15 Familial Terms and Their Other Meanings

By Mark Nichol

The meanings of many terms that originally referred to familial relationships have been extended to have greater resonance of connotation. Here are some words for members of families and their senses beyond the literal ones.

1. Brother: a kinsman, a countryman or member of same ethnic group or nationality, a comrade, a fellow member, or a lay member of a religious order

2. Cousin: a counterpart, or someone related culturally or ethnically; also, a term of address from a monarch to a member of the nobility

3. Daughter: something that derives from something else, or a product of radioactive decay

4. Father: an originator, a source or prototype, a leading figure in an organization (such as a church) or a political jurisdiction (“city fathers,” “founding fathers”), a priest, an early Christian writer, or God; also, fatherland denotes one’s homeland

5. Forefather: a person who is not an ancestor but with whom one shares one’s general heritage

6. Grandfather: an older man, or an ancestor; as a verb, to allow to continue under a previous law, policy, or agreement (“grandfather clause”); also, a grandfather clock is a tall, floor-mounted clock

7. Kindred: closely aligned (“kindred spirit”)

8. Mother: an older woman, or one who heads a religious community or a similar group; the origin or source; a shortening of a vulgar term of, depending on the context, abuse or affection; an impressive or ultimate exemplar (“the mother of all battles”); also, motherland denotes one’s homeland; as a verb, to nurture

9. Nephew: a clergyman’s illegitimate son; etymologically related to nepotism (“favoritism shown to a relative”), from the notion that high-ranking church officials would introduce illegitimate sons as nephews to obtain sinecures for them

10. Niece: a clergyman’s illegitimate daughter

11. Parent: the origin or source; also, an entity that produces a subsidiary (“parent company”)

12. Sister: a comrade or a fellow member of an ethnic group or nationality, a female member of a church or a religious order, a nurse who is a member of a religious order, a sorority member, or a closely associated or similar entity (“sister city”); also, slang for a girl or woman; also, as a verb, construction jargon for placing a structural element next to another one

13. Son: a closely associated person (“native son”); also, used as a form of address from an older person to a young man or a boy

14. Stepchild: a neglected person or entity

15. Uncle: an older helper or adviser (the adjective avuncular is etymologically related); also, an idiom referring to surrender (“cry uncle”)

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2 Responses to “15 Familial Terms and Their Other Meanings”

  • Ieva

    “Daughter: something that derives from something else, or a product of radioactive decay”

    – this made me smile. And, actually, made me think about how did some words gain these meanings (and how other cultures might interpret family ties and link tem to other concepts).

  • Donald Kaspersen

    “Brother: a kinsman, a countryman or member of same ethnic group or nationality, a comrade, a fellow member, or a lay member of a religious order”

    In many churches, the terms “Brother” or “Sister” is a title of acknowledgement that the person addressed or referred to is a member of that church or denomination, irrespective of whether he or she holds any position in that church and would not be considered a member of a religious order.

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