I always thought that languages are interesting, especially when some languages only have one word to refer to something, and others have a lot of words.  Something I learned from my parents the other day: family relational names.

In English, we refer to our parents’ siblings and their spouses as “uncle” or “aunt.”  We may even refer to close family friends as “uncle” or “aunt.”  And luckily, it’s just that simple.

In Asian languages, it seems that there is a consistent trend of having different names for different relatives, depending on where they are in the family tree.  This is because, I think, there are a lot of nuances in Asian languages that refer to a person’s status or place.  In Chinese, there are different names depending on if the relative is on the father’s side or mother’s side, and even different names for the spouses on each side.  It’s complicated (more complicated than I had thought, even).

So, for my personal organization and your viewing/educational pleasure, I’ve written the references down here XD

Father’s side

Father’s older brother: 伯伯, bóbo
Father’s younger brother: 叔叔, shūshu
Uncle’s wife (for both uncle types): 婶婶, shěnshěn
Father’s sister: 姑姑, gūgū
Aunt’s husband: 姑爹 gūdiē (where the diē is the same as “dad”), (more intimate reference); 姑丈, gūzhàng (丈夫, zhàngfu = husband)

Mother’s side

Mother’s brother: 舅舅, jiùjiù
Uncle’s wife: 舅妈, jiùmā (where the mā is the same as “mom”)
Mother’s sister: 阿姨, āyí
Aunt’s husband: 姨丈, yízhàng; 姨爹, yídiē is possible, but apparently never used

And when referring to non-relatives of our parents’ generation, we usually call the men 叔叔, “shūshu” (same as father’s younger brother) and ladies 阿姨, “āyí” (same as mother’s sister).

There are also ways to refer to a specific aunt or uncle. Usually we will put “big” in front of the oldest aunt/uncle (e.g., 大舅, “dà jiù” for mom’s oldest brother… and we cut off the second 舅, “jiù” because it sounds better like that… I guess??).

If there are only two of one set, then we can put “small” in front of the younger aunt/uncle (e.g., 小舅, “xiǎo jiù” for the second and youngest brother of your mom).

If there are more, I think we use a counting system (e.g., 大舅, “dà jiù” for the oldest; 二舅, “èr jiù” for the second; 三舅, “sān jiù” for the third.. etc). I’m a little fuzzy on these, though.

Complicated, right?

(Please excuse me if my Chinese characters are wrong or mixed traditional/simplified… I’m illiterate, so I copied them out of here… XD)

Please correct me if I’m wrong on anything! >w<