Philippine kinship

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Philippine kinship uses the generational system in kinship terminology to define family. It is one of the more simple classificatory systems of kinship (especially if compared to the complex English-language kinship system, e.g., cousin). One's genetic relationship or bloodline is often overridden by the desire to show proper respect that is due in the Philippine culture to age and the nature of the relationship, which are considered more important.


In it, the literal differences are distinguished by generation, age, and in some cases by gender. However, non-Filipinos can be confused by apparently similar relationships being handled verbally differently by the same person, which generally occurs because of the circumstantial relationship or because some authority is represented by the addressee. Other factors that affect how a person is addressed are whether the two are familiar with each other, new to each other's acquaintance, or perhaps involved in a secondary relationship that imparts authority, such as one person being the supervisor of another at work.

Tito is commonly known as 'warrior' in the early 1800s and would be given to sons of soldiers that would enter battle and is a symbolization of death in historical mythology in foreign entities. Simply put, "Kuya" is used to address an older male relative or friend (especially one's own brother), and means "brother". "Ate", is in reference to an older female relative or respected friend (especially one's own sister or kapatid), and means "Sister".

As an example, a teenage girl would call her older brother "kuya". She would also tend to call her older male cousin "kuya". That he is an older, blood-related male is more important than that a brother is not genetically related to the same degree that a cousin is. The term kuya is actually likely to be applied to any older male who is within her generation and should be treated with respect, perhaps even the very close friends of her brother. Thus, the terms used are often intended to show the degree of the relationship and the type of relationship, rather than literal biological relationship.

This can be seen in social settings like Facebook, where Filipino teenagers include contemporaries in the "brothers" and "sisters" categories (the equivalent of a "best friend" in U.S. culture).

Influences on language

Scholars generally disagree on the genetic origin of the "original" Filipino people, if there is any one dominant progenitor. For centuries there have been migrations from Asia, the Middle East, all the nearby island countries, and Europe (primarily the Spanish) who have all given something genetically and etymologically to the Philippines. Over 170 languages are recognized but do not have official status; Tagalog and English are the official languages of the Philippines, [1] and basic English is more effective for communicating with far-flung peoples in the Philippines than any one dialect, including Tagalog. English's prominence is a reflection of the Philippines' close relationship with the United States, especially since World War II, and a testament to the broad reach of television, which broadcasts in a mix of Tagalog and English.

Tagalog is an Austronesian language that has borrowed heavily from the Philippines' geographical neighbors (Malayo-Polynesian languages, Chinese) as well as from Spanish, a legacy of Spain's prolonged colonization. For example, Tagalog has incorporated words like the greeting "Kumusta", from the Spanish "Cómo está". Familial greetings tend to be borrowed from Chinese.

Terms based on biological relationships

Ego's generation

English Tagalog Bikol Cebuano Waray Hiligaynon Ilocano Kapampangan Tausug Ibanag
Iakoakóakoakoakosiák, akakuakusakan
Brotherkapatid na lalaki
lalaking kapatid
manoymanoutod nga lalakimánongaputul
kapatad a lalaki
langgung usogwagi nga lalaki
Sisterkapatid na babae
babaing kapatid
manaymanautod nga babayimánangkaputul
kapatad a babai
langgung babaiwagi nga babay
Cousinpinsan (primo/prima)pínsaníg-agaw, agawpatúdpakaisakasinsínpisanpangtangudkapitta
Male cousinpinsan na lalaki
pinsang lalaki
pisan a lalaki
Female cousinpinsan na babae
pinsang babae
pisan a babai

1 General term for older sibling.
2 General term for younger sibling.

As a child, one would refer to one's parents as "Ama" or "Tatay" ("Father", in formal and informal Filipino, respectively) and "Ina" or "Nanay" (Mother, in formal and informal Filipino, respectively). One's parents' siblings and their cousins would be called "mga Tiyo" ("uncles"), or "Tiyo" ("uncle") or "mga Tiya" ("aunts") or "Tiya" ("aunt"). One would call one's godparents "Ninong" and "Ninang", meaning godfather and godmother, respectively.

