What Do You Call Your Colleagues

When you arrive at a new company, the first thing you need to learn is how to address your colleagues. In China, this depends on the type of company and the corporate culture.


In European or American companies in China, almost every employee has an English first name. People address each other by their English first names, even for managers. It can be seen as a way to make everyone feel more equal in the workplace. In addition, it’s much easier for people from other countries to remember English names than Chinese names. 

In Internet companies, nick names (花名,huāmíng) are very popular. People will be asked to give themselves a nick name when they join the company. The nick name can be any word, an animal, a plant, a character in TV series or a novel, or even a meaningless word. The nick name culture first came from the company Alibaba. The nick name of the founder, Jack Ma (马云, Mǎ Yún) is “Feng Qingyang (风清扬)”, a master of martial arts in a famous novel.

In government agencies or state-owned companies, hierarchy is important so people normally address upper management using “surname+title”, such as Director Li (李主任, Lǐ Zhǔrèn), Manager Wang (王经理, Wáng Jīnglǐ) and General Manager Zhang (张总, Zhāng Zǒng). 

If someone doesn’t have such a title, you can address them according to their age:

Much younger than you little (小, xiǎo) + surname
About the same age Given name
Older than you Surname + older brother/sister (哥, gē/姐, jiě)

In some departments with a relaxed atmosphere, people address each other by their given name directly. Supervisors may be called “the head (头儿, tóu’r)” or ”old big (老大, lǎodà)”.

In some occupations it's easy to address someone, such as teachers, professors, engineers, doctors, nurses, etc.. You just use their occupation: ”surname + occupation”. For example, Professor Liu (刘教授,Liú jiàoshòu), Doctor Wang (王医生, Wáng yīshēng). In cultural institutions, such as TV stations, newspapers, and educational institutions, they address each other using "name + teacher (老师, lǎoshī)” to show respect for the person's professional expertise.

This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.