Bengali Relations : Traditional way of referring to our family members and relatives

The Indian word for relative is ATTYO (as pronounced in Bengali) - the word is derived from ATTA (in Sanskrit - ATMA) or soul. ATTYO is the one with whom one has a bondage of ATTA. In India, we are very specific in describing these familial relations of our ATTYOs. It is not of our customs to refer to our relations, particularly elders, by name. We have an intricate way of referring to different people in our families which shows both respect and affection. These references vary from language to language. Also, within the same language there are differences. For example, a Bengali of muslim faith will refer to his uncle as chacha and of Hindu faith as kaku. Here is a brief description of how in Bengali traditional Hindu families we refer to each other.

Almost all relations are explicitly described using specific word that clearly identifies the person's relation in the context - whether male or female, whether a paternal or maternal relation, whether older or younger in age or whether a niece or nephew of a specific relative and so on. E.g., example, vasur is the husband's elder brother whereas nandai is husband's younger sister's husband. For the children, usually the words po and jhi for boy and girl respectively are suffixed to the relation. E.g., sister's son is bone-po, brother's daughter is bhai-jhi or brother-in-law's son is vasur-po etc.

Generally, most references for elders are further suffixed by other polite words. For example, for all female relations of earlier generations are suffixed with the word ma following their relational reference, e.g. father's elder brother's wife, Jethi becomes Jethima. Similarly, father-in-law, sosur, becomes sosurmawsai or father's sister's husband becomes pishemawsai.

Elder brothers and sisters are also not called by names. Usually, they are dada and didi respectively. However, again there are several sweet variations like didibhai (sister-brother) or dadabhai (elder brother-younger brother) or dadamoni (jewel brother) etc. If one has more than one brother or sister they can be ranked by age and called mejda (second bro), sejdi (third sis), chorda (last brother) or variations like bhaidada, bhaididi etc. Cousin brothers or sisters are called by annexing da or di to their names. Again, phuldi (floral sis), rangada (fair bro) are affectionate way of calling elder cousins or even own elder siblings. If a relation comes back to settle in the town, he may be called notun-da (the new brother) or the one who has joined the army, palton-da.

Similarly, there may be several aunts and uncles. Among traditional Bengali family it is rude to even refer to an aunt by name, even if it is suffixed by the word aunt. It is customary that in case there are many aunts (or uncles) they are given some reference names e.g. bhaloma (nice mother) or sonama (golden ma). For the earlier generations again the same custom prevails rangadidu (fair grandma). It is not rare to name people by their place of residence like america dadu (the grandfather in America) or chetla-ma (the aunt from Chetla).

As we have very close family ties it is not uncommon to have close interactions with second or third linages. However, the relations are very easily identifiable by reference. For example a pishtuto bhai is the father's sisters cousin or mas-sasuri is the mother-in-law's sister or one can easily refer to his say, father's maternal uncle by mamadadu.

Appellation of family members for Bengali Hindu families of West Bengal Origin

The following tables list all primary relations that come to my mind in day-to-day language.

Father's (baba) Family

Mother's (ma) Family

father : thakurda,dadu


father : dadu


mother : thakuma


mother : didima


brother (+) : jethu

wife: jethi

brother : mama

wife: mami

brother (-) : kaku

wife: kaki



sister: pishi

hus: pishe

sister : mashi

hus: meso


Husband's (bawr) Family

Wife's (bou) Family

father : shoshur


father : shoshur


mother : shashuri


mother : shasuri


brother (+) : vashur

wife: vashur-ja

brother : shala

wife: shalabou

brother (-) : daor

wife: ja



sister: nawnod

hus: nawndai

sister : shali

hus: bhaerabhai


Brother's (+ dada / - bhai) Family

Sister's (+ didi / - bone) Family

son : bhai-po


to her brother, her son: vagnay

to her sis, her son: bone-po

daughter : bhai-jhi


to her brother, her d'ter : vagni

to her sis, her d'ter: bone-jhi


wife: boudi


hus: jamaibabu


wife: bhaj


hus: bonai


Parents and Children Relations

son : chele

daughter: may

son-in-law : jamai

d.i.l.: bouma

grandson : nati

g. daughter: natni

g. s.i.l : natjamai

g. d.i.l : natbou

in-law of one's child : sambawndhi


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