Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cebuano Kinship Terms

In one article I read, an expert seemed to think that Filipino kinship terms are simplistic and generalist in nature. I strongly disagree. Western terms of kinship are very simple. For example, father generally becomes grandfather, and grandfather is simply added with the word “great” before it. Depending on how far the generation, the number of “greats” also increases as the generation goes farther.

(Western Kinship terms. Click here to enlarge)

In-laws are generally added to the relationship between two people, such that the parents of one’s spouse are one’s father or mother-in-law. Siblings are sister- or brother-in-law, while the spouse of one’s child is a son- or daughter-in-law.

Perhaps the reason why some experts claim that our system of kinship is simplistic is because we tend to generally call anyone we can’t figure out how far related we are as ig-agaw, or cousin. And if they are older, then we switch to the generic oyo-an or iya-an, or Uncle or Aunt. Those older than uncles or aunts are also simply called lolo or lola, or grandfather or grandmother.

(Cebuano Kinship terms. Click here to enlarge)

Comparing the charts above, I conclude that we have a sense of making distinctions when it comes to calling relatives. Take the in-laws, for instance. A father or mother-in-law is called an ugangan, but a son- or daughter-in-law is called an umagad. Meanwhile, brothers- or sisters-in-laws are called bayaw. And it gets even more colorful. A grandfather is called apohan, while a great-grandfather is an apohan sa tuhod, while a great-great-grandfather is called an apohan sa tungkod or sungkod, the tungkod indicating an old person’s walking stick, or cane. To come up with such ingenious and colorful terms makes me admire our ancient forebears even more.


  1. A cousin on my waray side mentioned Apo for the grandparents' generation, said that it's not used nowadays, very rare. Actually I think it was Apo/Apoy and I told her how in Hawaii MANY people would address the older ilocanos as Apo. My grandmother was always known as "Grandma" to us, not Lola nor Apo, etc. But we are talking about a woman who left Argao at the age of 19.

    1. Typical Filipino language weirdness, the term apo is used differently by the Cebuanos and others. While Ilokanos and others use apo to refer to the older generation, we Cebuanos use it to refer to the younger. Grandparents are called apohan, as the article above mentioned.

      Thanks for the comment K!