Guest Post: Learn Mandarin Chinese – What to Call Chinese Family for Western Women Married to Chinese Men

A few years back, I wrote an article titled The Chinese Relatives Name Game, reflecting on the challenges of trying to remember all of the names for relatives here in China. It’s funny that I’ve been married to my husband for over 10 years and I still can’t keep them straight! (In the post, I even wondered if it might take me a lifetime to get the names right… 😉 )

Of course, with Chinese New Year coming up, it’s as if I’m facing the yearly final exam on this subject – one that I’m not entirely sure I’m going to pass. (Ah well, at least my blunders might provide a bit of comic relief during the holidays?)

That’s why I’m grateful Yiwen Yang has graciously provided this article. It’s an introduction to some of the basics every Western woman who marries a Chinese man should know when it comes to what to call your Chinese family members.

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What to Call Chinese Family Members for Western Women Married to Chinese MenThe other day we were reading Jocelyn’s article The Chinese Relatives Name Game again, and thought about how confusing understanding all about Chinese family members can be!

Whilst we’re sure it’s not a new topic for many foreigners who are learning Mandarin Chinese, it’s definitely still a big challenge—especially if you are new to your Chinese family, and them to you.

As Chinese New Year is once again looming, why not refresh some of your Chinese language skills in advance so that you can impress your Chinese family—or maybe give them surprise at how fluent you have become in the language.

So, today, we are going to help you out!

As many of you know, Chinese family trees can be talked about forever. To actually remember the names and titles of people in Chinese family trees takes time; indeed, it’s also challenging for many native Chinese.

As Jocelyn from Speaking of China is more focused on AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love, let’s get started by looking at terms for Western women married to Chinese men.

Here’s an easy one if you are married to a Chinese man:

Husband: 老公,丈夫,先生 (lǎogōng, zhàngfu, xiānsheng)

What will your husband call you? (wife): 老婆,妻子,夫人 (lǎopó, qīzi, fūrén)

Note: 老公 (lǎogōng)/老婆 (lǎopó) are the most popular names which you can use in basically every situation, whilst 丈夫 (zhàngfu)/妻子 (qīzi),先生 (xiānsheng)/夫人 (fūrén) are a bit more formal and used to introduce a couple to other people.

For example, 这是我的先生 (Zhè shì wǒ de xiānsheng):This is my husband


Father in-law (your husband’s father): 公公 (gōnggong)

Mother in-law (your husband’s mother): 婆婆 (pópo)

公公 (gōnggong) and 婆婆 (pópo) are the most common words in use although, in many cases, people just use the same words as their husband use, which are father(爸,bà)or mother(妈,mā).

Also, when you have a child, some people will follow the words the child speaks, namely: grandfather(爷爷,yéye),grandmother (奶奶,nǎinai) 。

So what will your in-laws call you? 媳妇 (xífù)/儿媳 (érxí):(daughter in-law)

Note: in many cases, if they are talking to you, they will just say your name naturally.

Other useful names you might use:

Your husband’s older brother: 大伯(dàbó)
Your husband’s older sister: 大姑子(dàgūzi)
Your husband’s younger brother: 小叔子(xiǎoshūzi)
Your husband’s younger sister: 小姑子(xiǎogūzi)

Sounds complicated already?

Well, here are some great tips for you to follow:

  1. For the older generation/seniors, if you forget the correct way to speak to them, just to follow your husband is fine. (Eg. it’s okay to call your parents in-law just “father” or “mother”.)
  2. For the younger generation/seniors, you can either follow your husband or just say their name directly. (Eg. Your husband’s younger sister. If her name is 筱钧(xiǎojūn),you can just say her name directly.)

You may not need to use all of the above every day but, don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to the best/correct ways of addressing family members.

Actually, on our site Learn Mandarin Now, we recently published two Podcasts about Chinese family members:

  • direct family members:
  • extended family members:

We are now publishing our exciting Podcasts every day from Monday-Friday, covering a variety of interesting topics to help you learn Mandarin Chinese more effectively. They are totally free for everyone to view and listen to but, if you can kindly leave your honest opinion and ratings in i-Tunes or just simply tell us what kind of topics you like us to talk about in the near future, we’d greatly appreciate this. In any event, we’d love hear from you.

Wish everyone a great Chinese New Year ahead!

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15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Learn Mandarin Chinese – What to Call Chinese Family for Western Women Married to Chinese Men

  • January 29, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Hey Jocelyn, your post looks good.

    I think there are some differences with English. Some names of relatives in post are more of written names, for example, usually we dont call wife’s sisters xiaoyizi or dayizi, huzband’s brothers xiaoshuzi or dabo. separately we call gege/jiejie/meimei, as our own sisters or brothers. 🙂

    very good job.

    • January 29, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Yes, you are right — there are more “spoken” names commonly used over the written ones.

  • January 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    For me the most difficult, and what I am still not clear, are the names of the uncles and aunts. I can never remember them. I only know that father-in-law’s younger sister is gugu. For the rest I am completely lost and always refer to everybody as shushu and ayi…

    • January 29, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Mr. Panda has 6 aunts, and they numbered them! But I always mix up 2nd, 3rd and 4th aunt as they are so close in age. >_<"

      • January 29, 2016 at 9:07 pm

        Marta, Betty, I am with you on the uncles and aunts — so confusing! Don’t even get me started with the great uncles and aunts…sigh.

  • January 29, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    The resource is a good starting point, given the complexity of the language. But one should take into the account of the regional variation within the language so it’s best to ask your partner before seeing the family.

    For example, in HK 奶奶 is mother in law (from the girls’ point of view)
    公公,婆婆 are grandparents (mum side of the family). These are some examples I can think of. I’m sure there are many more.

    Our family is fairly chill and we call most of them in first name terms.

    • January 29, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      This is true, there are regional variations — always good to check with your partner!

  • January 30, 2016 at 4:56 am

    This whole thing is always a nightmare for me, even my wife doesn’t get the names right!

  • January 30, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Even my husband sometimes doesn’t know how to call someone if he doesn’t have that same relative himself. There are just too many different names! I have big troubles remembering all those names, and find it really hard to address people as gege, jiejie, shushu or ayi (also the ones my husband is not related to).

    • January 31, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      There really are too many names, aren’t there? Glad I’m not the only one who struggles!

  • February 18, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Being Chinese and grew up in a Chinese family, I still can’t keep track of all the terms and still have to ask my dad from time to time for clarification! 😀

  • February 25, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    Hey Jocelyn, nice write up there and I really feel you when i comes to memorizing those names. I usually laugh off when my cousin usually tries to explain some of the relatives and sometimes I feel that she gets mixed up and I end up asking “I thought you said that was your uncle” LOl. Fun times.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this, will surely be sharing this post with her.


  • February 17, 2017 at 1:20 am

    Hi Jocelyn. I am always happy to visit your blogs. My wife has three brothers, a number one gege, a number 2 gege, and a didi. She also has a son (ersi)?
    Her Didi is divorced, and likes to drink, so when we have a family dinner at a fan dian, he and i stay last, enjoying our drinks. The last time i was shocked, as when we were about to leave, he gave me a long warm hug. Very strange for Chinese to hug. Wow, guess i am really one of the family.


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