I have a male "friend", last name 柯 (kē) who is over 30. From ages 18-30 or so, he went by 小柯, but that seems less and less appropriate as he gets older. Always going by his full name seems overly long and formal, he doesn't like "大", and he's not old enough for 老 (yet).

My "friend" was thinking about going by 阿柯 (ā kē) and having friends introduce him this way. He thought the main benefit would be that people both younger and older could use this friendlier, less intimidating and formal means of address. My "friend" isn't a native speaker, so he's not sure if there are negative connotations.

So would 阿 [LAST NAME] be the best form of address for these conditions or if not, what would a better one be?

[EDIT] I should have originally specified that he himself is looking for something to be called "around the office", that is, both by people senior and junior to him. His boss calling him 老柯 or 柯哥 doesn't seem quite appropriate. It does seem that 哥 is the most popular "among friends" answer.

  • i love the question!
    – Laguna
    Jan 24, 2012 at 18:59
  • why is friend w/ quotation mark? :D
    – Laguna
    Jan 24, 2012 at 20:52
  • 1
    It's because I'm actually asking for myself. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek.
    – 2snacc
    Jan 24, 2012 at 21:06
  • what about "your friend" :) introducing himself by "您好,我姓柯。您怎么称呼?" if the other person says "call me 小X/大X/阿X", then he can chose what he wants others to call him accordingly?
    – Laguna
    Jan 24, 2012 at 21:15
  • If you are significantly older than him, it's fine to call him 小柯...
    – user58955
    Feb 17, 2014 at 11:02

5 Answers 5

  • if he is older than you are, then 柯兄 (柯老兄)
  • if he is younger, then 老弟 (柯老弟)
  • if he is of the same age, and his first name consists 2 chinese characters, then first name
  • if he is of the same age, and his first name consists 1 chinese character, then full name (calling someone by their full name is not rude if they are the same age or younger in China)

EDIT: I'm from Northern China and we don't use 阿X as often. that's more of a southern convention.

Note: if his first name is one character, then calling him by his first name sounds 肉麻。 It is actually worse if you are of the same gender. then that just sounds wrong! :P

  • 1
    I like that Google Translate makes 柯老兄 into "Ke Dude!" Sep 20, 2013 at 23:37

How to address a person properly depends on a lot factors, but as the rule of thumb, Chinese people like to use 2 characters to address a person.

The reason is that, I guess -

1) using 1 character from the given name sounds intimate (like between lovers),

2) using the person's 1-character surname sound foreign. In English, if a person's surname is Wang, we can address him as Wang, no problem, but it is very weird to address him as 王 in Chinese.

3) if a person's name has 3+ characters, and address him/her using his/her full name sounds too distant.

If a guy is named 王良, it is natural for people not too younger than him to address him by his full name, as his name has 2 characters. A guy a few years younger than him may call him 王哥 to show a little closeness. A young lady may also call him 王哥, but it may sound flirty if she says 王哥 in a certain way.

If a girl is named 张玲, it is natural for people not too younger than her to address her by her full name, as her name has 2 characters. A guy or girl a few years younger than her may call her 王姐 to show a little closeness.

When meeting people for the first time, we can use 先生 to address men, like 王先生, and use 女士 or 太太 (if she is married and likes to be addressed that way) for women, like 张女士, 刘太太. 小姐 was a formal/good way to address ladies, but nowadays it is assigned with another meaning (hooker), so avoiding using 小姐 if you are not confident with maneuvering the subtleness.

In the workplace, people use surname + title to address a person, like 李经理, 张总, 王处长. If your boss addresses you as 李经理, it shows some distance between you two. If the boss addresses you as 老李 or 小李, it shows closeness.

Between close friends or family members, given names can be used to address someone. Givenames have almost always 1 or 2 charaters.

If a person has a 复姓 (99% of all 复姓 have 2 characters) like 上官, 欧阳, 司马, usually people address him/her by their surname.

Even for Chinese natives, sometimes we can't figure out the proper way to address a person either, so we will try the most conservative ones first, like 先生/女士, and usually that person will tell you what he/she prefers to be addressed as.

If your friend is not a Chinese native, then I suggest him picking a 2-character Chinese name directly translated from his original name, like 马克 for Mark, just forget about the surname. So in this way 马克 can be used by EVERYONE, because for directly translated foreign names, the necessity of properness is much less, after all it is already foreign, isn't it?

One note on translating original names into Chinese: you need to make the Chinese name sound foreign, and avoid the names sounding close to the existing Chinese words. For example, if your name is Philip, don't pick 菲力, as it sounds close to 费力, or 非礼. In this case, go with 3-character names, like 菲力普.

  • In English it actually depends on the country/culture. In Australia it feels pretty rude to be addressed by just your surname. I think it might be usual in America and in Britain it might be an upper class/public school thing, but I can only speculate from my impressions watching TV and movies. Feb 20, 2014 at 7:33

The real age doesn't really matters for being 老sth. we usually call some of our peers 老* especially when one is considered having a mature personality. If you are introducing your friend who's much younger than you, you can say 这是小*.. If your friend is a big guy around some age, you can say 这是大柯. 大* is popular in the north, in my hometown no one use this form. you can also say this is *哥, around same age, he doesn't need to be older than you. Always remember sounding good, sounding rhyme is important too.


[Surname]哥哥 or 大哥

So if his surname is 王 (Wong), you can use:


Essentially, "Brother Wong" or for a literal translation: "Elder Brother Wong"

Informally, when you're speaking to him one on one as a friend, constantly saying 王哥哥 can be verbose, in which case you can just say "大哥" like 喂大哥...

[EDIT] In response to your edit: 阿[Name] would be most appropriate around the office. There are no negative connotations. Note that you should not use the surname as you've proposed because many Chinese people share a similar surname.

Use the last 1-2 characters in a name. I'll attempt to explain by example:

Name: 王小宝 Address as 阿宝 OR 阿小宝

Name: 王明明 Address as 阿明 OR 阿明明

For skills/crafts, you would use [Surname]师傅. So if Chef Wong is a skilled chef, 王师傅. Note that this is more formal, and if "Chef Wong" is a friend, you would go back to 王哥(哥)/"Brother Wong" in everyday speech.


According to the experience from my workplace, the most popular way of addressing co-workers (also those who are higher or lower in the hierarchy) was to simply use one's given name, or one's surname + given name, if the given name had only one character. I've been told that this 老*/小* thing is used only if addressing someone in a slightly "tongue-in-cheek" way.

Source: I used to work in Beijing in a branch of a European company and apart from me, basically everyone was Chinese. I'm not sure if my experience applies to companies originally established in China.

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