Kinship Terminology Explained



Neolocal Residence: “Residence of a couple after marriage in a new household not linked spatially to that of the groom’s or the bride’s kin (cf. virilocal, uxorilocal)” RK:150.

Nepotic Inheritance: “The norm that a man inherits his uncle’s wife or wives. It has been found in patrilineal groups but fits more logically a matrilineal framework, where it is usually found. It is far from universal with matrilineal descent, however.” ES:78.

Nonunilineal Descent: “An alternative term to “cognatic descent.” Since cognatic descendants include patrilineal descendants and matrilineal descendants this usage is unfortunate. I have suggested that the term be used in societies that recognize a unilineal core within a cognatic descent category to denote descent status through at least one alternate-sex link (i.e., non-agnatic where descent includes at least one female link, nonuterine where it includes at least one male link).” RK:150.

Nuclear Family: “A family unit consisting of parents and their dependent children.” RK:150. “The social unit, based on real or putative or fictive blood ties, and consisting of a male, his wife, and their dependent offspring. Also called “elementary family” or “conjugal family” (RF-36; NG-358).” DT

Omaha Terminology: “A mode of kinship classification usually but not always associated with patrilineal descent in which a line of mother’s patrilineal kin are terminologically equated across generations (mirror image of Crow terminology).” RK:150.

Parallel-Cousins: “The children of same-sexed siblings; similarly, the offspring of one’s parents’ same-sexed siblings. E.g., MZC (RF-185).” DT “Ego’s father’s brother’s child or mother’s sister’s child, or more distant cousin classed terminologically with these first cousins.” RK:150. Contra “Cross-cousins”.

Pater: Sociological father (mater = sociological mother), not necessarily biological father. Contra. “genitor”. See “genitrix”.

Patrilateral Relations: Those kinship relations one acquires through father. One’s kinsmen and kinswomen on “father’s side.”

Patrilineage: A unilineal descent group based on patrilineal descent.

Patrilineal Descent: “Descent traced through a line of ancestors in the male line. Syn. “Agnatic Descent”” RK:150.

Patrilocal Residence: Residence of a married couple with the husband’s group. Some would restrict this usage to those societies with unilineal descent groups. See virilocal residence.

Phratry: “A grouping of clans related by traditions of common descent or historical alliance based on kinship.” RK 150 “Recognized, often named social group consisting of two or more clans recognizing relationship to one another, the implication being that there are two or more such clan-sets (“phratries”) in a given society (NG-35; RF-92).” DT. (NOTE: If there are only two phratries then they are called moieties. Therefore, there must be at least THREE such groupings of clans before we can speak of phratries.)

Polygamy: “Plural marriage, of which there are two major types: polygyny and polyandry (RF-58,87)” DT.

Polygyny: Marriage of a male to two or more females.

Sororal Polygyny: where the plural wives are sisters (to one another)

Serial Polygyny: where the marriages occur seriatum (NOTE: this is a misnomer, if the marriages are not simultaneous, they cannot be consider as polygamous)

Polyandry: Marriage of a female to two or more males.

Fraternal Polyandry: where the husbands are brothers (to one another) (NG-365ff.)

Positive Marriage Rules: Rules which stipulate “not only whom one may not marry , they specify also whom one should marry. RF:199.

Negative Marriage Rules: Rules which stipulate only “whom one should not marry but have no rule about the actual choice of partner. RF:199.

Preferential Marriage: “A marriage pattern (e.g., marriage with a cross-cousin, a brother’s widow, etc.) that is socially valued and desirable, but not enjoined.” RK:151.

Prescriptive Marriage: “In alliance theory, a requirement that marriage be with a partner in a particular kinship category. Even where “incorrect” marriages occur, they are likely to be classed as if they were correct, and kinship relations readjusted accordingly.” RK:151.

Primary Relatives: Ego’s parents and siblings in his family of orientation and his spouse and children in his family of procreation. GPM:14

Primogeniture: An inheritance rule which favors the first born child in a family. Contra. “ultimogeniture”

Ramage: “A group constituted by using both or either parents as links in group membership (NG-198).” DT. “A term used by Firth to denote a cognatic descent group; and by Sahlins, to denote a descent system where local descent groups are ranked according to seniority of descent, as in Tonga.” RK:151.

Reference, Terms of: Kin terms used in speaking about a kinsman or kinswoman to a third part. See “Address, Terms of”.

Relationship Systems: “Term used by Needham and other proponents of the “category” approach to kinship terms to denote “kinship” terminologies (this avoids the genealogical implication).” RK:151.

Residence: “Referring to conventional rules or patterns of behavior concerning the place a couple lives after marriage. Usually expressed with the suffix”-local”, thus, “virilocal”-residence with the husband’s group (NG-240ff.; RF-84).” DT. There is some confusion in the use of residence terms, but Divale (1974a) provides a useful restatement of Murdock’s classic definitions. His scheme with some modification is presented below:


Divale’s Typology of Residence Patterns

(Note: 4B and 9 have been added by MDM):

1A. Patrilocal: Normal Residence is with or near the husband’s patrilineal kinsmen.

1B. Virilocal: Equivalent to patrilocal but patrilineal kin groups are absent. Residence is with husband’s group.

2A. Matrilocal: Normal Residence is with or near the wife’s matrilineal kinsmen.

2B. Uxorilocal: Equivalent to matrilocal but matrilineal kin groups are absent. Residence is with wife’s group.

