A few foreigners in China have commented to me that it seems like everyone has the same name: “xiao.” Actually, that’s a kind of term of endearment or perhaps role-defining prefix that just means “small” or “young.” Here’s how it works:
Say there’s a young man named Wáng Qiáng 王强. His friends could call him:
Wang’s boss might call him “xiǎo Wáng” as a way of reminding him of his position. Or, if there are two Wangs working in the same office, one might be “xiǎo Wáng” 小王 [young Wang] and the other “lǎo Wáng” 老王 [old Wang].
But the “a” + GIVEN NAME seems to be only for good friends.
Other little pet names you might encounter are:
- bǎobèi 宝贝 = baby / honey / darling [precious]
- qiānjīn 千金 = darling (daughter) [1000 gold]
- hǔzǐ 虎子 = tiger (son) [tiger son]
Did I miss any?