiming me as his lifelong partner in what seemed to me as the most impersonal way possible.

To him, however, we were already headed for marriage (which is also why he moved in so fast). So he wanted to mark the fact that we were just like family. Like a husband and wife, or “Laopo” and “Laogong.”

“Only family can use these words with each other, so it makes you feel closer,” he confessed.

But as the years went by, and we became closer through marriage, I also became closer to the idea of being called “Laopo” — and farther from the idea of him calling me Jocelyn. So much so, that I can’t stand it when he calls me Jocelyn anymore.

“You sound just like my father!” I exclaimed, when weeks ago, after seeing my parents, he tried mimicking the exact way my own father loves to call my name.

Maybe it’s the way my husband sings it out so joyfully every time, as if it was the first time we had ever seen each other in years. Maybe it’s because I am proud to be the only one he could claim as his “Laopo.”  Or maybe it’s because, deep down, marriage to John has changed me so much that I’ll never be the same “Jocelyn” ever again. 😉

For the couples out there, what names do you use with each other? Do you prefer Laopo or Laogong over using your first names?

P.S.: For another fascinating Asian take on the role of names in a family, pick up the beautifully written novel, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

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28 thoughts on “My Chinese Husband Calls Me Laopo

  • February 7, 2011 at 2:21 am
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    Very sweet…I dated a Chinese man for 2 1/2 years and felt the same way…him saying my name became weird, almost as if he was mad at me. Every time he called me “Heather” I felt some distance. I was “Xiao Bao” (small treasure for those who do not speak Mandarin) and he was “Da Bao” (Big treasure).

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  • February 7, 2011 at 6:54 am
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    Since we mainly use English to speak to each other as we met in NZ, we normally call each other by the usual pet names like Honey etc. I do occasionally call him Laogong and we always refer to each other in conversations with others as Laopo and Laogong when speaking Chinese to friends and family. His Mom calls me Yatou, though, which I love. 🙂

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  • February 7, 2011 at 7:16 am
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    My boyfriend started calling me laopo pretty much the second day we were together. Sometimes he also calls me Sara or uses my Chinese name Xuefang. I usually call him with his Finnish name, that I gave him, Joonas. But sometimes with laogong and that’s his name in my mobile. I never use his Chinese name, but if I would I’m not sure should I use the putonghua version or the one in his mother language, another dialect? He’s okey being Joonas so I’ll continue calling him that.
    I should add that we speak Chinese, putonghua, with each other.

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  • February 7, 2011 at 11:02 am
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    A wonderful, emotive article that filled me up with candy floss clouds inside. : ) So lovely, may you be happy forever more. Blessing to you too, and I hope he continues to inspire you in your work and great articles that benefits us. xxx

    Reply
  • February 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm
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    I live in the U.S. So I address my wife of 34 years as Laopo Dar-re!

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  • February 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm
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    Correction: Laopo Dar-ren!

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  • February 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm
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    Lao-po 老婆 it is a term of endearment a long-time married Chinese man would have called his wife:-) It has lots of “juicy” meanings to it yet mostly, it means a life-time partner.
    Way to go.

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  • February 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm
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    Sorta like how we call our partner “vieja” in Mexico, except it’s rather disrespectful in Spanish.

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  • February 7, 2011 at 10:07 pm
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    This is so cute! my Chinese man lately called me xiao xifu, like little bride? I think its really nice and I totally feel loved when he calls me xifu. Also I am referred to as the laoban niang (bosses wife) when we are at his office. mm I normally call him laogong or boyfriend.

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  • February 8, 2011 at 6:24 am
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    well me and my boyfriend normally call each other with our first names or pet names like honey or sweetie. Occasionally he will call me his tai tai but I rarely call him by his Chinese name because he introduced himself with his English name and it just stuck.

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  • February 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm
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    My Chinese husband doesn’t call me laopo, and I don’t call him laogong either… We use pet names in Chinese I won’t reproduce here, they are extremely cheesy and ridiculous…

    When he calls me by that pet name in front of his friends (which happens quite often, as he uses that automatically) they always LOL and ask him how he came up with that name.

    When I call him by his pet name in front of my relatives… nothing happens. They don’t share our “secret language” (Chinese) 😀

    Reply
  • February 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm
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    This thread reminds me of my favorite song by Richie Ren “Ni Shi Wo Laopo”:

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  • February 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm
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    I get soooo mad if my boyfriend calls me by my real name. it just sounds wrong on his voice. We have several pet names but most of the time, as unromantic as it may be, we call one another kid, or kiddo… I love it. He’s yet to introduce Chinese pet names, but that’s fine. I wouldn’t know if he was being sweet or calling me a name anyways haha

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  • February 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm
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    lol, wait until you all have kids, or for those who already do, wait until your kids get older. Sooner or later, you’ll call each other Laoba or Laoma, and the other dozen cheezy names there are for mom and dad.