3. Avunculocal: Normal residence is with or near the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) or other male matrilineal kinsmen of the husband.

4A. Bilocal: Residence is established optionally with or near the parents of either spouse.

4B. Ambilocal: Murdock identifies with bilocal, but can also be used to identify systems in which the married couple shifts periodically from residence with husband’s groups to residence with wife’s group (e.g., Dobuans who shift periodically from matrilocality to avunculocality).

5. Matrilocal/Avunculocal option: Like bilocal, except that the option is limited to either matrilocal or avunculocal residence.

6. Avunculocal/Virilocal option: Like bilocal, except that the option is limited to either avunculocal or virilocal residence.

7. Neolocal: Normal residence is apart from the relatives of both spouses.

8. Duolocal: There is no common household. Spouses remain in their natal groups.

9. Matri-patrilocal First the newly wed couple lives with the bride’s group for a time (usually for a year or until the birth of the first child), then residence is shifted definitely to the groom’s group. GPM: 17.

Respect Relationships: “Behavior patterns between kin that involve standardized ways of showing respect.” ES:79.

Restricted Exchange: “Marriage exchange is restricted where it has to involve two groups who exchange directly. Such a system can only ‘grow’ by splitting into four, eight, sixteen etc. groups and by continuing to exchange directly.” RF:219. A system of marriage exchange in which wife-givers are also wife-takers.

Secondary Relatives: The primary relatives of Ego’s primary relatives (who are not, of course, also primary relatives of Ego). E.g., father’s father, mother’s sister, wife’s mother, brother’s son, etc. GPM: 14

Section System: “In alliance theory and Australian kinship studies, division of a society into two, four, or eight social categories through rules of descent and alliance. Symmetrical rules of marital alliance, enjoining marriage with a member of one of the sections, are a normal accompaniment of such systems.” RK:151.

Segmentary Systems: “In descent systems, defining descent categories with reference to more and more remote apical ancestors so that the descent categories form a tree-like structure (including successively wider ranges of descendants).” RK:151.

Segmentation: The process whereby segments of a lineage split apart and become established as separate “sub-lineages.” This is usually associated with political processes and/or demographic growth (RF-123); NG-200).

Sept: A non-unilineal descent group (NG-204). See “clan”. See “kindred”.

Sib: “A dispersed, as opposed to localized, unilineal descent group (i.e., a patri- or matri-sib). Rarely used in the British anthropological literature.” DT. ” Two or more lineages related by a common, mythical ancestor.” ES:79. See “clan”

Sister-Exchange: “Exchange of sisters in marriage by a pair of men.” RK:151.

Sororal Polygyny: The marriage of a man to two or more sisters simultaneously. Distinguish between this and the sororate.

Sororate: “Rule whereby a man is entitled to marry the sister of his deceased wife. Also, Sororal Polygyny: simultaneous marriage to a man to two or more women who are sisters (to one another).” DT. “This perpetuates the marital contract between groups.” RK:151. Contra. “Levirate”.

Symmetrical Alliance: “In alliance theory, a marriage system involving direct exchange. See “Direct Exchange”.” RK:151.

Symmetrical Cross-Cousin Marriage: Marriage with a MBD or a FZD.

Teknonymy: “A practice whereby a child does not take his name from its parents but rather parents derive a name from their child. For example, an adult is known as “the father of so-and-so.” ES:79.

Tertiary Relatives: The primary relatives of Ego’s secondary relatives. E.g., father’s sister’s husband, wife’s sister’s daughter. GPM: 14.

Totemism: “Symbolic association between a social group (e.g., a lineage or clan) and a kind of animal, bird, plant, or natural phenomenon. In “classic” forms, a member of the social group has some special religious relationship (e.g., a food taboo) toward members of the natural species.” RK:151.

Ultimogeniture: A inheritance rule which favors the youngest born child in a family. Contra. “primogeniture”

Unilineal Descent: “Patrilineal (agnatic) or matrilineal (uterine) descent.” RK:151.

Uterine: Pertaining to the reckoning of relationship by female link(s) exclusively, regardless of sex of Ego and/or Alter. Contra. “agnate”.

Uterine Nephew: “Ego’s sister’s son.” ES:79.

Uxori-: Pertaining to the “wife.” Contra. “Viri-“

Uxorilocal Residence: “Residence of a married couple with the wife’s kin.” RK:151. Same as “matrilocal residence” except that matrilineal descent groups are not present.

Viri-: Pertaining to the “husband”. Contra. “Uxori-“

Virilocal Residence: “Residence of a married couple with the husband’s kin. Residence rules can be further distinguished as “viri-patrilocal” (with the husband’s father), “viri-avunculocal” (residence with husband’s maternal uncle.” RK:151. Same as patrilocal residence except that patrilineal descent groups are not present.

Warfare Theory of Matrilocality: The Embers assert a relationship between warfare and residence patterns, as follows: “Patrilocal residence is favored by the presence of at least some internal warfare (that is, warfare within the society), whether or not such warfare interferes with a patridominant division of labor; and matrilocal residence is favored by purely external warfare if such warfare compels the division of labor to become matridomnant (Ember and Ember 1971: 593)” LM:109 See “Migration Theory of Matrilocality”.

Wife-capture: The abduction of a woman who is taken as a wife. “Wife-capture is exceedingly rare as a normal mode of marriage,and elopments are usually later legitimzed by the performance of the customary ceremonies and property transactions.” GPM:20.