Glossary of Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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- A -

affinity  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a kinship link created by marriage, such as the bond between a man and his wife and her family (in-laws).  People who have an affinity relationship with each other are "affines."  See consanguinity.
agnatic click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
see patrilineal descent.
ambilineal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
a form of cognatic descent in which individuals can select to trace descent either matrilineally or patrilineally.  The decision may be made each generation based  on the relative wealth and/or importance of the father's and the mother's family lines.
diagram of ambilineal descent
ancestor focused kindred
a kindred in which the person to whom all members trace their kinship ties is dead. An example would be the descendants of a well known pioneer family.  It is rare for a kindred to continue functioning as an effective kin group after the death of the individual who was its focus.  This usually occurs only when the ancestor was historically important.
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- B -

bilateral click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
the cognatic pattern of descent in which every biological ancestor and descendant is a socially recognized relative.  Everyone is a member of both his or her father's and mother's families.  This is not the same as bilineal descent.

diagram of bilateral descent

bilineal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
the cognatic pattern of descent in which an individual is both a member of his mother's matrilineage and his father's patrilineage.  Also known as "double descent."  This is not the same as bilateral descent.
diagram of bilineal descent
bride price
things of high value given by a groom to his bride's father. It is a way of showing respect for the bride and her parents. At the same time, it is a compensation for the bride's family for the loss of her economic services. It is also a way of validating the groom's right to future offspring. Bride price is most common among polygynous, small-scale, patrilineal societies--especially in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans. Bride price is also referred to as "bride wealth" and "progeny price."  See dowry.
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- C -

clan  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a group of people who claim unilineal descent from the same ancestor but who cannot specify all of the actual links.  The ancestor is genealogically so remote that he or she is often thought of as a mythical being, animal, or plant.  Clans usually consist of a number of related unilineages.   See totem.
cognatic click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
tracing kinship through both the mother's and the father's ancestors to some degree.  Cognatic descent occurs in four forms: ambilineal, bilineal, parallel, and bilateral descent.
collateral click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced relative
uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and other consanguinal kinsmen beyond ego's main line of descent.
consanguinity  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a socially recognized biological descent link, such as between a woman and her father, aunt, or daughter.  Individuals who have a consanguinity relationship are "consanguines" click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced to each other.   Consanguinity literally means "with the blood", reflecting the old incorrect assumption that biological inheritance is passed on through blood rather than DNA.  See affinity.
cross cousin  pronounce the word
one's father's sister's children or mother's brother's children.   The gender of the children is not relevant in making this distinction.  See parallel cousin.

diagram of cross and parallel cousins

Crow click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a matrilineally based kin naming system in which siblings and parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same term of reference (5 = male and 6 = female) as are mother and mother's sister (2).  Other people in ego's father's matrilineage are lumped across generations (1 = male and 3 = female), reflecting the comparative unimportance of the father's side of the family in societies using the Crow system.

diagram of Crow kin naming system

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- D -

descent  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
socially recognized links between ancestors and descendants, such as the bond between children and their parents.
descriptive kin naming system
see Sudanese naming system.
double descent
see bilineal descent.
dowry  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
money, property, or other things of high value given by a bride's family to the groom, ostensibly to establish a new household. It is her share of the family inheritance. A dowry is, in a sense, the reverse of a bride price.
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- E -

ego  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced    (in a kinship diagram)
the individual to whom all relationships are referred.
Eskimo click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a bilateral descent based kin naming system in which members of the nuclear family are given terms of reference based only on their gender and generation.  Aunts (3) and uncles (4) are distinguished from parents (1 = father and 2 = mother) and separated by gender.  The spouses of aunts and uncles may also be given these kin terms.  All cousins are lumped together with one kin term (7) without regard to gender.  No kin name distinction is made between uncles, aunts, and cousins with regards to side of the family.

diagram of Eskimo kin naming system

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- F -  

family of orientation  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see nuclear family.
family of procreation  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see nuclear family.
fictive kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a socially recognized link between individuals, created as an expedient for dealing with special circumstances, such as the bond between a godmother and her godchild.  Fictive kinship bonds are based on friendship and other personal relationships rather than marriage and descent.
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- G -

gender  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
sexual identity as male or female.
genealogy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the family history, or record of descent, of an individual from his or her ancestors.
godparent
a person who sponsors a child and assumes some parental responsibility for its upbringing.  A godparent shares this responsibility with the "real" parents.  A godparent is a fictive kinsman who may be either a godmother or a godfather to a godchild.
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- H -

Hawaiian click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a kin naming system in which relatives are distinguished only by generation and gender.  This results in just 4 different kin terms of reference.   Ego's father and all male relatives in his generation are referred to by the same kin term (1).  Likewise, ego's mother and all female relatives in her generation have the same kin term (2).  All brothers and male cousins are linked by giving them the same kin term (3).  Sisters and all female cousins are also referred to by the same term (4).

diagram of Hawaiian kin naming system

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- I -

in-law
a person, other than a spouse, whose kinship relationship to ego is only through a marriage bond.  Brother-in-law and mother-in-law are examples.   In-laws are often considered to be relatives by societies following the Eskimo kin naming system.  However, such affinal relatives are usually considered to be more distant in terms of kinship obligations and privileges than consanguinal ones.
Iroquois click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a kin naming system in which the same term of reference is used for father and father's brother (1) as well as mother and mother's sister (2).  Parallel cousins from both sides of the family are lumped together with siblings but distinguished by gender (5 = male and 6 = female).  All cross cousins are similarly lumped together and distinguished by gender (7 = male and 8 = female).