    Reply
  • March 10, 2011 at 2:13 am
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    *haha* I can really relate to that.
    After some months of dating my fiance also started calling me laopo (well, that’s not a huge change since my name “Laura” is already pronounced pretty similar – “Laora”). I also started calling him laogong and refer to him as laogong when I talk to other friends. It’s also funny how I often respond in the 3rd person, f.e. if laogong asks me what I’m doing I answer: “Laopo is shopping” 😀
    (well, now we gradually call each other Huaigong 坏公 and Huaipo 坏公, specially when we’re a bit upset….)
    I’ve gotten so used to that it nearly breaks my heart when my bf is really angry and calls me “Laura” – it sounds like “let’s break up, you’re just a random person for me now”

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  • August 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm
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    My husband and I called eachother Laopo and Laogong for a long time. He now calls me Co, a name my family gave to me many years ago, and I call him by his Chinese name 梅哲. It took him a while to get used to me calling him by his given name and he still cracks up everytime I call him by the name his mother uses “阳阳“, but it still gives me a wierd feeling if he calls me by my given name Carolyn. It seemed like it was pretty common to call a GF or BF Laogong/laopo in China. Refering to your Chapter 10 – My husband also had made up in his mind that we were going to get married pretty quickly. He proposed by saying “I am not sure when we are getting married” My response – “We’re getting married? Oh, Ok.” But I already knew he was the one I was going to marry 🙂

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  • June 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm
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    To me that sounds degrading.

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  • March 7, 2014 at 6:40 am
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    I often use the word “Lao po” when speaking with my wife. We are just learning to use Mandarin and English. She will say ” you my Lao gong” and i say ni mei li. We enjoy learning each others language. It is “wan mei”, we hope we will become fluent. Bao zhong, zai jian.

    Reply
  • March 30, 2014 at 11:21 pm
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    Hi to all,

    I have been corresponding on an international daing site (plz, I have heard every critisism u can think of and could baffle u with some u havn’t) but I simply came to this thread becoz the adorable woman I am writing to (and have been for some time) asked me if I knew what Laogong and Laopo meant. I have to say, we get along better than any woman I have ever encountered, and I can only liken our attraction to gravity.

    This post, and now, her meaning, warmed me deeply. It makes me smile there are still couples who really understand what life is about. Feelings.

    I wish u all the best.

    Reply
  • June 28, 2014 at 8:08 am
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    My wife of ten years has been wode LaoPo since the very beginning. I am American but I am still LaoGong to her. It is the only names that sound normal anymore.

    We live in the US and I have had people mistake my wife’s name for LaoPo after hearing me call her that.

    Reply
  • July 26, 2014 at 6:36 am
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    What a sweet story. My relationship with my wife (who is Taiwanese) parallels yours. Pretty early in our relationship, she started asking me to call her “lao po”. I asked her what it meant, and she wouldn’t tell me– she just wanted me to call her that. So I did, and for many months when I would say it, she would giggle in the most adorable of ways. So, with that kind of positive reinforcement, I continued to do it, and now 9 years later I still call her that. Sadly, she never really took to calling me lao gong or lao ye zi.

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 10:36 am
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    Of course laopo is better! There is only one man in the whole world, who can call me laopo and there are hundreds of people calling me with my first name! However, I’m very proud of my in-laws: they learned how to pronounce properly my Polish name and they always use it when they speak directly to me.

    Reply
  • July 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm
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    I love this article. I am so glad you dug up this one from the archive.

    I can totally relate. My husband is Korean and we call each other ‘yobo’ which what older married couples call each other. I didn’t like the expression that Koreans use when dating, ‘chagi’, so even before we were married, we called each other ‘yobo’. Now the only time we call each other by our real names is when we are annoyed with the other person. Funny enough, when we lived and taught in Kenya for part of a year, our friends there just referred to us as ‘The Yobos’. 🙂

    Reply
  • Pingback:On Love in Other Languages, Being Called Laopo & More (from the Archives) | Speaking of China

  • July 21, 2015 at 1:10 am
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    I tried calling my wife honey (feng mi) , but they only use the word mifeng for bee.
    So, i am back to using lao po. It is a forever term..

    Reply
  • Pingback:Costumbres: Acerca de llamarse “esposo” “esposa” y el amor en China – Ni Hao Cassandra

  • July 20, 2016 at 7:04 am
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    Aaw! So cute! I usually call my husband sweet names when we’re alone, but in front of others, I wouldn’t want to embarrass him by calling him “baby” or “sweetheart”!

    Reply

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