The Meaning of Chan: What It Is and How To Use It

If you are in Japan, you may hear people add the word chan after someone’s name. To learn the meaning of chan and other honorifics, keep reading.

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If you are traveling in Japan, you might hear the term “chan” added at the end of a person’s name. What does chan mean, and how is it used in daily conversation? This article will tell you all about the meaning and use of the term chan and other honorifics. 

What Does the Word Chan Mean?

Chan = or “ちゃん,” is a Japanese honorific that is used for children and other cute things. People will use this honorific as a term of endearment or nickname for young children, friends, lovers, and endearing adults. People also use chan to reference cute animals.

While most other Japanese honorifics are inappropriate to use regarding oneself, chan is sometimes used this way in casual settings, mostly by women. The term chan originated by Japanese children mispronouncing another honorific, san. 

What Are Other Japanese Honorific Titles?

There are numerous honorifics that you may hear if you visit Japan, according to SK Desu. All Japanese honorifics are used in different ways depending on your level of familiarity with and respect for the person. The honorific you use for your older sister and older brother would differ from the one you use for your grandfather, the emperor, close friends, a lover, or your teacher. 


San is the most common Japanese honorific. This term is polite, gender-neutral, and can be used for people you do not know or equals who are your same age. Sometimes, company names also use the honorific san by other companies, phone books, small maps, or business cards.


Sama is used for people above you in age or social rank. This term is more along the lines of “ladies and gentlemen,” “sir,” and “madam,” and it is considered polite and formal. People might use this term to refer to gods and goddesses or the emperor. Businesses often use this term to refer to their customers. 


Kun is an informal Japanese honorific that refers to friends or people who are younger than you. This is usually used for men and boys. 


Buchou is used to refer to a general manager in business.


Kachou is used in business to refer to a manager or chief of a section.


Kaichou is used to refer to a president or chairman in business.


Shachou is used in business to refer to the president of the company.


Senpai is an honorific that is used in schools. Younger students use this term to refer to an older classmate. It could also be used at a company or on a sports team toward someone who is higher ranking or more experienced. 


Kouhai is the opposite of the term senpai. This honorific is used to refer to someone who is younger or lower ranking in a school, business, or sports setting. An upperclassman might use it about someone younger, or an experienced person at a company might use it to refer to someone with less experience.


While the term sensei translates to a teacher, it is not always used to refer to one. Sensei is an honorific that reverse to people who are masters or experts in their fields. If you are referring to experts such as doctors, lawyers, or martial arts masters, you will use the term sensei. 


Hakase is similar to the term sensei, but it is used specifically for academic mastery. This is similar to the term professor in English.


Shi is usually used in formal writing like legal documents. This Japanese honorific is a polite and formal way to refer to strangers. It is also often used on the news. 


This term was once used to refer to a samurai and is a rare, highly formal term. It is often used to refer to warriors or people who are very important. 


Another rare term, eu was once used for the members of an aristocratic family. This would be used in the terms chichi-ue, haha-ue, ani-ue, ane-ue for father, mother, big brother, and big sister, respectively.

What Are English Synonyms of Chan?

While English-speakers may not use the concept of honorifics, there are many different terms of endearment that you may call someone who is cute or who you love. The below words from Power Thesaurus are all casual words that you might use for a child, friend, or lover. 

How many of these terms have you used?

  • angel
  • babe
  • baby
  • beauty queen
  • beloved
  • bunny
  • candy
  • cupcake
  • cutie
  • cutie pie
  • darling
  • dear
  • dear one
  • dearest
  • dearie
  • deary
  • dilly
  • dish
  • doll
  • dollface
  • dream
  • flame
  • girl
  • girlfriend
  • goddess
  • heartthrob
  • hon
  • honey
  • honeybunch
  • inamorata
  • inamorato
  • knockout
  • lamb
  • lambkin
  • love
  • loved one
  • loved ones
  • lover
  • peach
  • pet
  • poppet
  • precious
  • soft-soap
  • sugar
  • swain
  • sweet
  • sweetest
  • sweetheart
  • sweetie
  • sweetie pie
  • sweetness
  • sweets
  • treasure
  • true love
  • valentine


The term chan is a Japanese honorific that is used as a term of endearment for children, lovers, and friends. This term can also be used for cute animals such as cats. This term is considered informal and is only appropriate for people you know well.

Chan is also one of the only Japanese honorifics that a person can use on themselves. Often, it is considered inappropriate to use an honorific on oneself, but this is often used self-reflexively by women in a cutesy way.

There are many different Japanese honorifics to remember in order to communicate respectfully.


  1. HONORIFIC | Cambridge English Dictionary 
  2. Honey synonyms – 1 097 Words and Phrases for Honey | Power Thesaurus 
  3. Japanese Honorifics – The Meaning Of San, Kun, Chan And Others | Suki Desu