Ex-uncle George
One of the Outlaws

I recently received a notice that a member of my extended family had listed me on his Facebook page as a relative and asked me to confirm that the claim was legit. This led me on a trek to locate my “Friends and Family” FB page and, once having found it, to ponder the stereoscopic image of contemporary American society provided by the side-by-side, slightly offset kinship vocabularies of common everyday life and the special world of Facebook. I should say up front that I did not really expect to find a Facebook term for the particular family relationship in question, namely: son of wife’s first cousin, a.k.a. wife’s first cousin once removed—my first cousin once removed by marriage? my first cousin by marriage once removed?

Obstacles to such a term, even forgetting the “by marriage” part, include the following:

  • · Many people are unclear about the difference between first cousin once removed and second cousin (1st cousin once removed being my first cousin’s child/my parent’s first cousin; 2nd cousin being a child of my grandparent’s sibling) and so would rather not speak up.
  • · Some have trouble getting their heads around the generational ambiguity of the “removed” relationship (as opposed to the collateral relationship denoted by the numbers), and so etc.
  • We generally don’t have single-word terms for relationships we don’t consider all that important. Put another way, if there’s no single-word term (even hyphenated) for a specific kinship relation, the chances are the relationship is not a major player—your uncle is important, but whether he’s your father’s brother or your mother’s is not particularly remarkable as far as our society is concerned, though the distinction is and has been in other societies: In Roman times, your father’s brother and your mother’s brother merited separate terms (patruelis and avunculus, respectively). Your nepos, on the other hand, could be your undifferentiated grandson or nephew (or, later, a favored “nephew,” often an ecclesiastic’s illegitimate son, with reference to whom the term nepotism would be coined).  Similarly, in French belle-fille can be either ‘step-daughter’ or ‘daughter-in-law,’ for the latter of which the disambiguating alternative bru—a borrowing of a Germanic term cognate with English bride—can be used to designate the woman who married your son.

Which brings us to my Facebook “Friends and Family” profile:


Alex's FB profile

Facebook Family Profile

Facebook lets you identify yourself by two kinds of relationship by picking an item from each of two lists, one of which might loosely be termed “marital status” and the other of which might somewhat less loosely be termed “kinship tie.” The “marital status” list is a mixture of the traditional single, engaged, married, and widowed of which your great-grandmother would have approved, plus separated and divorced, which she would have recognized but with considerable discomfort, plus a handful of more recent possibilities that would have been quite unthinkable—open relationship? The horror! The horror! One wonders how many people actually identify themselves in their Facebook profiles as non-monogamous/polyamorous, especially when they could just as well punt and say “It’s complicated,” which could be a euphemism for all sorts of other possibilities that might appear in an expanded list such as the following:

Relationship status, revised

Relationship Status, Revised

The “kinship tie” list appears when you click “Add another family member” before you select the Facebook member whom you want to list as kin. (If you enter the name first, as in the example from Alex’s profile page, Facebook populates this list with gender-appropriate terms.) Note: The prospective family member doesn’t actually have to be related to you; he or she must simply be among your Facebook “friends.” God gave you your relatives but thank heaven you can pick your own friends? Call it hubris if you like, but Facebook lets you pick your relatives too (albeit only from among your Facebook “friends”): Don’t like your mom? Simply replace her with one or more of your Facebook friends or assign her a more appropriate relationship status from the list, say, “uncle:”

FB kinship terms

Facebook Kinship Terms

Note the rather creepy “Expected: Child” for which you can add the expected due date. (How you insert a photo—a sonogram?—is left as an exercise for the student):
FB Expected Child
 We can excuse the missing terms for half-siblings, the god-parents, the foster children, and the former relatives lost to divorce, such as my aunt’s former husband or my sister’s former second husband’s daughter. The numbered and removed can count as cousins (or nephews or nieces or uncles or aunts), no questions asked. The absence of “fiancé” and “fiancée” is a bit odd, however, given that “engaged” is one of the options on the “marital status” list. Perhaps, like “going steady,” “fiancé” and “fiancée” are considered too quaint, notwithstanding one informant’s gloss of “fiancé” as ‘my boyfriend who has no intention of marrying me but we live together.’ File under “In a relationship.”

So what about “Partner?” The only non gender-specific term besides “Expected: Child” on the list, “Partner” appears twice presumably because it belongs on both of the gender-specific lists, not because you might have multiple partners though, of course, you might. Otherwise, “Partner” by its presence calls attention to the absence of a term for the other member of the dyad (or polyad) in which your choice in the “marital status” list identifies you as the other (or another) participant. If “It’s complicated” can cover a multitude of what great-grandma would have called sins, surely there should be terms for one’s significant if formerly unspoken others from which to choose. We offer the following for starters:   

Facebook KInship Terms, Enhanced

Facebook KInship Terms, Enhanced