How to talk about family members in Chinese (A Family Tree)

Dear fellow Mandarin enthusiasts,

How many times have you been in the middle of a conversation with a Chinese person only to find yourself unable to find the right name for your father's oldest sister or mother's second youngest brother?

I know I'm not the first foreigner to find herself in this situation and, in the spirit of the holidays, wanted to share a Chinese family [Christmas] tree I've been busy piecing together with the help of my wonderful Discover Mandarin teacher, Huang.

The tree is comprehensive, but by no means exhaustive. If you know how to say the name of a family member who's not listed, please add it!

And if you know another way to say one of the family members who is already part of list, (different regions have different names for maternal grandparents, for example) please share that, too!


Consider this an overdue Christmas present! ;)




Let's start with the basics


爸爸,妈妈 bàba, māma

Dad, Mom


兄弟姐妹 xiōngdìjiěmèi


  • 哥哥,弟弟gēge, dìdi

            Brothers (older, younger)

  • 姐姐,妹妹jiějie, mèimei

Sisters (older, younger)


爷爷,奶奶yéye, nǎinai

Grandpa, Grandma: paternal side


老爷,姥姥 AND/OR 外公,外婆lǎoye, lǎolao AND/OR wàigōng, wàipó

Grandpa and Grandma: maternal side


Aunts & Uncles


舅舅,舅妈jiùjiu, jiùmā

Uncle and Aunt: maternal uncle and his wife


叔叔,婶婶shūshu, shěnshen

Uncle and Aunt: paternal uncle (father's younger brother)and his wife


大伯,大娘dàbó, dàniáng

Uncle and Aunt: paternal uncle (father's older brother) and his wife


姑姑,姑父gūgū, gūfu

Aunt and Uncle: paternal aunts (father's sisters) and their husbands

  • 大姑,二姑,小姑dàgū, èrgū, sāngū

            Father's sisters (eldest-youngest)



 Great-Aunt (mother's father's younger or older sisters)



Maternal Aunts (mother's older or younger sisters)

  • 大姨,二姨,小姨dàyí, èryí, xiǎoyí

            Mother's sisters (eldest-youngest)



Maternal Great-Aunt (mother's mother's younger or older sister)


Brothers and Sisters-in-Law


小叔子,弟媳/弟妹xiǎoshūzi,dìxí/ dìmèi

Brother and sister-in-law (Husband's younger brother) and his wife


大伯,嫂子dàbó ,sǎozi

Brother and sister-in-law (Husband's older brother) and his wife



Sister-in-law (husband's younger sister)


Corinne Dillon is the founder of Discover Mandarin, an online Chinese school offering 1-on-1 Chinese lessons live from Beijing

(photo by vitroid)

Views: 4432


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Comment by sikora on December 31, 2012 at 11:02am
Zhang Wenzhou, that's really interesting. I never knew any of those terms. 后妈 definitely sounds bad, even in English !

Top Member
Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on December 30, 2012 at 9:32am

About "stepmother", there are two translations in Chinese----后妈 and 继母

后妈:The woman who marries your father after your parents' divorce, generally, in this condition your father would not care about your feeling, even though your stepmom does or says something bad to harm you.  Obviously 后妈 is a derogatory term.


继母:1.The woman who marries your father after your biological mother passed away. In this condition, there is nothing more important than you, your father would never do anything to hurt you or let somebody or something to hurt you, he will always choose you than anything( including marriage). So this kind of stepmom would treat you as her own baby.

            2. You are adopted, the mom and dad you have are your 继父继母. We don't call them 后爸后妈。


We address stepmother as 妈妈 instead of 后妈 or 继母, if someone still can't accept his stepmom or stepfather, he would call them 阿姨 or 叔叔.


Nowadays, so many Chinese people think that 后妈 and 继母 have the same meaning, what do you think?



Comment by Ma Si Wen on December 30, 2012 at 4:00am

Great post Corinne. I thought I would share a similar post from my blog. Some readers might find this one helpful too.

Comment by Corinne Dillon on December 28, 2012 at 1:07pm

Good question - I asked a friend about this and she said that you would either address your step-mom as 妈妈 or the more generic and obviously less intimate 阿姨.

Maybe someone else knows a better term?

Comment by sikora on December 28, 2012 at 10:37am
Awesome list Corinne! How about the term "step" as in "stepmother." I think that's among the basics in the US at this point.

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