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A chart showing the names for relationships in an extended family.

An uncle is a name used in an extended family. An uncle is either a brother of one of someone's parents. That person is the uncle's nephew (male) or niece (female). An uncle's child is a cousin.[1] A granduncle (also written as great-uncle or grand-uncle) is the brother of a grandparent.[1] In some cultures an uncle is considered a close family member. Based on the old Chinese saying "the oldest son in the family is the father of the family" an uncle is often the head of a family.[2] In many cultures no single word (such as uncle) describes both their parents' brothers. Instead there are words to describe a person's kinship to their mother's brother or a person's kinship to their father's brother. An uncle can also be someone not related by blood or marriage as in a term of endearment or respect. In this use uncle can also be part of a nickname such as Uncle Sam.


During the Middle Ages in western Europe, a maternal uncle played a particular role in the family. A young man was often closer to his maternal uncle (from Latin: avunculus or "little grandfather") than to his own father.[3] Tacitus noted the Franks had very strong ties between a maternal uncle and his nephew.[4] In Roman family relationships the avunculus had a responsibility to defend his nephews as well as his nieces. The maternal uncle relationship was an extension of the Roman kin system's strong brother-sister relationship.[5]

Variation of terms

A maternal or paternal relative is one who is related through their mother or father, respectively. For example a maternal uncle is a the subject's mother's brother.An in-law is a relationship that is not by blood, but instead by marriage. The in-law shares the in-law relationships of the spouses relatives. For example a uncle in-law could be the husband of the subject's Aunt.

  • Uncle: the brother of someone's parent. The child of subject's an Aunt or Uncle's is the subject's cousin.
  • Half-uncle: the parent's half-brother.
  • Double half-uncle: a person who is a half sibling of both of the subjects parents.[6]
  • Granduncle / great-uncle: the grandparent's brother.
  • Great-granduncle / Great-great-uncle: the great-grandparent's full brother.
  • Uncle-in-law: the aunt's husband or the spouse's uncle.
  • Co-uncle-in-law: the spouse's aunt's husband.

Related pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine; Volumes 7-9, Vol. vii, ed. Anthon Henrik Lund (Salt Lake City, UT: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1916), p. 179
  2. Sonia M. Chen, China Changing in My Eyes: People, Schools and Landscapes (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2010), p. 49
  3. Thomas Montgomery, Medieval Spanish Epic (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), p. 67
  4. David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 54
  5. Growing Up Fatherless in Antiquity, eds. Sabine R. Hübner; David M. Ratzan (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 227