Myriad relation names

July 26, 2006

Around twentieth century, Indians mostly lived in what are called “joint families“. Joint families mostly consisted of multiple generations and multiple families with blood relations staying together. Family planning, as defined today, was non-existent. Women primarily played the role of homemaker and hence families generally consisted of numerous children. Large families required two individuals in a family to have a way of calling or referring to each other. This explains why in India we have names for so many relations!

I’ve listed down the relation names in Hindi, but I’m sure most of the Indian languages would have a synonym for all of these words, and may even have some additional relations defined.

I’d love to know how are things in other countries and cultures. Are there any other cultures with such variety of names for relations?

naanii, naanaa (नानी, नाना) – Grandmother and grandfather from the mother’s side, that is, mother’s mother and father

daadii, daadaa/baabaa (दादी, दादा/बाबा) – Grandmother and grandfather from the father’s side, that is, father’s mother and father

To refer to grand-grandparents, you prefixed ‘par’ (पर), for example-
parnaanii, parnaanaa (परनानी, परनाना) – Grand-grandmother and grand-grandfather from mother’s side

bahan, bhaaI (बहन, भाई) – brother, sister

diidii/jiijii, jiijaa (दीदी/जीजी, जीजा) – Elder sister and her husband

bhaiyyaa, bhaabhii (भैय्या, भाभी) – Elder brother and his wife

chaachaa, chaachii (चाचा, चाची) – Father’s younger brother and his wife

taayaa, taayii (ताया, तायी) – Father’s elder brother and his wife

buaa, phuuphaa (बुआ, फूफा) – Father’s sister and her husband

mausii, mausaa (मौसी, मौसा) – Mother’s sister and her husband

maamaa, maamii (मामा, मामी) – Mother’s brother and his wife

saasa, sasura (सास, ससुर) – Mother-in-law, Father-in-law. There are common terms for parent-in-laws, unlike other relations from the wife’s and husband’s side. Read ahead and you’d know why I say this.

saalii, saa.Dhuu/bahanoii (साली, साढ़ू/बहनोई) – – Wife’s sister and her husband

saalaa (साला) – Wife’s brother

nand, nandoyii (नन्द, नन्दोयी) – Husband’s sister and her husband

jeTha, jeThaanii (जेठ, जेठानी) – Husband’s elder brother and his wife. My hunch is that जेठ comes from jyeShTha (ज्येष्ठ), which means elder in Hindi.

dewar, dewaraanii (देवर, देवरानी) – Husband’s younger brother and his wife

If one is calling out to someone older, to show respect, these relations are many a times suffixed with jii (जी). So, you will say चाचाजी, बुआजी, भाभीजी etc.

However, with smaller and nuclear families becoming the norm these days, many of these relations are fast disappearing 😦

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4 Responses to “Myriad relation names”

  1. Reena Says:

    It is fortunate that these relationships are easy to pronounce in Hindi, and may still be in use. I married into a very close knit south Indian family. I was quite horrified in the beginning to note that my husband called most of his elders, other than his parents and grandparents, by their first names. Relations who were way older than him were called Uncle & Aunty. Coming from a culture where you do not take elders name, it was a little difficult for me to comprehend, why he was disrespectful. His reason was that most of the children in his family did not use the traditional words since they were difficult to pronounce 🙂

  2. littlenotes Says:

    Yes, this is rather unfortunate 😦 If we had to take this a little further, lot of languages themselves would disappear 🙂 And many from south India!!!

    But, not calling elders with relation names is becoming very common these days. Many people feel that it emphasizes hierarchy and hence isn’t necessarily a good thing that we should continue to follow, young educated people feel more comfortable with first names. I don’t call my boss ‘Sir’ anymore and I don’t call my sister-in-law भाभी anymore!

  3. Reena Says:

    Using names also hides age 🙂 I’ve also had cases where some older relation ask me to call them by their given name.”Please, no need to call me Aunty”, said an Aunt-in-law. Reminded me of the lady in “Hum Panch” who used to keep repeating “Aunty mut bolon naa”.

  4. lpatil Says:

    The Koreans have an even more detailed relationship system.

    It is said that the traditional Korean naming system is such that one can find out the linkage between two people just by knowing their names. It is a system that was used to prevent inbreeding. Same caste marriages are prohibited in South Korea!

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