Now, how should the kid address his elders (non-relatives)?

NPY says I’m not raised particularly well. I say he’s not very Chinese. I think they are similar-level insults amongst us.

While my family was great at referring to relatives by their proper Chinese names, I don’t observe the same level in NPY’s family. My family has the gamut of 婆公嫲爺/伯叔舅(母)/姑嬸姨(丈) and so does NPY’s. Maybe it was different when he and his siblings and cousins were younger but these days, there are relatives we refer to oh so casually, like “Auntie Joan” and “Uncle Randy”. GASP!

Families being smaller in our generation and subsequent ones, E will use but a subset of names we used: 婆公嫲爺/叔/姑(丈)嬸姨(丈), but he does have three living great grandmothers: 太嬤 (NPY’s 嫲嫲), 太婆 (my 嫲嫲) and 阿祖 (NPY’s Taiwanese 婆婆).

I’m pretty adamant that E will refer to his blood relatives properly, within reason. By this time next year, his 叔叔 will be married and E will be retrained to refer to “Auntie Joanne” as 嬸嬸. My sister’s husband isn’t Chinese so, unfortunately, we can’t call ever him 姨丈. (Actually, who says I can’t refer to him as “your 姨丈”?)

I might even go old-school and refer to cousin(s) who share E’s surname as 堂弟(弟弟) and 堂妹(妹妹) and making a distinction with his other cousins(s) who are 表弟 and 表妹. That’s how it was on my father’s side – there are so few of us cousins the elders were sure to emphasize how close we are. But then, we didn’t group up together but instead three families lived at three ends of the world.

Apparently I didn’t have the best examples when I was growing up for what to call elders who aren’t family. I didn’t know it was weird to call family friends 伯伯/叔叔 and their wives 嬸嬸. I admired how relative age to my father could be determined based on whether I called them 伯 or 叔. I more recently learned my mother wasn’t pleased we were using family terms 伯 and 嬸, especially when she never liked them.

Among our friends, I observed one mother directing her kids to refer another couple as 叔叔/嬸嬸 and I thought it was correct in that the male half of the couple is younger than the dad of the kids, and the 嬸嬸 is married to the 叔叔. So I was bewildered when the same mom told her kids to refer to NPY and me as 叔叔 and 姨姨. Why am I not a 嬸??

Other than that, we’re so Anglo all the kids are just usually directed to refer to family friends as “Auntie” So-and-So or “Uncle” So-and-So.

A true Hong Kongnese friend of ours (and my mother, when it came up) set me straight – that family male friends are 叔叔 and family female friends are 姨姨. There’s not really logic to it because for blood relatives they are on opposite sides of the family tree.

Which is why my mother is pretty livid (not too extreme a term) that E was introduced to my sister as simply 姨姨 because it can be used for anyone else too, although it won’t often be used among us second-genners with third-gen kids.

My mum has three younger sisters so we referred to them as 霞姨, 文姨, 清姨, using just one of the characters from their Chinese names. Following that, my sister would be 怡姨, a tongue twister. It was only then I learned – my mother told me – that it’s just as common to use both characters from their Chinese names to preface 姨. My mum and her sisters share the same generational character (秀) so maybe that is why they didn’t use it or it would be redundant sounding with 秀霞姨, 秀文姨, 秀清姨? To make it less of a mouthful, somehow, to make the name flow better, I have switched over from 姨姨 to referring to my sister as 文怡姨.

Meanwhile, to use my Chinese name seems weird to me but would be dicotomous. If we don’t go with me being 文慧姨, then I will be 姨媽, which is a family term and you would never call your family friend that.

To be fair, we should be less generic with referring to NPY’s siblings. I guess I’ll be learning their Chinese names and considering that then…

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