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Relationship names - John C. Kirk — LiveJournal

Nov. 1st, 2005

04:55 pm - Relationship names

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I was reading a novel this morning, which referred to someone's "nephew in law", and this started me thinking.

My aunt's husband is my uncle.
My wife's nephew is my nephew.

Is my nephew's wife my niece? And does it matter whether this is "my" nephew or my wife's nephew (i.e. whether we're blood relatives), i.e. would she actually be my niece-in-law once removed?

It seems logical for these things to be symmetrical, i.e. I can only be someone's uncle if he/she is also my nephew/niece (and vice-versa), but it seems a bit strange that the marriage link is only implicit in one direction. Maybe it's just that this is a relationship that typically starts at birth, so it's unusual for it to come later (if the uncle or nephew gets married).



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Date:November 1st, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC)
I think you'll find that missing out the "in law" is always permissible, but sometimes (ie. son-in-law) it's usual to include it, and sometimes(ie. nephew) it's not.
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[User Picture]
Date:November 3rd, 2005 12:01 am (UTC)
I would guess that the -in-law appellation is to emphasise the difference between ties by marriage and ties by blood, for areas where bloodlines become important. That's juat a hypothesis I've pulled out of my arse, though, and it's likely there's another explanation.

I know that in Chinese there are different titles for different types of relatives, depending on whether they're on your mum's side or your dad's side, whether they are older or younger (in the case of uncles and aunts it's whether they're older or younger than the related parent), whether they are related through marriage or through blood, all that sort of stuff. There are even specific titles for brothers and sisters by mutual adoption (e.g. Steve and I) as it was apparently a common practice in the past and is still practised by primary school and early secondary school children in HK.

I don't know anything about the specifics, though; I have so many relatives and there are so many different titles that I've never managed to remember any of them. We Asian yoof get pre-visit briefings from our parents in which we are told who we're visiting and what to call them: information which we promptly forget afterwards. :)

I also don't know much about the accepted titles of relatives in English, since I don't generally speak English with my relatives; I still don't know what this 'removed' stuff means. Just be assured that no matter how complicated the system in English gets, the system in an Asian language is very likely to be worse. :D
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[User Picture]
Date:November 3rd, 2005 01:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, "-in-law" normally indicates a tie by marriage rather than blood, but it seems to be inconsistent, e.g. if one parent remarries then you get a step-parent rather than a parent-in-law.

"Removed" normally applies to cousins: the idea is that I can have them on both sides, i.e. my mother's siblings' children and my father's siblings' children. If I pick one cousin from each side, they will then be "once removed" from each other. As for the first/second cousin thing, that seems to be to do with lines of descent, e.g. my cousin's children, but I'm a bit hazy on the details there.
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