The Japanese word “chan” gets used all the time in anime, manga, TV shows, and real life. It’s one of those words that you just gotta’ know in order to understand Japanese well. So, what does chan mean in Japanese?
That’s what I’ll be going over in today’s lesson.
I’ll start with its most common meaning, and then I’ll move on to a couple other ways that this word can be used. I’ll also provide some examples that will show how it works.
Attached To Names
Lately I’ve been talking a lot about suffixes that are attached to the ends of people’s name in Japanese. These are used in order to show respect to other people, or simply to highlight the relationship between the speaker and the listener.
The most common example would be when you add the word “san” to the end of someone’s name.
Well, as it turns out the Japanese word “chan” also falls into this category of “name suffixes.”
By the way, the correct way to spell it is ちゃん.
But unlike the others that I’ve covered in previous posts, the word ちゃん is generally only used for girls (who aren’t adults yet), or very young children.
There are two reasons why this happens, and the first one is because the word ちゃん is what’s known as “familiar language” in Japanese.
This means that it’s something that’s used by people who feel close to the person they are speaking to, or talking about when they add ちゃん to their name.
- miho chan, doko?
- Where is Miho?
Another thing that it does is add cuteness to the person who’s name it’s attached to. This is one of the reasons why you don’t want to add it to a guy’s name. Because it would be kind of demeaning towards him.
It’s also why you wouldn’t want to add it to an adult woman’s name, because it would be as if you didn’t respect her as an adult and only saw her as a young girl.
At any rate, those are the most common uses of ちゃん. You will usually see it (or hear it) being used at the end of a young girl’s name (think middle school or lower), or the name of a small child.
But as it turns out, there are actually a few situations where this word is used with a different meaning. Let’s take a look at them now.
Used As Part Of Other Words
Since this word can be used for things that are seen as cute, you’ll often hear it added onto other words.
But the thing you have to keep in mind is that these words require that ちゃん be a part of them. It’s not like names where you could use くん (kun) or さん (san) instead.
For example, the Japanese word for dog is 犬 (inu). But the sound that dogs make when they bark in Japanese in ワンワン (wan wan). Because of this, it is common to call dogs or puppies ワンちゃん (wan chan) in Japanese.
Another word that you see ちゃん used on is one of the Japanese words for baby. There are quite a few Japanese words for baby, but this one is by far the most common.
In this case the word is 赤ちゃん (aka chan) which adds ちゃん onto the Japanese word 赤 (aka) which means “red.”
I assume this is because babies are reddish when they’re born? That’s what I’m going with, but I don’t have facts to back that up.
The last word that I’ll talk about here is 坊ちゃん (bocchan) which is an interesting word because it’s exclusively used for boys. The nuance that you have to understand is that it’s only used for young boys who are “innocent or ignorant of the ways of the world.”
Perhaps a young rich lad who has been pampered his whole life and doesn’t know what the real world has in store for him.
Used For Endearment
Remember when I said that ちゃん is considered “familiar language”?
Well that comes into play when people are talking to members of their own family.
Japanese people address their older siblings by their titles. They use お兄さん (onii san) for “older brother” and お姉さん (onee san) for “older sister.”
That being said, it’s actually pretty common for young children to drop the initial お (o) which is used for politeness, and change the さん ending to ちゃん.
This gives it that closeness feeling that most young children feel towards their big bro and their big sis. So they end up calling them 兄ちゃん (nii chan) and 姉ちゃん (nee chan).
I’ve also heard the word 兄ちゃん (an chan) used in Japanese light novel 盾の勇者の成り上がり (The Rising of the Shield Hero) from the store owner to the main character. This is kind of like calling him “sonny” or “lad.”
Getting back to young Japanese children, it’s also common for them to address their parents with ちゃん in the following two words:
- 父ちゃん (tou chan)
- 母ちゃん (kaa chan)
This is similar to when kids say “mommy” or “daddy” in English.
Other Uses of Chan
There aren’t really too many other Japanese words that are pronounced “chan” so the good news is that once you understand the common uses of the word, you’ll understand it in nearly all contexts.
That being said, there are two other ways that you might encounter them. Both are pretty small, but let’s take a look at them all the same.
The first one is when it’s someone’s name. For example, Jackie Chan’s name would be spelled in katakana when it’s written in Japanese as ジャッキー・チェン (jakkī chan).
The other word is the counter 荘 (chan) that is used for counting the number of mahjong games that a person has played.
Over To You Now
Now you know what the word ちゃん means and you understand how to use it.
If you’ve got any questions or comments that you would like to make, please feel free to do so by using the section below.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: