A word for it: teknonymy

On the Linguistic Typology mailing list recently, David Gil (Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany) relayed a query from a friend:

Teknonymy is the phenomenon in which a parent is referred to by the name of his or her children.  For example, my father was addressed and referred to by his Arabic-speaking friends as “Abu Daud”, or ‘father of David’. Teknonymy is attested in many different cultures around the world.

In at least some Arab societies, teknonymy interacts with gender in the following way. Whereas men, once assigned a teknonym, may still be addressed or referred to by their original name, women who are assigned a teknonym [like Umm Malik ‘mother of Malik’] may no longer be addressed or referred to by their original name — their original name is simply lost.

My question: Is anybody familiar with similar cases of gender asymmetry in teknonyms in other languages/societies?

I was familiar with the phenomenon, but didn’t have a name for it. Now I have several.

From Wikipedia:

Teknonymy (from Greek: τέκνον, “child” and Greek: ὄνομα, “name”), more often known as [paedonymy], is the practice of referring to parents by the names of their children. [Such a name itself is a teknonym, teknonymic, paedonym, or paedonymic.] This practice can be found in many different cultures around the world. The term was coined by anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in an 1889 paper.

Teknonymy can be found in (among other places listed in Wikipedia): various Austronesian peoples; the Arab world; Amazonia; the Zuni language; and the Yoruba language of Western Africa.

From the technical literature, the first page of an article from An Anthropology of Names and Naming (ed. by Gabriele vom Bruck & Barbara Bodenhorn, in print 2006):


The author is the British anthropologist Maurice Bloch (who’s spent most of his career at the London School of Economics). From Wikipedia:

Bloch’s field research has been mainly carried out in two different areas of Madagascar. One field site has been among the peasants of central Imerina; and the other in a remote forest inhabited by a group of people called Zafimaniry. His writing deals with religion, kinship, economics, politics and language. His research has been much influenced by French Marxist ideas.

He has been an innovator in relating social anthropology to linguistics and cognitive psychology. Much of his theoretical work since the 1970s has concerned the interface between cognition and social and cultural life. What he has written on this subject faces two ways: on the one hand, he criticises anthropologists for exaggerating the particularity of specific cultures; on the other hand, he criticises cognitive scientists for underestimating it.

On the Zafimaniry, from Wikipedia:

The Zafimaniry are a sub-group of the Betsileo ethnic group of Madagascar. … The Zafimaniry speak a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group [a subgroup of the Austronesian languages].

(#2)The world of the Austronesian peoples and languages: from Taiwan and Hawaii on the north, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) on the east, New Zealand on the south, to Madagascar on the west

2 Responses to “A word for it: teknonymy”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    It reminds me of a very old joke. A husband leaves the house every morning to go to work by kissing his wife and saying, “Goodbye, mother of three!” After a while his wife got tired of this, so after he bade her farewell she replied, “Goodbye, father of one!”

  2. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky explores the word “teknonymy”, “the practice of referring to parents by the names of their […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: