What Does Chan Mean in Japanese? When, Why & How to Use it


What Does Chan Mean in Japanese? When, Why & How to Use the Japanese Honorific title suffix ちゃん

I am pretty sure that chan (ちゃん) is one of the most popular Japanese words of all time. Every one of you who wants to learn Japanese or is into anime and manga has seen the word at least a couple of times and so you might be wondering what chan means, so let’s take a look at its meaning in Japanese.

Chan (ちゃん) is a Japanese honorific title primarily used for girls and young children, charming women, babies regardless of their gender, and cute things such as animals. It should only be used with one’s close friends but it can also be used to express that you find someone or something adorable.

Below you will find all you ever wanted to know about the honorific chan (ちゃん). First, we will discuss its meaning in detail, then we will learn when you can use chan and when you shouldn’t, how it is different from other honorific suffixes, and why Japanese add chan to names.

What Does “Chan” Mean in Japanese?

In comparison to the many meanings of san (さん) and the meanings of kun (くん), the Japanese word chan (ちゃん) is usually only used as a suffix and comes with just one translation. However, there are a few similar words, such as chanto (ちゃんと) or chansu (チャンス) for example. So in case you are confused, you can find their meanings in the table down below, too.

When you look up the meaning of chan (ちゃん) in a dictionary you will find it translated (or rather described) as “suffix for (a) familiar person“.

So what does this really mean?

Chan (ちゃん) is a Japanese honorific suffix that can be added to the name of a person or a thing. It is mostly used for girls, younger women, and kids to indicate that they are a dear friend or someone that is considered cute (kawaii) or attractive. It can be attached to someone’s first or last name.

The same is true when chan (ちゃん) is used to refer to an animal, thing, or object instead of a person. Adding the suffix makes it sound cute and beloved and shows that you see it or the animal as something precious or adorable. Therefore it is often used with pets, cute animals, and sometimes even food and other objects.

When and when not you should use the suffix chan (ちゃん) we are going to discuss in detail in the next section. For its meaning just keep in mind that this Japanese honorific implies a certain degree of familiarity and/or affection for someone or something.

ちゃんchansuffix for a familiar person
chanfather (only used by children)
chancounter for games of mahjong
ちゃんとchantoseriously, properly, exactly
チャントchantochant (religious), cheer
ちゃんこchankodish for sumo wrestlers
チャンスchansuchance, opportunity
チャンプchanpuchampion
Meaning of the Word “Chan” and Similar Words in Japanese

(Translations are taken from the Japanese-English online dictionary Jisho and the Japanese-German online dictionary wadoku)

When & How to Use “Chan” in Japanese?

Chan is sometimes referred to as the childish version of the honorific san (さん) since changing “s” to “ch” is seen as cute in Japanese. Therefore it is not appropriate to use it in formal and business situations. Before we take a look at some examples here is a summary of when and how you should use chan in Japanese.

The honorific suffix chan (ちゃん) is mostly used for women and babies but it can also be used for boys, animals, cute things, and sometimes men. It should only be used in informal situations and with familiar people, though. While it can be used with last names it is most often used with first names.

1. Using Chan For People in Daily Situations

After you have been knowing a girl or woman for some time and became close friends you can start addressing them by adding the honorific suffix chan (ちゃん) after their name. Generally, it can be added after a person’s surname, however, since you are close friends or maybe even dating you should probably use her given name.

Same-aged girls and young children will usually refer to each other using the suffix chan (ちゃん). So at nursery schools, kindergartens, schools, and in places like Shibuya where a lot of young adults hang out with their friends or classmates you can hear it all the time.

My close female friend in Nagano also uses chan when she is talking to me and I call her Mana-chan and her younger sister Mami-chan. Even at work one of my coworkers adds chan when talking to me and so I call her Nao-chan, too. However, this is only because we are very close.

Chan (ちゃん) is also used by males, of course. Either with their close female friends or when talking to or about cute girls or attractive women in general. So sometimes it actually doesn’t mean that they know each other well. It just shows that they see them as kawaii (cute) or attractive.

Rarely chan is also used for or among men, but more about that later.

The suffix is also usually used with babies and young children regardless of their gender. My friend’s baby, for example, is a boy named Asato but everyone calls him A-chan. For her newborn baby, a girl, they also use chan and call her Ema-chan.

Family members can also be addressed with chan (ちゃん). You can lovingly call your mother Kaa-chan (母ちゃん) instead of the more respectful Kaa-san (母さん) and your brother Nii-chan (兄ちゃん) instead of Nii-san (兄さん). It is also often used with one’s beloved grandparents: Jii-chan (祖父ちゃん, grandpa) and Baa-chan (祖母ちゃん, granny).

2. Using Chan For Cute Animals, Things & Objects

Since chan (ちゃん) adds a lot of cuteness and fondness to what’s been mentioned, it is also often used with pets, cute animals, beloved food items, and other precious objects and things. In other words, you can use it with all the things that you or other people consider kawaii (cute).

Cute animals such as cats and pandas are often called Neko-chan (猫ちゃん) and Panda-chan (パンダちゃん). The same goes for other common pets such as dogs and rabbits, too.