diagram of Iroquois kin naming system

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- J -

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- K -

kindred  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a family group bound together by their kinship ties to one person.  An individual's kindred consists of all of the people who are related to him or her through consanguinal ties and possibly affinal ones as well.  That is, it includes one's biological relatives and sometimes spouses and in-laws.
kin naming system
a culturally defined set of rules for terms of address and reference to be used for specific categories of relatives.  There are 6 different kin naming systems in use around the world: Eskimo, Hawaiian, Sudanese, Omaha, Crow, and Iroquois.  Kin naming systems are also referred to as "kin terminological systems."
kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
culturally defined relationships between individuals who are commonly thought of as having family ties.  Kinship is based on marriage, descent, and, occasionally, fictive relationships as well.
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- L -

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- M -

matricentric click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced family
a nuclear family in which there is no continuing adult male functioning as a husband/father.  This man is missing due to death, divorce, abandonment, or no marriage having taken place.  In such families, the mother raises her children more or less alone and subsequently has the major role in their socialization.  Matricentric families are also referred to as being "matrifocused" click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.
matrilineage  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a multi-generational group of relatives who are related by matrilineal descent.  Matrilineages usually consist of a number of related nuclear families descended from the same woman.
matrilineal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
unilineal descent that follows the female line.  With this pattern, people are related if they can trace descent through females to the same female ancestor.  Both males and females inherit membership in a matrilineal family line, but only females can pass it on to their descendants.
diagram of matrilineal descent
moiety  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
one of two unilineal divisions of an entire society.  Moieties have reciprocal privileges and obligations with each other, such as providing marriage partners and assisting at funerals.  The founding moiety ancestor is often so genealogically remote that he or she is now mythical.  Societies with moieties usually consist of a few thousand people or less.  Societies with phratries instead of moieties are often larger.
monogamy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
marriage of one woman to one man at a time. This is the most common marriage pattern around the world today. If remarriage is allowed following divorce or death of a spouse, the marriage pattern could be defined as being "serial monogamy."
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- N -

nuclear click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced family
a family consisting of a man, woman, and their children.   We are born into our "nuclear family of orientation" and we have children in our "nuclear family of procreation."  Parents may think of themselves as being members of both of these families at the same time.  See matricentric family.
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- O - 

Omaha click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a patrilineally based kin naming system in which relatives are lumped together on the basis of descent and gender.   Siblings and parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same term of reference (5 = male and 6 = female).  Father and father's brother also have the same kin term (1). Other people in ego's mother's patrilineage are lumped across generations (2 = female and 4 = male).

diagram of Omaha kin naming system

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- P -

parallel cousin  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
one's father's brother's children or mother's sister's children.   The gender of the children is not relevant in making this distinction.  With unilineal descent, parallel cousins are members of the same unilineage.   See cross cousin.

diagram of parallel and cross cousins

parallel click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
the cognatic pattern of descent in which males trace their descent through the male line of their father and females through the female line of their mother.  Unlike bilineal descent, every individual is a member of only one unilineage.

diagram of parallel descent

pastoralists  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
people whose economy is based on the herding of large domesticated animals, such as cattle, horses, sheep, or reindeer.  Nomadic pastoralists travel with their animals in search of grass and water without a regular route.  In contrast, transhumance pastoralists travel with their animals between specific traditional locations, such as summer mountain pastures and winter lowland pastures where they often have established villages.
patrilineage  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a multi-generational group of relatives who are related by patrilineal descent.  Patrilineages usually consist of a number of related nuclear families descended from the same man.
patrilineal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
unilineal descent that follows the male line.  With this pattern, people are related if they can trace descent through males to the same male ancestor.  Both males and females inherit a patrilineal family membership but only males can pass it on to their descendants.   Also known as "agnatic descent."
diagram of patrilineal descent
phratry  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a unilineal descent group consisting of a number of related clans.  The phratry founding ancestor is so remote genealogically that he or she is usually mythical.  Phratries are larger and more inclusive kinship groups than unilineages and clans.
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- Q -

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- R -

reciprocity  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced     (or reciprocal exchange)
a relationship between people that involves trading or exchange of gifts of goods, services, or favors.  Inherent in reciprocal exchanges is the obligation to return a gift or comparable trade item in a culturally appropriate manner.  Failure to do so is likely to end the reciprocal relationship.   Reciprocity requires adequacy of response but not necessarily mathematical equality.  Reciprocity is a common way of creating and continuing bonds between people.
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- S -

siblings  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
brothers or a sisters.
Sudanese click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced naming system
a kin naming system in which kinsmen are not lumped together under the same terms of reference.  Each category of relative is given a distinct term based on genealogical distance from ego and the side of the family.  Also referred to as the "descriptive kin naming system."

diagram of Sudanese kin naming system

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- T -

totem  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a mythical clan founding ancestor.  Totem origins are so far back in time that they are often believed to be non-human.  Totems are used as symbols of clans.  When they are believed to be particular kinds of animals or plants, killing or eating them is usually not allowed. Totems are also referred to as "totemic emblems" click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.
transhumance  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a variation of a pastoral way of life in which people migrate seasonally with their herds, usually from lowlands to highlands and back.  Such movements are necessary for the year-round care of their animals upon which they depend.  Transhumance is not nomadism since the cyclical migrations are between predetermined, traditional destinations.
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- U -

unilineage  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a multi-generational group of relatives who are related by unilineal descent.  Unlike clans, phratries, and moieties, members of unilineages usually know the precise genealogical link to the founder.  Unilineages usually consist of a number of related nuclear families.  See also matrilineage and patrilineage.
unilineal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced descent
tracing kinship only through a single line of ancestors, male or female--that is, descent links are traced only through ancestors of one gender.  See also matrilineal, patrilineal, and cognatic descent.
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- W -

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- X -

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- Y -

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- Z -

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 08, 2009.
Copyright 1997-2009 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.
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