Ways to call family members

I’ve made this mistakes for a few times already since I got here. I miscalled my cousins brothers or sisters.

I understand that in English language’s sense, you only call your siblings brother and sister, and all the other relatives in your generation cousins. But in Chinese language, the cousin part can be way more complicated. Your father’s brothers/sisters’ children is called 堂哥/堂弟/堂姐/堂妹, while your mother’s brothers/sisters’ children is called 表哥/表姐/表弟/表妹. Oh, forget to mention, we distinguish the word for elder brother/sister and younger brother/sister.

I always found English language is a little bit less creative in the part you call your relatives. In English, uncle and aunt can probably cover everyone in your father/mother generation. But in Chinese, we have many many words to specifically describe the person’s relationship with you. Your father’s elder brother and your father’s younger brother are different as well as their wives separately. We have names for father’s sisters and names for mother’s brothers and sisters, and they are all different.

The most insane one to me when I first find out is the name people call two sisters’ husbands. I feel like I should explain more. So this name 连襟, is created to explain my mother’s husband, which is my father and my mother’s sister’s husband. Sorry if you don’t get it. Many Chinese people don’t get it too. Don’t worry about it at all.

And I should stop here, though I have much more left to explain. Anyway, Chinese tries to explain every relationship to the detail but actually besides family members, no one outside your family really want to know the complicated relationship. So English language’s way works perfectly fine. I just need to adjust to it. But gradually I believe.

One last thing to add: the reason we do this I believe is because we don’t call family members by their names especially people who are elder than you. So we have to create these many titles. But it was a lot fun for me to learn when I was younger.


Author: Yue Zhang

Graduate student currently studying at University of Westminster, London. For my passion in storytelling, I am adventuring abroad to learn more.

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