Honorifics - Language and nonbinary rep


So, in my search for determining how to handle the chinese honorifics in my WIP (which is set in a fantasy Tang Dynasty China) I didn’t really see a thread where people could post what they’re using for honorifics in their own WIPS. I’d like to see everyone make posts in 2 parts. First, showing what pronouns you included in your game, and how you handled honorifics. Second, the thought process that went into deciding that.

For example:
Part One -
I have decided (for now) to translate all gendered language to english, which admittedly will be clunky. While this does lose some context, as a lot of cultural heirarchy was included references to family in very gendered language. I am considering adding a “CDrama Fan” mode, which would turn on the chinese versions of the honorifics and language, but I don’t know as of right now, if I want to go through that work. If I do, I’ll come back and edit this post to reflect it.
As of now:
Male - Eunuch, Little Brother, Big Brother, Emperor, His Majesty
Female - Maid, Little Sister, Big Sister, Empress, Her Majesty
Nonbinary - Servant, Little Sibling, Elder Sibling, Ruler, Their Majesty

Part Two - the thought process:
in Chinese, honorifics are very gendered.
For more info, I’ve included a link to a wiki article about it

In general, for my WIP, I would end up using the following:
Didi - Little Brother
Gege - Older Brother
Meimei - Little Sister
Jiejie - Older sister
Guniang - Honored Miss
Gongzi - Honored (young) Sir

But I can’t find good NB equivalents for these. Some have suggested that I simply warn the nonbinary folks that I’ll be switching the honorifics to english for their playthroughs.

Some also suggested I use some pronouns used in current Omegaverse Chinese Fiction. However, I a) haven’t been able to find examples of this in text, and b) think it would scare away those who might otherwise enjoy the game without the reference to omegaverse.

Another option is to make up my own, but as a white woman, I imagine that would be incredibly rude. Not just because I don’t actually speak the language and therefore couldn’t take into account linguistics, but because I didn’t grow up in that culture, and therefore could pick something offensive or nonsensical.

So, as of right now, this is my thought process, after numberous hours of research trying to find a solution.

What are your solutions? I’d love to hear your thought processes!


I’m creating a WiP set in Japan, so I have much the same problems as you. I have not yet implemented a nb mc option yet, but I plan to in the future.

Japanese honorifics are more status/relationship-based, but there are a few that are gendered, so I had to be careful about what I used and where. This is by no means a guide to Japanese honorific suffixes, but I hope this gets the general gist across.

  • San - standard honorific. When in doubt use this one. Used to refer to an adult of equal standing. Non-gendered, so is suitable for mcs of all genders.

  • Sama - used to refer to an adult of higher standing, whom you respect. Roughly translates to sir/ma’am. Also non-gendered.

  • Chan - small child, or a female of the same age as you. Mostly used in a school setting or between friends. Can be used to call a male a beta, but this would be considered impolite.

  • Kun - a male of the same age as you. Mostly used in a school setting or between friends.

  • Tan - roughly means small. Commonly used to refer to babies, or as a cute nickname between friends.

  • Senpai - used to refer to a senior classmate or colleague. Someone older than you whom you respect.

  • Sensei - “teacher” or “master”. Used to refer to teachers, or people who are experts in their respective fields.

  • Heika - exclusively used to refer to the emperor or empress of Japan.

  • Denkai - used to refer to princes or princesses of the Japanese imperial family.

  • Kakka - non-royal government offical. This is also how you would refer to other nations heads of state. I.e, this is how you would refer to the king of england

Admittedly I am now well past the point of honorifics that would apply to the mc, as they are just a random person, so I’ll stop here.

Most of these honorifcs would apply to an mc of any gender. For example, I have a section where a character calls the mc childish, by referring to them as “-chan”. This joke works regardless of gender.

Admittedly, I haven’t yet put much thought into how honorifics would work for an nb mc, but I imagine it would act out the same as I have it currently for male and female, with other characters mostly referring to them as “-san”.

The problem would come in the high school flashbacks, where the mc is called chan/kun respective of gender. As a first thought, I believe that “-san” would work best, but perhaps “-tan” could work aswell. I shall have to think on it more in the future, as well as research how nb Japanese people like to be referred to.

As for your Chinese honorifics. The fact that they are very gendered poses a problem. My recommendation would be to allow a player who choses the NB gender to chose which set of honorifics they would to use. Unless you can find a set of non-gendered honorifics, in which case, use those!



This doesn’t relate to gendered honorifics, but it is something you should keep in mind. I would recommend having someone entirely unfamiliar with Chinese works read over your game and see if they can follow what is going on. You may also have to explain power dynamics more than you might expect.

As much as I love it, The Dragon and the Djinn was difficult on a first playthrough because it was difficult to tell where various important people ranked relative to one another since I was entirely unfamiliar with the system of titles of importance used.

And as someone who started binging Chinese webnovels after covid started, the first few historical ones are challenge to get through. Keeping track of everyone’s relative positions (especially when there were multiple wives) required a glossary that I had to reference every couple of paragraphs.

