Have you ever been confused as to how somebody in your family is related to you exactly? This is the very (first world) problem that has been baffling me this week. If your family is anything like mine, you’ve got relatives aplenty. Some you know exactly how they connect with you: a cousin; a brother; an aunty. Others are harder to pin down. For instance, what do you call the child of your second cousin? Or the nephews of your step-mother? A friends brother has married two sisters. On this, how are the children of both marriages related to each other? Add to this the different relationship names that may form part of a particular cultural background, and you’ve got a whole lot of confusion.
My mum and I have been looking after two girls recently, who are the children of my first cousin. My mother is the sister of the girls’ grandma, so my mother is their great aunty. I am the daughter of their great aunty, so that logically makes me their aunty. But how are the girls related to me? What is the ‘kinship name’ that neatly sums it up?
After a thorough Internet search and countless confusing, long conversations with various friends and family members (who had no idea, had the wrong idea, or eventually stumbled on the right one), I finally found the answer: they are my first cousins once removed. The ‘removed’ term means that they are at a different generational level from me as the children of my cousins. To make it a bit clearer, if one of the girls had children, those children would be my first cousins twice removed, as they are two generations apart from me. My first cousins are at the same generational level as me, so that’s why they are called my first cousins.
An easy way to work out how you’re related to somebody in your family is by looking at the relatives you share. For example, do you both have the same grandparents? If so, (and you aren’t siblings) you are likely to be first cousins. Do you both share the same great-grand parents (and you aren’t siblings or first cousins)? You are likely to be second cousins. Alternatively, your first cousin is the child of your aunt or uncle, and your second cousin is the grandchild of your great aunty or uncle.
If this wasn’t enough to baffle you, step-relationships add another layer to the confusion. If one of your parents has remarried, the new parent is clearly your step-dad or step-mum. To work out how the relatives of your step parents relate to you, all you need to do is apply the normal relationship terms to your step-parents family, and add ‘step’ as a prefix.
For instance, your step-mums sister is your step-aunty, just as your mums sister would be your aunty. Your step-mums niece or nephew would be your step-cousin. However, step-relationships can have double meanings. A step-cousin can also be the step-child of your aunty or uncle. That is, the prefix of ‘step’ can refer to children from other marriages that your blood relatives have adopted as their own.
On a final side note, keep in mind that your particular family member may not necessarily like being called something like your ‘step-aunty’. From their point of view, exact kinship labels like that might feel unnecessary and unloving. So just to be on the safe side (and to put a smile on their face of course), just call them ‘aunty.’