Hokkien honorifics

The Hokkien language uses a broad array of honorific suffixes or prefixes for addressing or referring to people. Most of these honorifics attach to the end of people's names, as in Joseph sian-siⁿ where the honorific sian-siⁿ was attached to the name Joseph. Some of the honorifics attach to the front of the words. These honorifics are often non-gender-neutral; some imply a feminine context (such as sió-chiá) while others imply a masculine one (such as sian-siⁿ), but there are still some honorifics imply the both.

Common honorifics


Sian-siⁿ (先生), also pronounced sian-seⁿ in some Hokkien dialects, is the most commonplace male honorific and is a title of respect typically used between equals of any age. Sian-siⁿ is also used to refer to or address authority figures, especially teachers and doctors. The usage is also seen in other East Asian languages (see sensei).

Familial honorifics

Honorifics for family members have two different forms in Hokkien.

For a younger family member to call an elder one, the prefixes a- (阿) or chó͘- (祖) is used as the honorific. The usage may also be used to mention one's own family members. For examples:

Base noun Honorific English translation
Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī
kong chó͘-kong 祖公 great grandfather
chó͘-má 祖媽 great grandmother
kong a-kong 阿公 grandfather
a-má 阿媽 grandmother
pah a-pah 阿爸 father
/ a-bú / a-bó 阿母 mother
hiaⁿ a-hiaⁿ 阿兄 elder brother
ché / chí a-ché / a-chí 阿姊 elder sister

Note that it is very impolite to say lín chó͘-má (your great grandma) in some situations; it may be regarded as a rude singular first personal pronoun for the female speakers. (See Hokkien pronouns)

For someone to mention his or her own parents to a non-family-member, the prefix lāu- (老) is sometimes used to replace the prefix a- as the honorific.

Base noun Honorific English translation
Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī
lāu-pē 老父 father
/ lāu-bú / lāu-bó 老母 mother

For someone to mention his or her own elder family members to a non-family-member, the prefix án- (俺), which literally means my, is also used in some areas. For examples:

Base noun Honorific English translation
Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī
án-má 俺媽 grandmother
niâ án-niâ 俺娘 mother
ko͘ án-ko͘ 俺姑 aunt

Occupation-related honorifics


Similar to suffix -su and -sū mentioned later, the suffix -sai (師) is used for some people with skillful techniques; for example, kûn-thâu-sai (拳頭師) for martial artists, phah-thih-á-sai (拍鐵仔師) for blacksmiths, phah-chio̍h-sai (拍石師) for masons, thô͘-chúi-sai (塗水師) for plasterers, and chóng-phò͘-sai (總舖師) for chefs.


Many people with different occupations get their own honorifics with a suffix -su (師) in Hokkien. For example, i-su (醫師) for doctors, io̍h-chè-su (藥劑師) for pharmacists, kang-têng-su (工程師) for engineers, lāu-su (老師) for teachers, and lu̍t-su (律師) for lawyers.

For academic degrees, the titles are suffixed with -sū (士); for examples, phok-sū (博士) for doctorate degree, se̍k-sū (碩士) for master's degree, and ha̍k-sū (學士) for bachelor's degree. In addition, some occupations have their honorifics with a suffix -sū; for example, hō͘-sū (護士) for nurses, piān-sū (辯士) for voice-overs, and chō͘-sán-sū (助產士) for midwives.

Royal and official honorifics

Other honorifics

Pe̍h-ōe-jī Hàn-jī Literal meaning Gender Usage Examples Notes
chí / ché elder sister female suffix Mary-chí The honorific chí or ché is usually added right after one's name, and it shows a "sister-like" respect.
hiaⁿ elder brother male suffix John-hiaⁿ The honorific hiaⁿ is usually added right after one's name, and it shows a "brother-like" respect.
father, master male suffix Sêng-hông-iâ (城隍爺), lāu-iâ (老爺), siàu-iâ (少爺) The honorific is usually used for gods, deities, or honorable people.
koaⁿ neutral suffix sin-lông-koaⁿ (新郎倌) means bridegroom
kùi noble neutral prefix
  • kùi-keⁿ (貴庚) for asking for someone's age
  • kùi-sèⁿ (貴姓) for asking for someone's surname
lán you neutral pronoun Lán tó-ūi beh chhōe? (Who is this on the phone?) The Hokkien pronoun lán usually means "we" (inclusive), but it is often used to ask for one's information on telephone conversation politely.
lāu old, experienced male, sometimes female prefix
  • lāu-su (老師) means teacher.
  • lāu-sai-hū (老師傅) means experienced technician.
  • lāu-seng (老生) means experienced elders.
The prefix lāu may sometimes be impolite or even rude to call someone because the word lāu means "old"; for example, lāu-hòe-á (老歲仔) for old person or lāu-kâu (老猴), which literally means "old monkey", for old man or husband. Therefore, one should note that the prefix lāu doesn't always imply respect.
sòe year neutral
  • bān-sòe (萬歲) for addressing emperor
  • chhian-sòe (千歲) for addressing empress
thâu the head neutral prefix or suffix
  • thâu-lâng (頭儂) means master
  • thâu-ke (頭家) means employer or husband
  • kang-thâu (工頭) means foreman
In Hokkien-language, the noun thâu originally means "head", and is later extended to the "leader" or the "master".

See also

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