Working on some translations but always come across things like:





For 李二嫂 I think I came up with something like: The Li family's second eldest son's wife, which sounds stupid in English. Should we opt for something more like Mrs. Li?!

幺伯儿 and 二叔 might just be better off as uncle.

三奶奶 might just be great grandmother.

  • Is there a good way to deal with (translate) these surname + # + relative name names?
  • Maybe like Second uncle, Third grandma, Great aunt ? Oh that is hard.
    – John
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 2:28
  • @John don't forget the surname! Second uncle Zhang? Wang third grandma?
    – Mou某
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 3:16
  • I think either is OK. To westerners, Wang third grandma might be a little more acceptable, I guess.
    – John
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 6:37

2 Answers 2


What about this construction:

Jack the Ripper

So we can have something like

Uncle Wang the Second


PS: yes, Mrs. Li the Second cannot precisely convey the meaning of 李二嫂; even Uncle Wang the Second is a little ambiguous. I doubt whether there is actually a concise expression in English, so maybe I will leave a footnote to explain it in the article/book/etc.

PPS: According to the wikipedia entry Chinese kinship, there were translations like

Second Uncle

—Yang, Rae (1998), Spider Eaters: A Memoir, University of California Press, p. 46, ISBN 0-520-21598-2, retrieved 2009-07-14, "The letter became evidence of Second Uncle's yearning for the Nationalists to come back."

Thus, Second Uncle Wang sounds quite reasonable too.


Why not get a copy of "The Dream of the Red Chamber", and see what the masters did with names like 寶二爺,璉二奶奶,尤大娘,尤二姐...etc.

Personally, if I were working on a novel, I would probably use first names and/or simple forms like Mrs. Li and Uncle Wang at much as possible, for the sake of readability, and then add a footnote explaining the names and address terms in Chinese culture.

Or, alternatively, use Wang Ershu as if it's his name, and then add a footnote explaining the meaning.

Just my two cents.

  • If you use Dream of the Red Chamber then be sure to use the translation by Gladys Yang and not the more popular one by David Hawkes. Hawkes loved the story, and was a terrific scholar of Chinese, but he felt he should change lots of things around for western readers. Most famously, he changed nearly every word "red" into "green." He believed that the way Chinese people feel about red is more like the way westerners feel about green. Even great scholars can have odd ideas. He would certainly not think westerners can understand Chinese family relations better than we understand colors! Commented May 11, 2017 at 16:07

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