Japanese names for pets often include the suffix chan (ちゃん), too. If not it is usually added. My friend’s dog is called Koko-chan. My students introduced their pets as Momo-chan, Maru-chan, and Gobo-chan.

When using chan (ちゃん) with foods or other things it usually sounds a little bit childish. So if used in this way it is mostly done by young children or women who want to sound kawaii or cutesy. So I don’t recommend doing this unless you want to come across as girlish and sweet.

By the way, I forgot to mention that some Japanese words already include the honorific suffix chan. The word “baby“, for example, is Aka-chan (赤ちゃん). Another example is Bocchan (坊ちゃん) which is used to refer to someone’s son in a respectful way.

3. Using Chan With Your Own Name

Chan (ちゃん) is the only honorific suffix that you can use with your own name. Usually, when you refer to yourself with a suffix it sounds arrogant and is considered very rude.

By adding chan to your own name, however, you achieve quite the opposite effect and sound childish. It is similar to young children who refer to themselves in the third person. Therefore it is primarily used by women who again want to come across as girlish or cutesy.

Example: A woman called Kanako might use Kanako-chan (wikipedia) instead of the first-person pronoun “I”. My Japanese friend’s younger sister also sometimes called herself Mami-chan when referring to herself.

Can You Use Chan For a Boy or Your Boyfriend?

While chan (ちゃん) is commonly used for girls and women alike, it is usually only used for young boys until the age of 3 or so. However, some teenage boys and men keep their nicknames or like to be called chan even when they are older.

Sometimes it is because of phonetic reasons. Names such as Daisuke, Daiji, Ryosuke, and Tetsuya, for example, have a better flow or sound when using the suffix chan instead of kun (君, くん). Therefore Ryosuke might be Ryo-chan, Tetsuya might be Te-chan, and Daisuke and Daiji might be called or call themselves Dai-chan.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was referred to as Shuwa-chan (シュワちゃん) since people thought of him as an endearing adult (source).

So, in general, it is okay to use the honorific chan (ちゃん) for boys or your boyfriend. However, some guys might not like it, so I would just ask them if it is okay or how they want to be called.

What’s the Difference Between San, Chan and Kun?

San (さん), chan (ちゃん), and kun (君, くん) are honorific suffixes that are added to a person’s name to address them respectfully. San is the politest and is used for strangers, older people, and one’s superiors. Chan and kun are more casual and are therefore used with younger people or among friends.

Furthermore, the rather feminine or cute suffix chan (ちゃん) is more commonly used with babies and toddlers regardless of their gender, as well as girls and women. The slightly more masculine suffix kun (君, くん), on the other hand, is primarily used with boys and younger men.

As a general rule San (さん) is used with people you have just met and you don’t know very well, while chan (ちゃん) and kun (君, くん) are used with good friends and people you know well. If you are unsure it is always better to use the more polite honorific title san.

You can read all about the other two suffixes and when to use them in my blogposts “What Does San Mean in Japanese?” and “What Does Kun Mean in Japanese?“.

Why Do Japanese Add “Chan” to Names?

Japanese usually add honorific suffixes to a name out of respect and politeness. Since just calling someone by their first or last name is considered extremely casual or even rude.

Adding the Japanese honorific title chan (ちゃん) after a name is not only polite but also indicates that the other person is someone very close to you or someone you hold very dear. However, sometimes it is also just added to emphasize that someone or something is very cute, adorable, or attractive.

If you don’t use any suffix in Japanese this is called yobisute (呼び捨て) and is reserved for people like your partner, spouse, family members, and really close friends or buddies.

Summary & Recap: The Japanese Honorific “Chan”

Do’s

  • Use chan for your close female friends and beloved family members
  • Usually used when referring to babies and toddlers
  • Sometimes it can be used for older boys and men, too
  • Can also be attached to common nouns such as animals or foods
  • Is the only suffix you can use with your own name but sounds childish

Don’ts

  • Don’t use chan with superiors, strangers, or acquaintances
  • Be careful not to use it too quickly with your friends

Additional Information

Examples

last nameTanaka-chan
田中ちゃん
Tanaka
Smith-chan
スミスちゃん
Smith
first name (female)Sakura-chan
桜ちゃん
Sakura
Mary-chan
メリーちゃん
Mary
first name (male)Dai-chan
だいちゃん
Dai(suke)
Ryo-chan
りょうちゃん
Ryo(suke)
family memberskaa-chan
母ちゃん
mother (lovingly)
nii-chan
兄ちゃん
brother (lovingly)
common nounneko-chan
猫ちゃん
cat (lovingly, cute)
edamame-chan
枝豆ちゃん
Edamame (cutesy)
Examples How to Use “chan” in Japanese

Alex (RockinJapanese)

おはよう. I'm Alex. I have started studying Japanese when I was still a high school student and I have been living and working in Japan since 2015. I'm still learning new Japanese phrases and words every day and I thought that publishing them online will be useful for you, too. Hopefully, my study notes and free Japanese lessons will help you to reach the Japanese level you want to have! If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime! Alex

Recent Posts