Precy enjoys helping others learn to speak and appreciate the Filipino language. She also speaks Ilocano.
How to Give All Due Respect in Filipino
Respect is undeniably an important part of Filipino culture—something that first-time visitors to the country will most likely notice right away. Filipinos use the words ate and kuya when referring to older siblings. These are just two examples of Filipino titles commonly used to show respect.
Addressing people by their appropriate titles is taught from a young age; calling a person by their first name when they're years older than you is considered impolite or even rude.
There are different titles or honorifics used to give the appropriate respect to the elderly from relatives, family members, and people with authority, and those will be all listed here. Starting from the most commonly used and heard Filipino titles of kinship from ate and kuya to Filipino titles used for strangers, read on and find out which Filipino titles to use and when.
1. Ninong and Ninang
The titles ninong or "godfather" and ninang or "godmother" can be given at either a child's christening or a wedding. Ninong and ninang are often close friends or trusted people the parents choose to be part of their child's life to act as second parents. The same applies to a ninong and ninang at a wedding; they are a designated second set of parents for the new couple.
Parents of newlyweds don't just call their son-in-law or their daughter-in-law's parents by their first names; there is a title used for that—balae.
When speaking to the parents of your son's wife or your daughter's husband, balae is a commonly used title with or without their name. It's pronounced ba-la-e. When at family gatherings, for example, with your son or daughter-in-law's parents, addressing them as balae works just fine. But if you have more than one married kid and their spouses' parents are around as well, addressing them by more specific names, such as Balaeng Jhon or Balaeng Angela, for example, is probably best.
Giving respect by using titles isn't just for family members. You should also know the appropriate titles to use when addressing strangers. Pronounced ah-le, ale is used to address a woman you don't personally know. It is used either with or without the woman's name but perhaps most often without the name.
Ale is a title that will come in handy in case you encounter a seemingly married woman who accidentally leaves some of her belongings at the bus station, and you want to get her attention to let her know.
Aleng or aling is used if you know the person's name—Aleng Karol, for example. Speaking from experience, this is pretty common in the provinces when addressing middle-aged neighbors.
Mang is the male counterpart of aleng—a title given to a married or older man. I address my father's friends mang + their first name to give you an idea of how to use mang. It is used with the man's first name.
Mang Gorio is a good example of using mang when you know the name of the person. It is suitable for someone you may not personally know but who isn't a total stranger.
Kuya is used to address an older brother among siblings, but using kuya just doesn't end here. Kuya is also used to address a stranger who might be a few years older than the speaker, someone just old enough to be an older brother.
Give it a shot next time you take a bus; say, 'Kuya, para po!' to get the hang of it. It's letting the driver know you're ready to get off in a nice, respectful way.
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Ate is a common title used in Filipino households and is pronounced ah-te. Calling an older sister or cousin ate is respectful, and the title can be used with or without the name. But if you have more than one sister, a name often follows this title to specify which of the older siblings you are referring to. The same goes when you are around older female cousins.
Using ate doesn't end with family; you'll hear it often used to address strangers who might be just a few years older than the speaker—old enough to be an older sister. Even when talking to a seemingly much older adult, let's say, having a conversation with a woman who has her young kid with her, it isn't uncommon among Filipinos to address them as ate.
Bunso refers to the youngest among siblings; the word bunso is also used as a form of endearment when addressing the youngest sibling.
8. Mom and Dad
"Mom" and "dad" have Filipino word counterparts as well. Although "mom" and "dad" are used in the Philippines or among affluent Filipino families, there are quite a few more words used by most to address parents.
Tatay is the Filipino or Tagalog word for "dad" and nanay for "mom." These two are often shortened to just 'tay or 'nay. It isn't uncommon to hear "mama" and "papa" as well, which are shortened to 'pa and 'ma. Itay and inay also mean "dad" and "mom."
