Not long ago, my daughter said to me, “Mama, I have a lot of aunties and uncles.”
While that is true (I have 33 cousins alone), she’s also referring to our close friends that we have taught her to address as Auntie and Uncle.
Growing up, everyone was an Aunt or Uncle, whether we knew who they were or not. It wasn’t uncommon that my sister and I would meet a relative on either side of our family for the first time and wouldn’t know how they were related to us. When we would ask our mom or dad who they were, it was always Auntie X or Uncle Y. Sometimes they were family friends and not relatives — and we’d address them the same way. We have always added a “title” to our cousin’s names, so they became: Diana Jea Jea or Danny Qua Qua. My sister calls me “Jea” because that means “older sister” and is a shortened version.
You get the idea.
Everyone is Auntie or Uncle in my family. And my husband and I agreed we would continue this form of addressing family members when we had our daughter. She has always known our close friends as Auntie and Uncle. Other adults are Mister or Miss. Her cousins are Jea Jea and Qua Qua.
My family is Chinese, and respecting your elders is something you’re taught to do from day one. That includes how you address others in the family. There’s a hierarchy of sorts, and the way that you address or talk about someone can communicate to others how he or she is related to you, whether that person is from your mom’s side or your dad’s side, and what order/rank they are in the family. I think that’s pretty neat.
My husband’s family didn’t have any established “rules” of how they addressed other family members, so he had grown up calling family members simply by their name. This was so foreign to me — especially when his nieces and nephews called me by my name, even though I am their aunt and many years older. I still call his parents Mr. And Mrs. and his aunts and uncles, Aunt and Uncle.
I don’t expect younger non-family members to address me in a certain way but am always impressed if they do.