2016-02-23

On the Naming of Extended Family Relationships

Within a family pet disagreements may exist.  These disagreements may never attain resolution but family members find certain fun in discussing and perpetuating them.  My father and mother kept one such pet disagreement over the relationship naming of members of our extended families.  Mum referred to various distant relatives as cousins of varying degrees, while Dad referred to similar distant relatives as uncles/aunts or nephews/nieces of varying degrees while cousins of any degree must always be generational contemporaries and only share equal numbers of steps back to a common ancestor.  Periodically they simply enjoyed trying to persuade each other of the correctness of each understanding of how to name these more distant family relationships.

Although born and raised Canadian, Mum was actually using the American conventional system of naming family relationships as illustrated by this table of consanguinity:


This system for naming family relationships does contain a significant logical flaw.  Consider yourself as attending a family reunion at which a centenarian reminisces to a mother holding a newborn baby.  Very possibly, by this table, that centenarian and that newborn babe-in-arms could both be your first cousin thrice removed, an obvious absurdity.  This results from giving relatives who are generationally senior to oneself and relatives who are generationally junior to oneself the same relationship name as pointed out on this highlighted table of consanguinity:


Dad's contention as to how extended family relationships should be named derived from his experience growing up in Wales before emigrating to Canada.  In fact, he argued that the naming of relationships beyond those of close family members had been invented in Wales.  Whether that last is actually true, I do not know.  When I attempt to reconstruct what I think Dad intended to describe into a table of consanguinity, I find a far more logical system for naming family relationships:


To Dad, when you attend that family reunion and witness the centenarian reminiscing to the mother of the newborn, that centenarian would be your second great grand aunt while the newborn babe-in-arms would be your second great grand nephew, absurdity removed.  In addition, the "... removed" modifier ceases to have any function and disappears.

Thus, I tend to side with Dad in this family pet disagreement and wish that the Welsh table of consanguinity could be conventional.