Philippine kinship

Philippine kinship uses the generational system (see Kinship terminology) to define family. It is one of the more simple classificatory systems of kinship (especially if compared to the complex American kinship system, i.e., 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.

As an example, a teenage girl would call her older brother "kuya". She would also tend to call her older male cousin "kuya". The fact that he is an older, blood-related male is more important than the fact 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
I ako akó ako ako ako siák, ak aku aku sakan
Sibling kapatid túgang1 ígsuón bugtó utod kabsát1
kapatad langgud
Brother kapatid na lalaki
lalaking kapatid
manoy mano utod nga lalaki mánong aputul
kapatad a lalaki
langgung usog wagi nga lalaki
Sister kapatid na babae
babaing kapatid
manay mana utod nga babayi mánang kaputul
kapatad a babai
langgung babai wagi nga babay
Cousin pinsan (primo/prima) pínsan íg-agaw, agaw patúd pakaisa kasinsín pisan pangtangud kapitta
Male cousin pinsan na lalaki
pinsang lalaki
pisan a lalaki
Female cousin pinsan na babae
pinsang babae
pisan a babai

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

As a child you would refer to your parents as "Ama" (Filipino formal for Father) or "Tatay" (Filipino informal for Father) and "Ina" (Filipino formal for Mother) or "Nanay" (Filipino informal for Mother). Your parents' siblings and their cousins would be your "mga Tito" (Filipino for Uncles) or "Tito" (singular Uncle) or "mga Tita" (Filipino for Aunts) or "Tita" (singular Aunt). You would call your godparents your "Ninong" (Filipino for Godfather) and "Ninang" (Filipino for Godmother).

Family friends one generation above you, like your parent's friends, are called "Tito" (for males) and "Tita" (for females), although they should not be confused with Tito and Tita which are for blood relatives (which may also be family friends) no matter how far removed they are. Filipinos are very clannish and are known for recognizing relatives up to the 10th or even the 20th degree.

Your "mga kapatid" (Filipino for siblings) would be your 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 your Tiyo (Uncle) or Tiya (Aunt) would be your "mga pinsan" (cousins) so you can either address them as "pinsan" or use the more commonly used "Kuya _____" (fill in the cousin's first name) or "Ate _____" (fill in the cousin's first name) if they are older than you, or simply address them with their first name or nickname. Your godparent's children are your 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 you also usually use to refer to or respect other people (including cousins and other strangers) who are in the same generation as you are but a little older, or you could use the older term Manong (big brother) and Manang (big sister) for the much older people that you don't know up to two generations ahead of you, unless they are too old and then they should be called Lolo and Lola. Manang and Manong is also commonly used to maids, vendors, drivers, guards, and most of the service people.

The children of your "mga kapatid" (siblings) and "mga pinsan" (cousins) would be your "mga pamangkin" (nephews/nieces).

If you are a "Amang/Lolo" (Filipino for Grandfather) or "Inang/Lola" (Filipino for Grandmother), your "mga apo" (Filipino for grandchildren) would be the offsprings not only of your "mga anak" (Filipino for children) but also the offspring of your children's "mga pinsan" (Filipino for cousins). Not unless you have a different title (like "Atty.", "Dr.", "Mayor", etc.) that you are known for, you may also be addressed as "Lolo" or "Lola" by complete strangers or neighbors just by virtue of your age (usually when you 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.

Member Family

Relation English equivalent
Lalaki Babae Male Female
Ninuno Grandparent
Lolo Lola Grandfather Grandmother
Magulang Parent
Ama, Tatay Ina, Nanay Father Mother
Biyenan Parents-in-law
Biyenang Lalaki Biyenang Babae Father-in-law Mother-in-law
Asawa Spouse
Esposo, Bana Esposa, Maybahay Husband Wife
Biyudo Biyuda Widower Widow
Anak Child
Anak na Lalaki, Iho Anak na Babae, Iha Son Daughter
Manugang Children-in-law
Manugang na Lalaki Manugang na Babae Son-in-law Daughter-in-law
Apo Grandchild
Apong Lalaki Apong Babae Grandson Granddaughter
Kapatid Sibling
Kuya Ate Elder Brother Elder Sister
Toto, Bunsong Lalaki Nene, Bunsong Babae Youngest Brother Youngest Sister
Bayaw Hipag Brother-in-law Sister-in-law
Pinsan Cousin
Tiyo, Tito Tiya, Tita Uncle Aunt
Pamangkin Sibling
Pamangking Lalaki Pamangking Babae Nephew Niece

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.")

Some people also use Kuya as a name, like the case of Spanish Filipino actor and singer Kuya Manzano.


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