Caddo Sibling or Cousin Nomenclature

The sibling or cousin nomenclature, I may say incidentally, was quite difficult to work out, as White Moon persistently assumed that the Indian and the English systems were the same. It was only through testing by the genealogical tables that the differentiation became clear first to me, then to him. And then one of the genealogical tables, in one case, had to be revised, a woman who had been described as a father’s sister having to be reclassified as a parallel cousin. As for the principles of seniority which prevail, as we are to see, in this part of the nomenclature the testing had to proceed bit by bit-White Moon said it made his head feel like the map of Oklahoma which happened to be stretched out in front of him, a kind of razzle dazzle, and it was the hardest work he had ever done. The effect on him when he was set to analyze his own kinship terms through exact comparison with another system was quite as bewildering as that on the novice among us.

As for cousins beyond the first degree, evidence was still more difficult to get. Beyond saying that any one your father called brother, or your mother called sister, you would call father, and his son, brother; or you would call mother, and her son brother, White Moon was frequently at a loss. 1 As he calls the younger generation by their given names with a few striking exceptions, definite cases of cousin terminology were scarce.

In the sibling nomenclature the principle of seniority is an outstanding feature. There are distinctive terms for the older sister of a female and for the older brother of a male. 2 In the application of the sibling terms to parallel cousins it is the respective ages of the parents, not of the speakers, which is the determinant. 3 In the application of the cross-cousin terms the children of the sister are accounted senior to the children of the brother 12 i.e. seniority is imputed to the female line, and this imputation persists for cross-cousins several times removed, the “senior” cross-cousins removed going by the grandparent terms.

The use of a suffix meaning little (t’iti, abbreviated to t’, or ts’i) is very common to distinguish between persons in the same kinship class, e.g. between mother and mother’s sister or any one your mother calls sister, or, by a man, between older sister and younger sister or between a senior maternal uncle and a junior or between a senior paternal aunt and a junior; and to denote the cross-cousins removed who go by the grandparent terms. 4 The diminutive appears to be used to denote positive age also, age up to about eighteen, according to White Moon, but in general this suffix is, I surmise, loosely used. Ingkanish applied it as follows: a’atete, father’s brother; ina’tete, mother’s sister; ahaitete, father’s younger sister; tahaitete, iyetete, sister terms. Pardon used a’atete for stepfather, as well as for father’s younger brother-father’s older brother he called a’ahai’me, father big. For mother’s brother, second brother, ibatete.

The term for “child,” hanin, 5 is the usual reciprocal for descendants, lineal and collateral. The special terms for grandchild and sister’s child, m. sp. may be passing out, as White Moon did not know them.

The only true reciprocals occur in the affinity terms, of which there are three: two between two different generations, and one within the same generation. White Moon and Pardon knew no term for the spouse of the offspring of the father’s sister. Pardon opined that the husband of the mother’s sister was called a’atete, little father; the wife of the father’s brother, ina, mother; and the wife of the mother’s brother, chu’unu, mother-in-law.

The latter affinity term shows neither the sex of the speaker nor of the person spoken to or of. The affinity terms between different generations show the sex of the person spoken to or of. In the sibling terms the sex of the person addressed is expressed, and, except in the case of addressing a younger sister, the sex of the speaker. Difference of sex between speaker and person spoken of is expressed only in the sibling terms (term for younger sister excepted). In the cross-cousin term sex is entirely unexpressed.

There are no special terms for half brothers or sisters or, as far as I can learn, for stepfather. In referring to relatives by affinity there is, in one verbal expression at least, a difference of stress. “Where is she (or he)?” referring to a relative by affinity is kwidi.’a which is pronounced kwid’ia when referring to relatives by blood or to unrelated persons. 6Citations:

  1. Similarly, he thought that any one your father called sister, or your mother, brother, you would call aha’i’ or iba`.[]
  2. Cp. Choctaw (Swanton 3: 85, 86) and Mandan (Lowie 1: 14). In the other Caddoan nomenclatures there is no distinction of seniority in respect to females. Grand Pawnee have a distinctive term for the oldest brother, w. sp.; Arikara have distinctive terms for the oldest brother and for the “first younger” brother, m. and w. sp. (Morgan, Table II).[]
  3. The application of the terms according to the genealogical tables are in evidence; but on this point White Moon was not at all uncertain: asked, for example, the hypothetical question: “Suppose Nettie (Gen. I, 28) has a daughter ten years old, and Millie (Gen. I, 26) has a daughter five years old, what would Nettie’s daughter call Millie’s daughter?” he answered at once, “Iyet’iti, little older sister, because Millie is older than Nettie.” Spier states that seniority is based on the respective age of the speaker.[]
  4. Compare for a similar practice of classifying cross-cousins in generations different from the speaker’s (Lowie 1: 27, 59, 89), for Crow and Hidatsa; also, citing Morgan, for Moskogean (Choctaw) and Pawnee (Lowie 2: 341). By Pawnee the father’s sister’s offspring are called father or mother, and the mother’s brother’s offspring, child (Morgan, Table II). Offspring of the Father’s sister’s offspring are called brother or sister, not as in Caddo, grandfather or grandmother.[]
  5. hanĭ’’, son, daughter, brother’s child, w. sp. (Spier).[]
  6. Possibly this linguistic distinction points to some obsolete practice of avoidance. Compare the Hidatsa expression of avoidance by the use of the third person plural (Lowie 1: 48).[]


Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on the Caddo, Memories of the American Anthropological Association. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 43, No. 3, Part 2. 1921.

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