Filipino Culture: Showing Respect to Elders

Updated on April 24, 2020
precy anza profile image

Precy enjoys helping others learn to speak and appreciate the Filipino language. She also speaks Ilocano.

Respect for your elders is important in Filipino culture.
Respect for your elders is important in Filipino culture. | Source

Like in many other Asian countries, people in the Philippines show their respect to the elder population with certain gestures and honorifics they use before the person's name. Calling someone older than you by their first name is considered impolite and rude. If you've ever been to the Philippines, you've probably noticed Filipinos addressing anyone older than them using a word before their first name.

Respectful Ways to Say 'Yes' and 'No'

Some of the most common words for showing respect in a Filipino household are po and opo. Both basically mean "yes" in a respectful way, rather than just saying oo, or yes normally.

For a better understanding of how to use po and opo and to learn the difference between the two, look at the examples below.

Po is used to show respect when speaking or called by someone older or a person with authority. Also use po when saying salamat, or "thank you". If you are called by someone older than you (such as your mom, dad, uncle, auntie, or an elderly neighbor), you should answer po.

  • Example: If an elderly person calls"Jasmin! Jasmin!", a Filipino child would answer "Po?" which is a polite way of saying "Yes?" or "Bakit po?" which means "Why?" (politely).
  • Po is used when answering basic questions such as why, when, who, which and what, or when answering a yes or no question from someone older. Ex. "Jasmin, have you seen your brother?" Saying "Hindi" means "No." To answer politely, they would say po is "Hindi po." Adding po when answering yes or no portrays respect.

Opo is used to answer questions that has something to do with actions.

  1. "Have you eaten? It's already lunch time." Answering with "Oo" means "Yes," but answering "Opo" would be the polite way.

But aside from using po and opo, there are other ways Filipinos show respect when speaking to someone older.

Words Used to Show Respect


This is used to show respect to an older sister. The younger siblings should address or call their older sister ate. If there is more than one older female sister, the younger ones would call the older siblings "ate____(name).

Example: If the youngest, 12 years old, is relating to her mom about the fun she had with her two older sisters, she would say, "Mom! I went to the town fiesta with ate Jasmine and ate Hope."

Ate is also used to show respect to older cousins.

Itay, Tatay, and Papa

Although some Filipinos call their parents dad and mom, there are still quite a few names for 'dad' that show respect. Itay, tatay, and papa all mean dad and are used by the siblings to call or address their dad.

In the case of stepfather, they are also shown respect by being addressed as itay, tatay, papa, or daddy, sometimes followed by their first names.

For example, a young boy might address his stepdad as, "Tatay Manny" or "Papa Manny."

Inay, Nanay, or Mama

Just like with dads, substantial families or those who really are wealthy usually addressed as mom or mommy. Another percentage of Filipino children address their moms as inay, nanay or mama.

Similarly to stepfathers, stepmothers, Filipino kids address their stepmoms by calling them mom and then their first name, such as "Mommy Julie" or "Mama Julie."

Auntie, or Tita

Filipino used either of these two to address their aunt. But there are also cases where Filipinos call their stepmothers tita.

Tita is also used to show respect to people outside of the family. I do this myself. I address my mom's coworkers and friends as tita, like "Tita Fhil". Another example would be when my friend comes over to my house and addresses my mom as tita.

Uncle, or Tito

Children or siblings used this to address their parents' brothers. There's a bit of difference between uncle and tito, though they refer to the same respect given to one's dad or mom's brother.

Example: A 14-year-old would mostly use the word uncle to address his dad or mom's brother who's close in age to his parents. But if there's a small age gap, between the kid and his uncle, the 14-year-old would probably prefer to call his mother's younger brother as tito.

Lola and Lolo

Lola means grandma and lolo means grandpa. This is how Filipino children address their grandparents.

'Lolo' is 'grandpa' in the Philipines.
'Lolo' is 'grandpa' in the Philipines. | Source

What About Other People?

Filipino children also show respect to other people outside of the family. Here are some other names that are used to address elders.

Ninang and Ninong

Ninang, which means godmother, and ninong, which means godfather, are used by Filipino kids to address their godparents. Filipinos don't call their godparents by their first names. Instead, they use ninang and ninong. Examples would be, "I went to see ninang and ninong and they gave me presents."


Children and young adults use mang before the name as a sign of respect to males older than them in their town or neighborhood.


Use before the first name of an older female as a sign of respect—if you know their name. If not, ale is used to address a stranger. Ale is pronounced ah-le, and it is the female counterpart of mang. For example:

  1. I saw Aleng Mae and Mang John as I walked home from school. They are new in the neighborhood.
  2. Aleng Mae owns a mini grocery store on 24th Street.


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    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      11 months ago from USA

      You don't have to but thank you for the link. :) That's really nice of you.

    • patrick jouannes profile image


      11 months ago from LACHAPELLE SAINT PIERRE

      Precy Anza !

      I am happy to say I added a link for you here

      I called it "Precy Anza A Philippine Girl with a big brain Also on Youtube" :-)

      Best Wishes from France :-)

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      Gener Pascual! :)

      Good job! We do that in our family and extended family Kuya, Dico, and sangko :)

      Ate, Ditse, & Ite :)

      I live in the united states. When I was newly married to my husband, I asked my mother-in-law if okay to call her mom ( Because here in states they call their in-laws by their name only) She replied, " yes, I would like that," I told her how we respect parents, elders, and other people older than our age in the Philippines.

