Monday, June 20, 2011

Names for family relationships

The variation of languages is fascinating.

My brother sent me this link to a blog-post on The Economist website. The blog is named Johnson for Samuel Johnson of dictionary fame and focuses on language issues. This post deals with words for family relationships.
My Maiden Aunt's second cousin's sister-in-law (2 Sept 2010)

The writer compares the more general terms in English to the often more complex terminology in other languages and wonders what they tell us about their respective societies. For example, the English word cousin refers to any child of your parents' sibling. In other languages the terms may indicate whether the cousin is male or female, on your mother or father's side, and the child of your parent's brother or sister. In some languages the complexity of these relationship terms is mind-boggling.

The 53 comments that follow the post provide even more information and insight.


  1. Some guy commented that English was useless because the language didn't describe relatives specific enough to know if he would inherit money.
    At the same time, Russians refer to there cousins, even second cousins, as their brother or sister. Now that confuses me but Tanya has learned to tell me they are cousins.

  2. In India, they refer to cousins, and sometimes even very close family friends as siblings, and close friends are often called cousins or aunt and uncle (depending on age). One of my Indian friends in High School would, like Tanya, always specify which she meant. But it was something that didn't really throw me off much, since from our church I have several fake Aunties and Uncles, too. And of course, many, many, Brothers and Sisters.

  3. I used to have a colleague whose grandchildren called her grandma Smith from Denmark. I found it so impersonal that I told my son-in-law that it would never happen to me. So I am "mormor" (Danish for mother´s mother) to three kids in America - mormor it is!

  4. What I would like to know is this: I have remarried and have a young son. He has two half-siblings by my earlier marriage, so my new wife is their step-mother. My question is: what is the name of the relationship between my new son and my former wife, the mother of his half-siblings? This may seem of limited interest, but I think it may become more of an issue as divorce and remarriage seem to be becoming more common. New paths for the cows to wander along!

  5. I'm sure there is no formal relationship. He could call her whatever you think appropriate like "Auntie".

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