I guess I have some input related to this, at least related to the older/younger sibling thing. The way I was taught to do it just described siblings in order of birth (老大,老二,老三,etc). Its fairly awkward when translating to english, and it could also be a local thing (Chinese American living in the Midwest United States) so I’m not sure how it would apply in a historical context, but its what we had.

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I’ve also seen it used for manga authors

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It applies to scientists, Authors, and artists who are sufficiently famous enough.

You’re not wrong here, and I could do that, if this were in reference to sworn siblings or even biological siblings. But I’m writing Harem Drama, where the concubines refer to each other as siblings. In CDramas, the higher ranked concubines call the lower ones Meimei, and the Lower call the Higher Jiejie, as respect.

So it’s a bit… difficult to figure out what to do for nonbinary folks.


See that makes sense. and I considered that. But I also considered just leaving it in english, and giving a little in-prose context, and just add a CDrama Fan Mode, which will add the opportunity to have the chinese instead. Although now that I think about it, that would be a bit… difficult to do. Coding wise. It might be easier, coding wise, to let them choose, at the beginning, instead.

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When dealing with nonbinary equivalents for honorifics, it can be challenging since traditional languages often lack gender-neutral terms. One approach could be to consult with individuals from the relevant culture or linguistic background to gain insights into respectful and appropriate alternatives. This can help you create authentic and inclusive representations

If finding direct equivalents proves difficult, you can consider using honorifics that emphasize respect without gender connotations, or create entirely new neutral terms. Again, seeking input from relevant communities can be valuable in making these decisions.

Ultimately, cultural sensitivity, respect, and collaboration are key when incorporating honorifics and pronouns in your WIP. It’s essential to strive for authenticity while avoiding stereotypes and unintended offense. Being open to feedback and willing to adapt your approach based on constructive input is also beneficial.

as a writer, it’s very good to approach topics like this with humility and a willingness to learn and grow. I hope these insights provide some guidances


Hi, person of Chinese descent here who lives in a majority Chinese country - raised speaking the language, but English is my native one. If you’re converting it to English, here are some possible rough translations that I would find understandable and unoffensive. Took some creative liberty, but yeah, Chinese doesn’t quite have the same gender-neutral pronounity to it.

Honoured Person could be something like…Guangrong, if you’re fine with bastardizing it somewhat.
Sibling - Xiongdi. Means sibling - although it does have a masculine slant to it. It’s a fraternal, brotherly slant.
Younger Sibling - Xiaoxiong. Direct translation means “little bear”/term of endearment, but it’s humorous enough and won’t set anyone off. Easily enough understood.

Older Sibling - Daxiong. Direct translation means “older bear”/a sort of protective figure, but it’s humorous enough and won’t set anyone off. Easily enough understood.


Thank you so much for this input! This is super helpful to me, actually. One of the things I fell in love with when I was reading translations of Chinese novels was the honorifics and how they interacted. How easily it was to insult someone just by using the wrong one, especially! It’s so easy to lose that nuance in english.

For example, I just read a post the other day (can’t remember what drama it was about, or I’d find the link) where they commented on how one concubine was saying something along the lines of “Who dares to question what I do?!” to the empress, using chengqie as the I pronoun (which basically translates to “Your slave/concubine” from what I understand), and the empress responds “I dare!” Using some other pronoun that actually means “I”, which only the empress could do because she was the principle wife. and in english, all that nuance is lost!

So yeah. I wanted to try and do it justice.


Pretty much! Feel free to come back if you need more bastardized translations :slight_smile:

Yeah, Chinese is a fascinating language. I’m not fond of the culture itself, but the language is really something that I think English tends to lack nuance on.

Why do you think Chinese is more nuanced than English? I am familiar with Chinese, but mostly is not really described as gender-rich. The fact that we have many names to describe family members is that according to Confucianist philosophy, the family is the basic unit of society. Cultural respect is still important. It’s not good to avoid the stereotypes and at the same time not being true to the source material.

I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what you mean here? The original situation is that I’m trying to find ways to make a nonbinary option possible in my game, while still using the chinese words which, to an american like myself, have shown to be VERY gendered. See: gege vs. Jiejie (there’s no nonbinary version here that I know of?), Xiong vs. Jie, Fuqin vs. Muqin, A’Die vs. A’niang, etc. I cannot for the life of me find nonbinary versions of these. And so therefore, I find the language to be very gender-rich/gendered.

I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what you mean here. Can you elaborate? Are you trying to say that by avoiding stereotypes, we’ll fail to be true to the source material? What stereotypes did we mention avoiding? And I’m pretty sure I’m trying to be true to the source material by trying to find a proper way to enunciate these people who would be involved in the familial unit in my story, BASED off of Confucian Values, such as Family.

My favorite term for non-binary characters is “shroud”, used in the Pon Para series. Their named after the clothing they wear. Though, it is kinda silly, they don’t call men “mantels” or women “scarves”.

I know very little Chinese so please take any suggestions with a grain of salt as my usage may be wrong, but could you sub in child (háizi) for nonbinary? For example little child (Xiao haizi). I’m not sure if younger child is more correct but is also more words if you’re trying to keep is short and sweet for the designations. (I’ve only used the ones you have listed myself like meimei etc.)