In China, most people have one of 100 most common surnames (老百姓). So it is common that people have the same surname in a classroom.

I wonder how Chinese people call each other in a case where there are many people, and people are in the same hierarchy such as in a classroom, where kinship terms don't work properly, I think.

I also learned that calling each other by given names are only allowed between closed acquaintances and good friends.

So how do Chinese people call each other if there is no appropriate kinship terms (e.g. in a classroom, or possibly in workplace where people are in the same hierarchy)?

  • they use titles, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_titles in classroom title would be 同学 (also used by teachers when addressing students), in more closely knit groups 姐,哥 (following last name as always), see TV dramas, e.g. cops at a police station may address others of roughly same rank as 小,老+ surname, surname+姐,哥, and by abbreviated titles e.g. 队 instead of 队长 (esp. if higher rank)
    – user6065
    Sep 3, 2017 at 18:34
  • depending on age (including speaker's) other (modified by 大) kinship terms following surname are in common use: 大妈(娘),大爷,阿姨,叔叔,(also 大姐,哥)
    – user6065
    Sep 3, 2017 at 19:05

4 Answers 4


If people are familiar with each other, they can call each other by full name, given name, nickname, etc ... There was once a new leader who came to my group and explicitly asked how we are calling each other now, and how we want to be called. The real situation in my group is that most of us call each other by a nickname (which is somehow derived from the proper name). The full name and given are also used.

If the two are not too familiar, they will use the full name. But the change from full name to given name or nick name can happen very quickly, maybe after only two or three conversations. One does not need permission to use the given name but should be careful with nicknames.

But remember, Chinese rarely call someone with only one character. So is someone's given name has only one character, then there will be nobody calling him by only his given name (however close they are). Everybody will call him with the full name (two characters) unless there is a nickname that they like more.

Surname only is rarely used, as it usually contains only one character. But if the surname does have two characters, it can be used to call some one.

Surname + suffix can be used to call a leader, professor, teacher, etc., with suffix being the appropriate title, or to call a customer, with suffix being 先生、女士、etc. (There should be more situations that this should be used.) Classmates or colleagues do not call each other in this way.

Note: I went to college in Beijing and now work in a company in Beijing. The way of calling each other may be very different in different areas and may be different in different companies (this is the reason why the new-coming leader is asking about this). And this only describes how people call each other when they are familiar with each other (being classmates or colleagues), and no one is superior to the other.

  • Thanks. As to the nickname do (young) people use English name to call each other, even among Chinese friends? Many of my Chinese friends have English name and I use it to call them, but how is it among Chinese people?
    – Blaszard
    Sep 4, 2017 at 20:50
  • Yes, some of them do use English names. I've not met many in my company, but there was an intern whom we all call by his English name.
    – fefe
    Sep 4, 2017 at 23:38


大哥, 大姐, 大妈, 阿姨, 叔叔...

Informal groups (classroom...)

  1. 张三, 李四, complete name for daily

  2. 三儿, 四儿, given name for friends

  3. 二狗子, 大黄 nickname for best friends

formal groups (workplace)

  1. 张工, 李总 title, 工 is short for 工程师, 总 for 总经理
  2. 三儿, 四儿 given name
  3. 张三, 李四 comlete name

I also learned that calling each other by given names are only allowed between closed acquaintances and good friends.

That is not a big deal if it is not a business context. There is a saying, 一回生, 二回熟 You call someone given name twice, you will be "good friends"( seemingly )


In my situation,in classroom we call classmate by full name(surname given name)(very unpolite if in workplace),but if you want to be formal than you can use full name 同学(or 先生 /经理/主任.....in workplace)Mainly in China you can also address somebody as 小surname(如:小王,小李) rather informally As if you say address each other(face by face)than problem of surname is not important as the person knows you are talking to him. And also 老百姓 means common people not somebody with one of the hundred common surnames(although maybe it literally means this, but not its practical meaning) I would also like to state that not all regions of 华人(including中国人) have the same culture of addressing people because of culture of their own region (especially 海外华人)so my answer maybe not right and you should watch more movies in china to get a more better view about how they address each other. (This is my first post of answer so if any mistake occur please forgive me.万望海涵。)


I don't quite understand the word 'kinship', but let me try to answer your question.

First there's a mistake in your question. The 100 most common surname is not '老百姓', it is '百家姓'。 ‘老百姓’ means 'people', 'civilians' or 'folks', somthing like that...

Then, you're right about the given name principle. If you're a close friend of your classmate, you can call her given name. Otherwise, you call her full name. Anyway, names are very short in Chinese. Or, you can call her nickname, students often have nicknames, as long as it's not harmful. If he/she is one(or more) grade higher than you, you call them '学长/学姐', or '师兄/师姐'.

Adults always try to look mature...Instead of nickname, they use age to distinguish...appellation.(Do I use this word correctly?) If he/she is older than you, you call them X哥/X姐. If he/she joined the company earlier than you, ‘前辈’ is a good choise. Don't try to call X弟/X妹 to someone younger than you. I don't know why! Just don't!

Be attention, this rules only applied to people in the same hierarchy, as you asked.

  • In "kinship", I meant the words such as 妈妈, 哥哥, etc... If you call a member of your family or relatives, usually they can call them using these terms, right? But that won't work if you are in a classroom.
    – Blaszard
    Sep 4, 2017 at 14:34
  • Sometimes it works, but in very special cases. So, yes, as a beginner, just don't use these words. Call their names and everyone will like you!
    – Ran
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:02

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