How to Address A Chinese Person

Chinese put their family name (last name) first and their given name, or first name, last. Family names can trace back more than three thousand years to the Zhou Dynasty. In modern China, in the workplace, people often use a person’s full name to address them. If they have a closer relationship, they would perhaps add a suffix such as Lao or Xiao to the family name, depending on addressee’s age. Lao literally means “old” and Xiao “young.” Therefore a young man or woman with Wang as the family name can be called Xiao Wang and an older person Lao Wang. Lao Wang may not be actually older than Xiao Wang. Married women always keep their maiden family names. If you have a very close personal relationship with someone, only then do you call him or her by their first name.

If someone is a professional, for example, a teacher or a physician, he or she is often addressed as teacher (laoshi) or doctor(daifu) with the family name. For example, Wang Laoshi or Zhang Daifu. An official is more often addressed by his family name plus his position: for example, Li Chuzhang (Director Li) or Fan Zhuren (Director Fan).

Of course, in situations where foreigners are present, Chinese usually follow the rituals and ways of foreign guests. But if you know are able to adhere to the Chinese customs, your Chinese hosts would be very impressed and more comfortable.

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