When Turkish people speak to children, they often address them with the kinship term that the child is supposed to use for the speaker. For example a mother may call her child "anneciğim" ("my dear mother").

I've been told that something similar exists in Arabic, Italian, Greek, and Russian, at least for the word "mother" (in Turkish it works with many kinship terms). But, to my knowledge, it doesn't exist in English or French for example.

Is there a name for this phenomenon? How common is it? Is it confined to a geographical region? In short, how can I find more information about it?

  • 2
    @NickNicholas In Turkish, it works at least with mother (anne, ana), father (baba), older sister (abla), older brother (ağabey), grandmother (nine), grandfather (dede), and maternal and paternal aunt (teyze/hala) and uncle (dayı/amca). Almost always with a diminutive suffix (for endearment) and a 1st p.s. possessive, which become "-cİğİm" when combined.
    – cyco130
    Jul 28, 2018 at 8:52
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    Welp, then it's quite different. I wouldn't be surprised if Greek borrowed the usage of anneciğim (the diminutive is optional, the possessive isn't); but the other relative terms do not occur there. Jul 28, 2018 at 9:21
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer No. "I am your mother" would require a 2nd p.s. possessive before the copula. And also, the 1st p.s. copula is -(y)İm while 1st p.s. possessive is -(İ)m. With "anne", "anneyim" is "I'm (a) mother" and "annem" is "my mother". Even though they have the same form after the diminutive -cik, the possessive is stressed (babacıĞIM, my dear father) while the copula is not (babaCIğım, I'm a little father). There's no possibility confusion.
    – cyco130
    Jul 28, 2018 at 10:00
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    Thanks. Re geographical boundaries, I don't think I've heard this in South Slavic, East Slavic, Eastern Armenian or Persian. Jul 28, 2018 at 10:07
  • 4
    Something similar exists in Arabic, Italian, Greek, and Russian. - Same for Romanian.
    – Lucian
    Aug 10, 2018 at 5:37

3 Answers 3


Is there a name for this phenomenon?

There are several in fact, but there doesn't seem to be a single unified term, which is quite a problem because it makes looking it up a real pain in the neck.

Amazingly of languages that have this feature I have yet to see one have a specific native name for it. I myself as a Turkish speaker describe this to people around me as "when your mother calls you 'my mother'", but that's about it. The very demand to name it seems to have arisen from those who study it, who often don't seem to have such a common occurrence of the concept in their own languages.

Anthropologists (especially Americans) often call it self-reciprocal kinship, although that term can be extended to given names and honorifics depending on the author's perspective.

[...] What may be termed conceptual reciprocity is an exact accord in range of inverted meaning of the terms for two relationships. [...] The generic terms talakyi and ulani are each self-reciprocal; but they are hardly terms of relationship in the strict sense.

(Kroeber, A. L. (1919). Zuñi Kin and Clan. Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume XVIII, pp. 79-80)

Psychologists don't seem to have a specific name for the term, but I have encountered (at least the quotations of) a few who describe this action as "a method to teach children how to address their older relatives by anticipating them to repeat".

And finally linguists seem to use a number of different words depending on the focus of their study.

For example:

  • Affectionate kin terms

Affectionate kin vocatives are social honorifics that are employed to en- hance intimacy among relatives and acquaintances. Jordanian Arabic features several of these, e.g., yammah 'mother', yābah 'father' [...] these affectionate kin terms are used in two distinct ways. First, parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts may use their own designated absolute honorifics in addressing their respective descendants, thus reversing the denotational signification for the purpose of showing affection. For instance, Jordanian mothers usually address their sons and daughters as yammah 'mother' instead of yabni 'my son' or yabinti 'my daughter' for various purposes in interaction (e.g., summons, requests, questions, etc.), as in the utterances in (9) below.

(9a) 'a tf-ni may yammah

(mother-child) give-me water mother

'Give me water, son/daughter!'

(Farghal, M. & Shakir A. (1994), Kin Terms and Titles of Address as Relational Social Honorifics in Jordanian Arabic. Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 246-247)

  • Reverse Adressing

Reverse addressing is the possibility of addressing a recipient with the addressor‟s kinship term and try has been made to investigate almost all its aspects based on harvested and self-reported data. Since this feature is not a universal feature of all the natural languages, representative examples are used with the English equivalents to provide all the readers with an in-depth understanding of this phenomenon.

(Tavakol M., Allami H. (2013). Reverse Addressing in Modern Persian. International Journal of Society, Culture & Language, Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 37)

How common is it?

That's a bit tricky. Depending on the language, country or region this phenomenon can have several connotations. While a primary way to address relatives regardless of age in some cultures, in others it's exclusively used for children and in yet others as a form of belittling. As a result, this itself is a sociological question in its own right.