Family friends one generation above, like parent's friends, are called "Tito" (for males) and "Tita" (for females), although they should not be confused with Tiyo and Tiya which are for blood relatives. However, "Tito" and "Tita" are also sometimes used to reference blood relatives as well. Filipinos are very clannish and are known for recognizing relatives up to the 10th or even the 20th degree.

A person's siblings ("mga kapatid") would be one's brothers or sisters. The terms "Kuya" and "Ate" are used to address an older brother and sister respectively as a sign of respect. Any children of their Tiyo (Uncle) or Tiya (Aunt) would be called "mga pinsan" (cousins) so one can either address them as "pinsan" or use the more commonly used "Kuya [cousin's first name]" or "Ate [cousin's first name]" if they are older, or simply address them with their first name or nickname. Their godparent's children are called kinakapatid, which literally means someone made into a sibling. The term "Kuya" is used in Filipino for older brother and "Ate" is used in Filipino for older sister, and those terms are what one also usually use to refer to or respect other people (including cousins and other strangers) who are in the same generation but a little older, or one could use the older term Manong ("big brother") and Manang ("big sister") for the much older people that one does not know up to two generations ahead, unless they are too old and then they should be called Lolo and Lola.

The children of one's "mga kapatid" (siblings) and "mga pinsan" (cousins) would be called "mga pamangkin" (nephews/nieces).

If a person is a "Amang" or "Lolo" ("Grandfather", in formal and informal Filipino, respectively) or "Inang" or "Lola" ( "Grandmother", in formal and informal Filipino, respectively), those called "mga apo" ("grandchildren") would be the offspring, not only of their children ("mga anak") but also the offspring of their children's cousins ("mga pinsan"). Not unless a person have a different title (like "Attorney"/"Atty.", "Dr.", "Mayor", etc.) that one are known for, one may also be addressed as "Lolo" or "Lola" by complete strangers or neighbors just by virtue of their age (usually when they are above 60 years old or already considered a senior citizen), as a form of respect.


The following tree represents the Philippine kinship system, focusing on SECOND UNCLE and YOU.

Members of the family

RelationEnglish equivalent
amá, tatay, tatanginá, nanay, inangfathermother
biyenáng lalakibiyenáng babaefather-in-lawmother-in-law
esposo, banaesposa, maybahayhusbandwife
anák na lalaki, ihoanák na babae, ihasondaughter
manugang na lalakimanugang na babaeson-in-lawdaughter-in-law
Balaechild In-law's parents
BilásSpouse of one's sibling in-law
apong lalakiapong babaegrandsongranddaughter
kuya, manong (Ilokano)ate, manang (Ilokano)elder brotherelder Sister
dikoditsesecond older brothersecond older sister
sangkosansethird older brotherthird older sister
sikositsefourth older brotherfourth older sister
Pate, Ading(Ilocano)Younger sibling
totònenèyounger brotheryounger sister
BunsoYoungest sibling, Baby
siyahoinsoelder sister's husbandelder brother's wife
tiyo, tiyong, tsong, titotiya, tiyang, tsang, titauncleaunt
pamangkíng lalakipamangkíng babaenephewniece
kinakapatid na lalakikinakapatid na babaegodbrothergodsister

Non-literal usage of familiar terms

"Kuya" and "Ate" are also titles used to address older male and female cousins (regardless if they are the eldest or not, but older than cousin addressing them) as a sign of respect. It may also be used for people who aren't necessarily relatives but are older. The criteria would be gender (first), age (second), degree of affiliation (third), with actual blood or non-blood relationship being the least important.

"Tiyo" and "Tiya", used literally for uncle and aunt, are often confused with "Tito" and "Tita" which are used in reference to your parents' close friends. Again, the degree of affiliation in the relationship overrides the literal meaning.

This hierarchy of conditions would be consistently applied to other familial terms that are used for relationship of further distance, such as "Ninang" and "Ninong", which are often applied to people who have no actual blood relationship but have earned a showing of respect which also defines their age, gender, and station in life.

Filipinos would generally greet each other using their title like: "Kumusta Ate Jhen", or "Kumusta Kuya Jay"; because doing otherwise is considered rude and disrespectful.


  1. "Article XIV: Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports". The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. 15 October 1986. Retrieved 25 February 2013. ("Section 7. For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.")


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