DR NOREEN CHAN
(Extracted from “Addressing the Elders” Jan-Mar 2003 Issue of The Peranakan newsletter)
More than a simple case of Auntie and Uncle? Can’t tell your Ku from your Koh? Your Chim from your Chek? Fear not, help is here!
We’ve all been there before: it is Chinese New Year or some big family gathering and mum tells your to teriak or “call” your seemingly endless hordes of relatives. Of course your brain freezes and so you parrot her instructions to ‘panggeh Sah Ee’ (or See Toh, or Chim Poh) without really knowing how you are actually related.
While calling everyone Uncle or Auntie would make it very simple, the proper term of address is not only adat (etiquette) but tells you exactly what your relationship is to the other person. You will know immediately if this relative is on your father’s or mother’s side, whether it is a tie of blood or marriage, and how many generations removed. This custom is an old Chinese tradition; where the Peranakan differs is the honorific for grandparents, as we do not distinguish between the father’s or mother’s side.
One should call one’s elder brother (or male cousin) Hia, and elder sisters or cousins are addressed as TAchi. Nowadays the more modern terms of Koko and Cheche tend to be used. Your Hia’s wife, or elder sister-in-law, should be called N’ Soh. Your Tachi’s husband is addressed as Chau. In earlier times, the eldest daughter was often affectionately called Nya (Nonya) Besar, the second Nya Tengah and the youngest Bongsoo.
Aunts and uncles are numbered by birth order, males separately from females. For example, Sah Ee means theird maternal aunt. By convention the Hokkien dialect is used, but over time Malay words have also crept in, as in the term Ee Chik for youngest maternal aunt, “Chik” being a derivation of kecil (‘small’).
For our grandparents’ generation, the suffixes Kong or Poh (for male and female respectively) are used; greatgrand-relations use the suffix Cho. For example, Ku Kong Cho means great-grand maternal uncle.
This is slightly more complicated because a distinction is made between your father’s elder and younger brothers. His elder brothers should be addressed Pek or M’pek, the eldest being Tua Pek and his wife, Mak Erm. Younger brothers are called Chek (Encheck) and their wives, N’Chim. Your father’s sisters shold be called Koh and the youngest, Koh Chik. Their husbands are addressed as Teoh Teoh, or Koh Teoh if you wish to be more specific.
Your mother’s brothers are called Ku (N’Ku) and their wives, Kim (N’Kim). Mother’s sistersare termed Ee, amd their husbands Teoh (or Ee Teoh).
What would Peranakan relations be without their beloved nicknames? When one has Kohs aplenty, inevitably someone will think of a way to tell them apart by using nicknames. My paternal great-grandmother was known as Mak Payong (Mak Cho Payong to me) as she always carried an umbrella. A maternal great-grand aunt was called Ee Poh Cho Seranggong because she lived in Upper Serangoon; when she moved to Carmichael Road so did her name.
Adek: Younger sibling
Bongsoo: Affectionate term for the youngest child
Chau: Senior brother-in-law i.e. elder sister’s (Tachi’s) husband
Chek (N’Chek): Paternal uncle, specifically father’s younger brother (cf. PEk)
Chim (N’Chim): Che’s i.e. father’s younger brother’s wife
Cho: Suffix to indicate three generations removed i.e. great-grand e.g. Mak Cho = Great grandmother
Hia: Elder brother (or male cousin)
Kim: Mother’s brother’s (N’Ku’s) wife
Koh: Paternal aunt i.e. father’s sister
Kong: Suffix to indicate a male relative two generations removed i.e. grand uncle
Ku (N’Ku): Maternal uncle i.e. mother’s brother
Mak Erm: Tua Pek’s i.e. father’s eldest brother’s wife
Mak Koh: Eldest paternal aunt i.e. father’s eldest sister
Pek (M’Pek): Paternal uncle, specifically father’s elder brother
Poh: Suffix to indicate a female relative two generations removed i.e. grand aunt
Soh (N’Soh): Sister-in-law, specifically elder brother’s wife
Tachi: Elder sister (or female cousin)
Teoh: Parent’s sister’s husband. Koh Teoh for father’s side, Ee Teoh for mother’s side
Tua Pek: Eldest paternal uncle i.e. father’s eldest brother