Anthropological Concepts: Kinship Terminology

Kinship Terminology. Image of an Indian mother with her child.

Different cultures have different ways of naming the people in their families. This is called kinship terminology. Around the world, there are several different systems of kinship terminology. Here are the 6 most common systems. Kinship terminology can be a little confusing, so don’t worry if you need to read this a few times for it to make sense!


Some cultures follow the Eskimo system, and call your mother’s sister and father’s sister “aunt” and your mother’s brother and father’s brother “uncle.” All your mother’s sister’s children, mother’s brother’s children, father’s sister’s children, and father’s brother’s children are called “cousins.”


Other cultures follow the Hawaiian system, and call your mother’s sister and father’s sister “mother” and your mother’s brother and father’s brother “father” (in addition to calling your mother “mother” and father “father”). They do not use the terms “uncle” and “aunt.” All children of your mother’s sister, mother’s brother, father’s sister, and father’s brother are called “brother” or “sister.”


Some cultures follow the Iroquois system, and call your mother’s sister “mother,” but father’s sister is called something else (in addition to calling your mother “mother”). Then your father’s brother is called “father” but the mother’s brother is called something else (in addition to calling your father “father”). The children of father’s brother and mother’s sister are called “brother” and “sister.” The children of mother’s brother and father’s sister are called “cousin.”


Other cultures follow the Omaha system, and call your mother’s sisters “mother” (in addition to calling your mother “mother”). Father’s brothers are called “father” (in addition to calling your father “father”). Father’s sisters and mother’s brothers are called other terms that are similar to “aunt” and “uncle.” Father’s brother’s children and mother’s sister’s children are called “brother” and “sister.” Then, if you are male, you call your father’s sister’s children “niece” and “nephew.” If you are female, you call your father’s sister’s children “son” and “daughter.” Mother’s brother’s daughters are called “mother” and mother’s brother’s sons are called a term similar to “uncle.”


Some cultures follow the Crow system, and call your mother and mother’s sister “mother” and your father and father’s brother “father.” Then, your mother’s brother and father’s sisters have their own terms. Your father’s brother’s children and your mother’s sister’s children are called “brother” and “sister.” 


In the Sudanese system, every person in the family has their own unique term. This means that each person is called something different.

Do you think that some of these ways of naming family members are a little strange? Remember that different cultures have different ways of doing things!

What do YOU call the members of your family? Which kinship terminology system does your culture use? Let me know in the comments below!

Want to learn more? Check out these kinship diagrams from the University of Manitoba!

Thanks for reading!

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