Don't be surprised if a complete stranger calls someone 'nay or 'tay; let's say that seller by the bus station or someone who has a stall or eatery. They may not be blood relatives, but it is common among Filipinos. It is used as a term of endearment while giving out respect.
Referring to the photo above of this happy family, let's practice what we've tackled so far.
The father of the kids is on the left—the tatay or papa of the family. Beside the tatay of the family is "grandma" or lola. Hugging lola while getting a piggyback ride is a boy who might be younger than his sister. The boy might be the bunso of the family; therefore, we can call his sister ate.
Next to "grandma" or lola is "grandpa" or lolo, who is giving his granddaughter, who might be older than her brother, a piggyback ride. Next to lolo is the kids' nanay.
9. Lolo and Lola
Lolo and lola are no other than "grandfather" and "grandmother." Lolo, or 'lo as it is usually shortened, is "grandfather"; "grandma" or lola is also addressed by the shortened form 'la.
10. Uncle and Auntie
These two speak for themselves. The English "uncle" and "auntie" are used to address the father and mother's siblings and are often used by Filipinos as well, along with their Filipino counterparts.
Tiyo is the Filipino word, but you may have also heard chong to refer to an uncle; that is because it means the same. Tiya means "auntie," and some may prefer calling her chang.
11. Tito and Tita
Tito and tita mean "uncle" and "auntie" as well. But these two are used when referring to a younger brother or a younger sister of Mom and Dad. And, by saying younger, that means in that age range where the younger sibling of the parent is single, unmarried, or is just a few years older than the nephews or nieces.
I call all my parents' siblings "uncle" and "auntie" since they are all married with kids, and some of my cousins are within my age range. I'll take my childhood friend's family as an example. We were 12 years old and living with her grandparents, our next-door neighbors; she called her mother's sister tita and her mother's brother tito. Her mother was older than both siblings. The younger sister was most likely 16 to 17 years old, and the brother was around the same age.
Another commonly used title is the English "miss," which refers to a single, unmarried young woman.
13. Totoy and Neneng
Often shortened to 'toy and 'neng, these two are worth adding to the list as well. Both are used to address kids whose names you don't know. So the next time you're traveling and the only person who can help you with directions is a kid, address the young boy as 'toy (or 'neng if it's a girl).
14. Kumare and Kumpare
These two are often shortened to mare and pare. You'll hear these terms used among adults, with pare used among male friends to address one another and mare among close female friends.
These two are very commonly used by godparents when addressing one another, either with or without a name. Two adult males who happen to be godparents at a child's christening often call each other pare or mare for female godparents. The same goes for newlyweds' godparents.
Pareng John and Mareng Louisa are just two examples of using pare and mare or kumpare and kumare.
15. Sir and Ma'am
These two English words are used as well in the Philippines in regard to giving respect. "Sir" and "ma'am" are most often used by Filipino students when addressing their male and female teachers, often with the teacher's last name—"Ma'am Sigue" and "Sir Ferriol," for example.
Addressing an employer, supervisor, or manager as "sir" or "ma'am" is also common among Filipinos.
Another commonly used Filipino honorific is "boss." A person in charge, supervisor, or manager is often called "boss" by employees either just by itself or with the person's name. If there is more than one person in charge in the workplace, the name, more often than not, follows after—"Boss Nathan," for example.
Using Professional Titles
It isn't unusual for Filipinos to address acquaintances by their professional titles—for example, "dok" for a doctor by profession and "attorney" for a lawyer. The same goes when addressing those in politics. You may call them by their respective titles, such as Mayor, Kapitan for the barangay captain and Presidente or Mahal Na Pangulo (Beloved President) for the country's president.
Learn More About Filipino Culture
- Filipino Culture: Showing Respect to Elders
Filipinos use specific gestures, titles, and honorifics to address older relatives and strangers to convey respect.
- 10 Filipino Gestures and Their Meanings
This article discusses 10 common Filipino gestures and their meanings to help you learn about Filipino culture and have fun doing so!