Is chan a feminine or masculine suffix?


The suffix -chan is not inherently gendered (Japanese has no grammatical gender), but by the quality of the diminutive, it is primarily used by and for females.

For example, -chan is often used as a suffix for girls' names, where for boys' names the corresponding suffix would be -kun.

The suffix is used, much like the diminutive, to "cutify" people (e.g. for children, 涼ちゃん Ryō-chan [girl's name]), animals (e.g. わんちゃん "doggy"), and sometimes even objects (e.g. あめちゃん "little" candy).

  • FYI, アメちゃん can mean "Yankees" (アメ for America) :-) It's not aggressively derogatory but shows a lack of respect to them. – nodakai Mar 12 '16 at 8:18

You've noticed that there are masculine and feminine endings, which is a good start. There is also a diminutive ending: ちゃん{chan}. Diminutives indicate something small or cute.

ちゃん{chan} is most often used when referring to children, or other people or animals for whom a diminutive makes sense -- such as someone's cute dog, or Hello Kitty, or a pop culture personality who makes their living by being cute and plucky. Since cuteness of this sort is more frequently attributed to women in Japanese culture, you'll encounter more uses of ちゃん to refer to adult women than to adult men. But when it's used to refer to children, especially young children, the gender of the child is less of an issue.

I'm not used to seeing this used to refer to anything inanimate -- this is the same as for the usual personal suffix さん{san}, or the polite personal suffix さま{sama}.

If you're interested in the origins of this ちゃん suffix, see:

Origins of -ちゃん


The Wandering Coder kindly reminded me of family situations where ちゃん is used regardless of age or gender:

  • お姉{ねえ}さん → お姉{ねえ}ちゃん ("sis")
  • お兄{にい}さん → お兄{にい}ちゃん (I can't think of a good diminutive English analog; for older speakers, more likely to be used by a sister than a brother)
  • お母{かあ}さん → お母{かあ}ちゃん ("mommy")
  • お父{とう}さん → お父{とう}ちゃん ("daddy")
  • おばあさん → おばあちゃん ("granny")
  • おじいさん → おじいちゃん ("grampa")
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    It may be of note to also mention that use of ~ちゃん with close family members / partners regardless or gender or age also occurs. Particularly familial words that modify お姉さん > お姉ちゃん、おじいさん > おじいちゃん etc. – The Wandering Coder Mar 11 '16 at 0:17
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    Also some partners (male or female) use it as a "suffix" of endearment. something like 健一{けんいち} > けんちゃん, 真奈美{まなみ} > まなちゃん etc. This is usually most prevailant between teens to 30s however this does not exclude its use in other age groups. Also note it may see use in 先輩{せんぱい} - 後輩{こうはい} situations (where the 先輩 may add ~ちゃん to the 後輩's name when addressing them (again regardless of gender, however use when addressing females is most common). – The Wandering Coder Mar 11 '16 at 1:23
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    Talking of 後輩, nowadays it isn't uncommon to say 後輩ちゃん to refer to the 後輩 of someone you are speaking to. "後輩ちゃんは最近どうよ?" "幾分 さまになってきた かな…" So it can be used in many ways :-) – nodakai Mar 12 '16 at 8:25

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