Avuncles and Niblings: Unusual words for the family

Avuncles and Niblings: Unusual words for the family

Have you spoken to your avuncle lately? How are your niblings doing?

Depending on age and gender, some languages have specific words to describe a family member. While the English language is more limited and sticks to known words such as dad, mom, brother and sister, in the past other words were used to describe those in our family tree.

Image credit: Burlington Iowa Public Library

Image credit: Burlington Iowa Public Library

Here are five unusual words used to describe family members. To see the full list, check out the article on Mental Floss


Your mother’s brother. Patruus, father’s brother, and avunculus, mother’s brother are differentiated in Latin. The word’s root comes from “avuncular,” meaning “having to do with uncles” or “uncle-like.” There was also amita, father’s sister, and matertera, mother’s sister.


Your nieces and nephews. This term seemed to be gaining more popularity to collectively refer to nieces and nephews, similar to siblings.


Your father’s sister. In Latin, amita covers this relationship, but in Old English there was also a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal.


When a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, their children are full cousins who share all four grandparents.

5. EAM

Your mother’s brother. It survived in some dialects as “eme,” with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

Do you have any words that you use to describe your family? Let us know in the comments below.


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  • carrie Alam

    July 24, 2014


  • Jan

    July 28, 2014

    I thought double cousin was a description, I didn’t know it was a term. 🙂 I have at least a couple of sets of double cousins.
    I really like niblings. I think we should resurrect that one.

  • Andre Mostert

    July 31, 2014

    Finnish has two words for Uncle…maternal is “eno”…paternal is “setä But I only know one word for Aunt…”täti.”

    I like the term niblings. Siblings (brothers and sisters)”sisarukset.”
    Niblings (Nephews and Nieces) In Finnish a nephew is either “veljenpoikka” or “sisarenpoika”; while a niece is a “veljentytär” or “sisarentytär.” Veli is a brother; Sisar is a sister.

  • Anne Watts

    May 14, 2017

    Grandparent’s names –
    Granpeg for Peggy
    Granwal for Walter
    Grananne for Anne
    Granwyn for Winifred
    Granern for Ernest