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Home Communication & Others How to Address People in Chinese
How to Address People in Chinese
Communication & Others

When introducing people in Chinese, the order is surname first, title second.

The Chinese seldom call each other by their full name or last name, unless they are close friends or members of the immediate family. When addressing people, it is common practice to use titles like
    Mr, xiānshēng 先 生
    Mrs, fūren 夫 人
    Miss , xiǎojiě 小 姐.
The title is placed after the first name, thus Miss Zhuo is Zhuó xiǎojiě in Chinese.

The word xiānshēng, “Mr.”, literally means “first born”, which implies respect. Anyone born before me is older than me, and thus earns my respect due to his age. (On some occasions xiānshēng is also used with the meaning of “teacher”.)

Women do not change their family name when they get married and that is why Miss Liu, after changing her marital status, will be Mrs Liu. However, in some cases,take Hongkong or Taiwan for example, if Miss Liu married to Mr. Zhang, then sometimes people may call her Mrs. Zhang, which is Zhang tàitai .

The word xiǎojiě, Miss, is also used when addressing a waitress in a restaurant or a shop assistant. Xiǎo means “little” and jiě stands for “sister”. Nowadays waitresses are often also called xiǎomèi, which translates into “small little sister”. Nowadays, the term xiǎojiěis not so often used as beforeThe reason for this alteration is that the word xiǎojiě has encountered an inflation due to its connotation to sān péi xiǎojiě , those young modern “geishas” who accompany guests in restaurants to sing karaoke.

The term “comrade”, tóngzhì 同 志, was still widely used in the 70s and 80s, but not so much any more - at least not between colleagues or amongst average Chinese citizens. Instead, in the office, people call their colleagues Lăo Wáng, “Elder Wang”, or Xiăo Lĭ, “Younger Li”. Here old and young do not really refer to age as such, but to people’s position or status. Although in many cases these go hand in hand, as professional experience and success are supposed to accumulate steadily according to the years in service.

The word shīfu 师 傅 originally referred to a master of any specific skill, such as a carpenter, calligraphist, martial arts master etc. It contained the meaning of being a teacher, and thus the apprentice or student would call his master shīfu. Nowadays shīfu is commonly used to address, for example, a cab driver.

The Chinese like to use words that express profession or social status when addressing each other or referring to other people. This kind of underlines the fact that they pay a lot of attention to social roles and the status of each individual - thus defining the pattern of interaction and how people releate to each other. Surname comes before the title, such as in “doctor Zhang”, Zhàng dàifu , "accountant Li”, Lǐ kuàijì , teacher Liu, Liú lǎoshī etc.

The importance of social merit

The main rule in addressing Chinese people is that the family name comes before a title, and the family name is also placed before a person’s first name. This just might stem from the Chinese manner of approaching the world and its phenomena from bigger entities to smaller ones. This also explains why in the Chinese society the focus is on social groups rather than on single members of a group. A practical example of this way of thinking is the manner in which the Chinese traditionally write an address on an envelope: first they write the name of the country, then the city and the street address, and finally comes the name of the person who will receive the letter. In most western countries the order is the reverse - the person’s name first, then the city and after that the country name. Placing the family name before the personal given name implies that the family is more important than any individual member of it.

The complexity of family relations

Within Chinese families, people do not call each other by their names, but instead by words indicating their mutual relationship. There are dozens of different names used to address younger or elder sisters, brothers of various ages, uncles and aunties from the mother’s and father’s side, younger brother’s wife, elder sister’s husband, father’s little sister and mother’s younger brother… not to mention cousins of various ages. Better not to try to grasp it all at once.

Children basically call their parents mother and father, and grand parents grand father and grand mother - here again differentiating between grand parents from the either side of the family. And, because the Chinese just love children, these are usually always given nicknames (xiǎomíng, i.e. “littlename”) used within the family, such as “Little Tiger”, “Little Fatty”, “Little Precious”.


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