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As an American marrying into a North Indian family, I was constantly amazed at the terminology used to refer to relatives. Growing up in a large Southern family, I often would refer to someone as my cousin or my aunt. Occasionally someone who might not be familiar with the person I was referring to might ask, “Now is that your Mama’s side aunt or your Daddy’s side aunt?” meaning is that your father’s sister/sister-in-law or mother’s sister/sister-in-law. I am sure this must sound rather strange to Indians because they have a term for every type of relation you can imagine! This will get complicated but it sure is fun to learn about!


The following are just samples, this is by no means a complete list:

Father There are many different words for father in India because there are 14 official languages not to mention lingering traces of Sanskrit and influences of Urdu in Northern India. Some common terms for father are: Daddy, Baba, and Papa.
Mother The same applies for mother as for father. Common forms of mother are: Mummy, Ma, Ama, Mata.
Sister Bayhen pronounced Bay hen and Didi, pronounced like the name Dee Dee. Bayhen is very formal and rarely used in everyday conversations. It is more often used in movies or books. Didi is the most common way of addressing your sister.
Brother Bhiya pronounced Ba hi ya
Maternal GrandFather Nanaji pronounced Nana jee – Ji is a symbol of respect and is almost always attached to older relatives terms.
Maternal GrandMother Naniji pronounced Nannie Jee
Paternal GrandFather Dadaji pronounced Da Da Jee
Paternal GrandMother Dadiji pronounced da dee jee
Aunt (mother’s sister) Massiji pronounced Mass ee jee
Aunt (father’s sister) Buahji pronounced boo ah jee
Uncle (mother’s brother) Mamaji pronounced Mama jee
Uncle (father’s younger brother) Chachaji pronounced Cha Cha jee
Uncle (father’s elder brother) Taoji pronounced T ‘ ow jee
Aunt (mother’s brother’s wife) Mamiji pronounced Mommy jee
Aunt (father’s younger brother’s wife) Chachiji pronounced Cha Chee Jee
Aunt (father’s elder brother’s wife) Taiji pronounced Tie Jee
Cousin (mother’s or father's niece or nephew) This is where it can get complicated for westerners. In the US we call all cousins "cousin" and if necessary we will explain that this is our maternal cousin or paternal cousin by saying something like "this is my mother's sister's son". In India, cousins on both sides of the family are considered cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers. Therefore, a person may be introduced as someone's brother or sister when they are really their cousin. It is interesting to note that when someone is in a situation that the amount of brothers and sisters a person has might affect the outcome, such as when arranged marriages are being spoken about between both parties, care will be taken to make sure the other party understands that the person is a cousin-sister or cousin-brother. It is often the case that the elder cousin is referred to as "bhaiya" or "didi" by the younger cousin. If they are very close, the younger one may even use the older cousin's name but the term for brother or sister is always used to show respect. Example, "Naveen Bhiya" or "Divya Didi
Husband's Brother’s wife or Cousin- Brother's wife Told you this could get complicated. Now when a brother or  cousin brother marries a woman, the younger cousins will refer to her as Bhabi, pronounced B’ha Bee or in Punjab they may refer to her Bharjai, pronounced B'har jie. Often, they will just call her by this term, but sometimes to distinguish between one Bhabi and another, it is necessary to put her name with the term such as Melanie Bhabi. Technically, this term is used only by the person who is related to the husband. For example, Melanie is married to Naveen. Therefore, technically speaking, Naveen's actual brother and cousins would address Melanie as Bhabi but their spouses would not.  Naveen's brother's wife would more likely call Melanie "Didi" to mean sister if Melanie were elder to her, otherwise they would most likely call each other by name depending on the closeness of the relationship.
Husband's Sister’s husband or Cousin- Sister's Husband
Wife's Brother's wife or Cousin-Brother's wife
Wife's Sister’s husband or Cousin- Sister's Husband
Confused you enough yet? More Later
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