Next to consider are the many variants which can even differ for speakers of the same dialect of a language:

  • As briefly alluded to above, the "relatives" this can be applied to don't only depend on which relatives have a word designated for them. (ex. A Bulgarian uncle might not call their niece an вуйчо (vuycho) ~uncle, but their grandfather might call his granddaughter дядо (dyado) ~grandfather )
  • Sometimes the gender of the addressee can be the reference rather than the addressor (ex. a Mexican mother might call her son papá instead of mamá)
  • "Vertical" or "Horizontal" generational extensions are possible. (ex. A Vietnamese mother calling her daughter is calling her an aunt, rather than mother)

Is it confined to a geographical region?

Now you're talking! This is actually a pretty interesting question that I don't think has been covered in-depth before, so I've spent the past few months surveying people across the internet to make this map:

The darker the green the more common, used yellow if I was uncertain with my data from a certain country, last updated: July 23rd See https://www.reddit.com/r/LinguisticMaps/comments/chsnub/wip_update_july_25th_geographic_distribution_of/

In a nutshell: It's common throughout Latin America, A good chunk of Africa, The Balkans, The Middle East; more region specific for Italy and South Asia; and appearing in pockets throughout Western Europe, Central Asia, The US and Oceania.

See the above link (or click here if it's invisible for some reason) for a more in-depth analysis.

In short, how can I find more information about it?


  • if any of the above citations were an indicator, anthropologists might be of more help to you

  • I myself personally recommend The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies by German Valentinovich Dziebel. It's a pretty good source covering many disciplines but best of all it proved to be a very good starting point for my own research on the subject.

  • Any and all of the above citations, and references found therein. You might need to be a bit archive-savvy to find those American Anthropology Journal articles but the later ones should be a bit more accessible.

  • If you are particularly interested in my map, you could try making an acquaintance from a particular country and asking them first hand about it, amazingly this is a lot more effective in distinguishing nuances between how different cultures implement their kinship reversals.

I hope that somewhat clarifies things for you. Feel free to comment for any further clarification.

  • 3
    Just brilliant :)
    – cyco130
    Jul 27, 2019 at 7:14
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    As a Brazilian (from São Paulo) who's lived there for most of his life, I am very surprised to see the Brazil labeled green at all here, let alone dark green. Do you have any source on this?
    – Orion
    Oct 2, 2019 at 22:38
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    @madprogramer Is this the reddit thread? Strange, I had never heard of it. I wonder if you could survey /r/Brasil with this question
    – Orion
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:38
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    @orion i was thinking the same, i'm latin. and then realize we use "mamita" and "papito" to refer to children sometimes. it is something like "little dad" or "little mom" textually, but is interpreted as "dear dad" and "dear mom"
    – SDReyes
    Dec 14, 2021 at 13:20
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    @madprogramer yeah, no issues. my case is from colombian spanish
    – SDReyes
    Dec 15, 2021 at 21:30

I wondered about this and answered my own question on the German StackExchange. The phenomenon exists in German dialects, but not Standard German (with the possible exception of Pate; see below). I found one article by Germanist Wilhelm Schoof, "Die deutschen Verwandtschaftsnamen" (Zeitschrift für hochdeutsche Mundarten, 1900, Link), where he coins the term Rückgabe der Anrede ("giving back the address"). As far as I can tell, this term has not caught on. Since the article is in German, it might not be useful to you, but I have still included some page references.

  • Pate "godfather" can refer to the godchild. This meaning is still listed in modern dictionaries. (WDG)

  • Swiss German Äni "grandfather" can refer to the grandchild (p. 263 f.). (Idiotikon)

Cases where the child reverses a term:

  • In Middle Rhenish dialects, Nichte "niece" can refer to the aunt (p. 267). (DWB has nyecht "Mutterschwester", i.e. aunt)

  • Middle High German Neffe "nephew" can refer to the uncle (p. 260). (DWB)

  • 4
    Very interesting! To add to this, Enkel is originally a diminitutive of Ahn (well, Old High German ano, 'grandfather'). One hypothesis is that this has to do with an old belief that the soul of the grandfather lives on in his grandson (and the soul of the grandmother in her granddaughter), while another states this "Anredetausch" is not unusual: e.g., nephews have been called uncles by their uncles (the other way round is also documented, as you've mentioned). It's not common in present-day German anymore, but there are still traces of it, especially in various dialects.
    – Cyreth
    May 23, 2019 at 6:47

"to my knowledge, it doesn't exist in English or French for example"

Actually, my father, born in a Francoprovençal village, often called me "mon petit père" or "mon gros père" (I used to be a chubby baby) until I was 5 or 6, and he was not alone in doing so with his sons.

My father-in-law, a Picard farmer with a lot of dialectal phrases in his French, always called his grandsons "mon tcho père" (tcho = petiot), and so do his sons today with both their sons and nephews (and maybe other kids).

Note that neither me nor any other French people I know ever called their father "mon gros père," however chubby.

Children may call their father "mon petit papa" (typically with an overtender tone, to introduce a sensitive request), though not "mon petit père", while French fathers will not call them "mon petit papa".

Note also that "mon petit père" may have a derogatory use between male adults, like a euphemistic version of "dirtball" or "scumbag" (Dis donc, mon petit père, tu croyais me rouler?).

Nothing for mothers, brothers or any other kinship term, to the best of my experience.


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