      My brother-in-law- used to call her Mary Ann (her name) since I started calling her mom, my brother-in-law, called Mary Ann "mom."

      Before they all called their uncles by names. Since I came to their family, I started calling them Uncle before their name. They are brothers and sisters of my mother-in-law

      I always asked permission first. It is not fair to American if they do not want to be called the way "you" want to call them. I always stressed to them, "We like respecting people" that's why when they hear that respect....they do not object.

      I was born and raised in the Philippines. It is hard for me to call only by name relatives. If not relatives, I call them Ms. and Mrs. or Madam and Sirs, as respect. Actually, I do it more for myself...however it ends up they like to be respected. Who doesn't? The new generation here in the US is losing respect to elders or elderly even to people they are related to them. It is sad.

      My advice is "BE YOURSELF," make a difference...spread respect !!!!

      Infect Americans "RESPECT," It's a good virus! :)

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      Not Importante. I am Filipina. Break up with your boyfriend. If he loves you he will pursue you. Tolerating that feeling millionaire aunt is not healthy especially that she does not give a damn about you that means you are not a member of the family. She's a leech to your boyfriend.

    • profile image

      Ruggiero Olivares 

      21 months ago

      I think there is something lacking in our Filipino language. How do we address strangers or people whose names we do not know but are older than us? I understand that "mang" and "aleng" are used for older people who are not related to us but "mang" and "aleng" cannot be used when you do not know their first name.

      Therefore people end up calling these older strangers as "boss", "chief" or "sir" (even though they are not actually their boss, customer or a chief). Some call them "kuya", "ate", "tito", "tita", "tatay", "nanay" (even though they are not actually relatives or close to one another).

      I think the inventors of the Filipino language forgot to create a specific word that is used to address older strangers or older people who we do not know and are not related to us.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I respect the Filipino customs and tradition. We have "family titles." We call "Ate or Kuya" your siblings or cousins who are first in line, if not the older. We call the siblings and cousins of our parents "Tito or Tita." I don't think it is respectful to call someone by these titles who are not related to you by blood, by marriage, by baptism, by other religious ceremonies or by close friendship.

      Now a days Filipinos have a habit of calling everybody "tita, tito, kuya, ate" because they think the person looks older than them. That is not respect but darn disrespectful. Don't try to diminish the sanctity of family relationship. If you are not related to the person, call them by their name if you know their name, or if you don't know them call them Sir or Ma'm or by the position they hold....Dr, Engr, Chief, Senator, Fr. etc. The use of family titles are reserved for family (by blood, by marriage, or by baptism, confirmation) and very close friend.

      The gays started this whole thing of calling everybody the titles reserved to family. So, are you gay?

    • profile image

      Not importante 

      2 years ago

      I hear a lot of talk about respect, but I am a very respectful person to a certain degree, and although I am not filipino, I live with people who are. One being my boyfriend, and his mother, who is a superCunt. She and I don't see eye to eye, she calls me disrespectful because I defend myself, or when she's on a power trip she's always asking questions like why this and why that, but the second I answer her, again she calls me disrespectful. I have never in my life met anyone who lies with out a second thought, she lies without even considering I may already know the truth. The only reason we are living in her house, is because she made it this way, we had our own place, and at the time my boyfriend was already doing his mom a favor by working in her restaurant. Then all her businesses were failing, and she went bitching to him, and the next thing I knew she was keeping his paychecks, and only giving him 40$ a month. What the f@#$ is wrong with him your wondering, yeah well me too. There's a lot more going on in this situation, I will spare you the gruesome details, but there's a good chance I will eventually snap. I am mostly Mexican and Italian, and was raised to give respect when it to is given. But we don't take well to dishonor, disloyalty, and distrust very well. This woman is so fixated on appearing to be "wealthy" it's all she cares about. She doesn't think how stupid it looks she's always driving a Benz she can't afford. A closet full of Louie V purses, which she got all for free, writing them off as business expenses, and yet she no longer owns her own store, today she works at a fast food joint, as another employee. I don't get it!!!! How do I avoid the inevitable, I'm tired of letting shit roll off me, she always tries pushing my buttons. I've even considered trying to learn Tagalog, but have no one to teach me. Most of her family is afraid of her, and she picks favorites amongst her kids and grand kids. And my boyfriend is her favorite, ugh it's gross, can you please offer me any advice?

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      How about "kuya"? And is there a feminine word for "kuya"?

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      You have missed 'kuya'

    • profile image

      Gener Pascual 

      4 years ago

      For the Tagalogs, when there are more than one older sister, the eldest is called ate, the second is ditse, the third is sanse and the fourth is ite. When there are more than one older brother, the eldest is called kuya, the second is diko and the third is sangko.

    • Delight100 profile image


      7 years ago

      Lovely to meet you :) walang anoman :)

    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      7 years ago from USA

      Yes Delight, I am :) Welcome to Hubpages! Thanks for stopping by :)

    • Delight100 profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi prezy anza, I am sure ur a Filipina. This is great article to show the world what Filipino made of. Proud to be Pinoy .

    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Vinaya :)

    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      8 years ago from USA

      Yup. Heard cases when young kids doesn't do this anymore.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      8 years ago from Nepal

      Cultural anthropology is one of my favorite subjects. This is a wonderful culture article.Thanks for sharing.

    • RGB1961 profile image


      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      It's great to read articles like this, reminds me of my roots and how values have changed so much these days. Respect for your elders has become a forgotten art, and I am afraid that this is not just in the homeland, but all over the world.


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