Naming family members in Chinese is so complicated!
Our family tree printable is here to help
Can’t keep track of all the different family member names in Mandarin? Neither can we! So, we thought it would be both fun and very useful to make this family tree activity + flashcard set of all the different family member names. Print them out, draw in your family members, and arrange them into your own tree. Example of one of our family trees below!
Also, a few things we wanted to highlight as we put this together:
You may call your family member a different name. For example - 外婆 wài pó (Maternal Grandma) can also be called 婆婆 (pó po) 姥姥 (lǎo lao) 阿妈 (a ma). Instead of writing out all options, we chose the one we found most common / recognized across multiple regions.
A lot of the difference in Chinese names is driven by …
Maternal vs. Paternal … e.g. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles - all have different names depending on whether they are on the paternal vs. maternal side. E.g. Maternal Grandpa (外公 wài gōng) vs. Paternal Grandpa (爷爷 yé ye).
Older vs. younger … e.g. the most well known is older vs. younger brother (哥哥 gē ge vs 弟弟 dì di) and older vs. younger sister (姐姐 jiě jie vs 妹妹 mèi mei). But naming differences also apply to uncles and aunts - e.g. Uncle that is Dad’s older brother is 伯伯 (bó bo) vs. Uncle that is Dad’s younger brother is 叔叔 (shū shu).
- Sometimes the difference is based on last name … e.g. in the case of cousins. All cousins that share your last name have a “堂 táng“ in front (堂哥 táng gē，堂弟 táng dì，堂姐 táng jiě，堂妹 táng mèi). This, of course, only applies to cousins that are children of Dad’s brothers. Cousins that don’t share the same last name - even if they’re from Dad’s side - Dad’s sisters’ kids or Mom’s siblings’ kids have a “表 biǎo” in front (表哥 biǎo gē， 表弟 biǎo dì， 表姐 biǎo jiě， 表妹 biǎo mèi). This makes 8 names for cousins, depending on whether they are:
- [First word] Same or different last name? 堂 vs 表 (táng vs biǎo)
[Second word] Male or female / Older or younger? 哥, 弟, 姐, 妹 (gē dì jiě mèi)
- We tried to be inclusive of blended families, by including step-brothers / sisters and half-brothers / sisters. In reality, the translation is not something that is used often as a label, since folks either just call them “my brother” or refer to them as “my stepmother’s son (继母的儿子 jì mǔ de ér zi).” The translation we included highlights the relationship (e.g. 同父异母的兄弟 tóng mǔ yì fù de xiōng dì - brother that is of same father, different mother), more so than how this person is commonly referred to.
Of course, we also have the Spanish version of this exercise, though the names are much simpler! The key difference in Spanish is between male vs. female and ending the word in “o” (male) vs “a” (female) - e.g. male cousin is “Primo” vs. female cousin is “Prima.”
We hope this set of Printables is both helpful and fun for you! xo, H&AL