Monday, 12 May 2014

Cousin's godparent's namesake

I mentioned earlier in a comment that Finnish words for relatives are much more complicated than the corresponding English ones. Let me expand that a bit.

I already wrote that we have a different word for uncle, depending on whether he's your mother's brother ("eno") or your father's brother ("setä"). The word for aunt is the same ("täti"), independent of whether she's your mother's or father's sister. You also need to specify whether nieces and nephews are your brother's or sister's kids (they're just called "sister's daughter", "sister's son" etc.) This caused great difficulties when Donald Duck was published in Finnish. Initially, Donald was translated as "setä" (uncle from father's side) of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and they were Donald's "veljenpojat" (nephews from brother's side). But then Don Rosa started publishing the comics expanding the history of the duck family. It turned out that Donald is actually "eno" of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and the translators were in trouble. They decided to keep using "setä" nevertheless. and only use "eno" in the historical comics, where it really matters.

In Swedish, it's important to specify whether your grandfather or grandmother is from the father's side ("farfar" / "farmor") or from your mother's side ("morfar" / "mormor"). English and German don't distinguish between them, and in Finnish we have a set of side-neutral words (which literally mean grandfather / grandmother): "isoisä" and "isoäiti", but we can also specify it if we want to ("isänisä", "isänäiti", "äidinisä", "äidinäiti").

There's an additional Finnish word which is closely associated to the words for relatives, namely "kaima" - somebody who has the same name as you. It's almost like namesake, but namesake - according to Wikipedia - means especially somebody / something that has been named after somebody. "Kaima" doesn't share this meaning - it means especially somebody who has the same name by coincidence.

Instead of godfather and godmother we have god-aunt, "kummitäti", and god-uncle-from-the-father's-side, "kummisetä".

The expression "serkun kummin kaima" (cousin's godparent's namesake) means a distant relative who you feel like you should include in your Christmas card sending list but you don't want to, or a relative who you're not sure how exactly you're related to.

Like in English, we call siblings who only share one parent with you half brothers ("velipuoli") and half sisters ("siskopuoli"). That's logical, since they share half of your blood, in a way. But we also call step parents "half parents": "äitipuoli" (lit. mother half) and "isäpuoli" (lit. father half). That makes no sense.

And to keep up with the "words and expressions they don't teach you in school" undercurrent of this blog, there is a cute almost-relative name in Finnish, which is very hard to translate: napalanko, literally "bellybutton (napa) brother-in-law (lanko)" (or maybe "brother in bellybutton"). It means a person who is two steps away from you in the sexual relation network, and as the name suggests, your "napalanko"s are men who have had sex with the same person as you (before, after or at the same time, doesn't matter). Theoretically, the same term for women would be "napakäly" (bellybutton sister in law) but it's not widely used.

The corresponding German term is much more obscene: der Lochbekannte, literally meaning "hole acquaintance". I don't even dare to think what the female term would be. With the Finnish term, it's obvious that the gender of the person you're talking about matters, that is, you need to refer to him or her as sister in law or brother in law, but in the German world view, it seems that the gender of the pivot person is more important.

I am not aware of the corresponding terms in any other language and googling failed me. Maybe it's better this way. But if this term exists in your mother tongue, or in a language you know, feel free to comment.


  1. In English, there is the term "wiener cousins", as used by the TV show Scrubs.

    Also, the German term for someone who shares your first name is "Namensvetter", i.e. name cousin.

  2. I don't know where you found that last German term. I have never encountered it and wouldn't have understood it without context or explanation. As you state it would appear to be a female form, which makes it even more unusual (would that be a woman who had sex with the same woman as you?). In any case that would be a highly raunchy word.

  3. Bernhard, thanks for expanding my knowledge.

    Jörg, I think I failed German genders here. I meant to write "Lochbekannter", but I was not on track with this.. that "der Bekannte" is a male acquaintance, but without der, it needs to be "Bekannter" (will fix).

    I don't remember who told me the term originally. Several of my friends seem to have this agenda of teaching me expressions like this.

  4. I can't think of an English term for this. I've never heard the one that was used in Scrubs.

  5. I just bumped into the term "eskimo brothers" in Reddit.

  6. First -- praise: Great post, really interesting and fun as well! :)

    Second -- relatives: In the eastern dialects of Czech we also had different words for uncles and aunts depending on the gender of the blood-related parent: ujec vs. strýc (uncle from mother's, or father's side, resp.), stryna vs. ujčina (the same for aunts), but most Czech speaker would have troubles understanding them today. Interestingly, the modern Czech word for an aunt is “teta” which sounds like related to the Finnish word (and unrelated to any other Czech word :)).
    Similarly, the distinction between grandparents exists – stařeček, stařenka for maternal gFather and gMother, dědeček, babička for paternal ones – but most people don’t know it any more. Interestingly, the words themselves are still frequently used, with stařeček/stařenka denoting just elder people, while dědeček/babička both types of grandparents.

    Third – Lochbekannter: That’s just amazing! :) I’m not a native German speaker, but I still feel I could understood the word on first use. I wonder if I should re-consider the type of German literature I’m reading, though. :) But independent of the interesting context, I simply like when words are created so playfully, with the meaning easy to guess, while the length of the word does not exceed the standard size of a terminal screen.