How about another blog on the Indian family? If you missed the last family blog, the one on the family structure and the joined family please click here.
In this blog we are going to talk about how family members address each other, and the names they call each other … and no, not the bad ones!
First off, a husband and wife usually never use each other names. Ever. My husband has never heard either of his parents use the others name. It is just not done. I asked him what happens if mummy wants to get papa’s attention. He said she walks into the other room to get him. Hmm, that is an interesting concept! If she had to call to him for something, she would call him Ashok’s (my husband’s oldest brother) dad. Never Raj or Vijay’s dad, only the oldest child; even if that child is a girl. And if the couple is newly married and there are no children yet, then the wife will simple call her husband ji.
Ji (pronounced gee) is added to every name for respect. So technically when I talk to mummy or papa, it is actually mummyji or papaji. This goes with EVERY family title. This also goes with actual first names as well. For example our neighbor calls Vijay, Vijayji. And no one in this country calls Gandhi simply Gandhi. It is ALWAYS Gandhiji. If you saw the movie Slum Dog Millionaire, about the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the host of the show called the computer, computerji. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now! And when talking to siblings or friends it is not necessary unless you want to show respect for some reason. It is also not necessary every time you say someone’s name, like mummy and papa. Just often enough to show you respect them. Are you getting that respect is a big deal in this country??
And as you know from my references, parents are usually called mummy and papa. That is the simple part. Everyone else gets complicated, or possibly easier depending on how you look at it. Let’s talk about grandparents first. Now in the states they are generically called grandma or grandpa with any unique twists on these two names. However, ultimately, grandma and grandpa. In India, the name for your grandparents depends on which of your parents they are parents to. Got it?? For example, your mother’s parents are going to be your nana (grandpa) and nani (grandma). Your dad’s parents are your dada (grandpa) and dadi (grandma). See? So in one word lineage is conveyed.
As for uncles, your mom’s brothers are going to be your mama and his wife is your mami. Dad’s brother is your chacha and his wife is your chachi. As for your aunts, mom’s sisters are massi and her husband is massa. Dad’s sisters are buah and her husband is fufa. And you will never use your aunt and uncles names.
For example I have an Aunt Cindy. She would be called my massi and then any other designation I would use to distinguish her, like the fact that she is the second daughter i.e. massi number two. But I would not use her name. Unless I was talking to someone else about her and she was not there. Then I could use her name, but never in front of her. And your grandparent’s siblings are also your grandparents. Vijay talks about his younger or sometimes smaller dada, his grandpa’s younger brother. And his actual grandfather he will refer to him as his real dada.
As for your siblings, they too are designated differently depending on their birth order. Brother in Hindi is bhia. However, older brother is bhea. So Raj, Vijay’s older brother is his bhea, and Vijay is his bhia. Confused?? Me too sometimes. And sister is bahyen and didi for older sister.
Now for a really confusing designation. Ok, a daughter-in-law is called a bahoo. And a sister-in-law is called a bhabi. However, again age makes a difference. I am Raj’s sister-in-law, but I am married to his younger brother. That negates the bhabi name and instead makes me his bahoo. It doesn’t matter what my age is in reference to Raj, older or younger I am his bahoo. But his older brother’s wife was his bhabi. And to me Raj is my jate and his wife (when they arrange one for him) will be my jatani. But if he was younger he would be my devar. The great thing with my in-laws though is I am simply their daughter. They have never called me their bahoo and I like it that way.
And lastly we have the children of your parent’s siblings, the cousins. They are not simply your cousins; they are your cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers. Or like I mentioned in the last blog on family, simply your brothers and sisters in a joined family.
When it comes to strangers, if they are significantly older than you, like your parents age, then you address them as aunt and uncle. This applies to everyone. An example of this; there is a family in our building with two boys and occasionally the older boy who is probably 8 or 9 will get sent down to convey a message or talk to us for some reason. Vijay and I are about the same age as his parents so this makes us aunt and uncle to him.
However, when it comes to strangers around your own age, you refer to them as your older brother for men and bhabi for women. All the women in our building call me bhabi, and so do Vijay’s friends. I am not called Nicole by anyone but Vijay and that is only rarely.
To recap: Parents: Mummy and Papa
Dad’s parents: Dada (grandpa) Dadi (grandma)
Mom’s parents: Nana (grandpa) Nani (grandma)
Dad’s brother/wife: Chacha (uncle) Chachi (aunt)
Mom’s brother/wife: Mama (uncle) Mami (aunt
Dad’s sister/husband: Buah (aunt) Fufa (uncle)
Mom’s sister/husband: Massi (aunt) Massa (uncle)
Older brother: Bhea
Younger brother: Bhia
Older sister: Didi
Younger sister: Bahen
Older brother-in-law/wife: Jate (brother-in-law) Jatani (sister-in-law)
Younger brother-in-law/wife: Devar (brother-in-law) Devarani (sister-in-law)
Confused?? Good lord if you aren’t you are a heck of a lot smarter than I am!! Or you are Indian😉. Honestly for those of us who have never dealt with something like this it is beyond overwhelming, but when you really look at it, this system is pretty efficient. In one word you convey which side of the family the person is from, their birth order and who they are married to.
However, I don’t see this catching on in the states😉.