Gray Matter


Kinship Terms in the Philippines - Mostly in Tagalog

RT Cunningham | July 22, 2020 (UTC) | Culture

kinship termsMost of the Tagalog language is gender-neutral. I don’t know about the other dozens of languages in the Philippines because I’m not familiar with them. If you want to specify a gender in Tagalog, you usually follow the word or term with lalaki (male) or babae (female). The kinship terms are confusing, even in your native tongue.

I’ll try to explain as I go along. I get confused and I’ve been around Filipino relatives for more years than I care to remember.

Terms for Immediate Relatives

The word that means husband or wife is asawa and its meaning is closer to spouse. Sometimes. I’ve heard it used for the partner when living together as often as being married. Maybahay or a number of other Tagalog words would be more suitable.

The word for child is anak. The word for sibling is kapatid. The word for father is ama and the word for mother is ina. Surprisingly, the word for godchild is inaanak, which combines the words for mother and child.

Grandparents and Great Grandparents

This is where the Spanish tradition takes over. A grandmother is a lola and a grandfather is a lolo. The Tagalog terms include the great uncles and the great aunts from British and American English. Likewise, the Tagalog terms for great grandparents, lolo sa tuhod and lola sa tuhod, includes their brothers and sisters.

The reverse of the relationship is also the same, but gender-neutral. Apo means grandchild and apo sa tuhod means great-grandchild. You have to add na lalaki for great-grandson and na babae for great-granddaughter. Grandson is apong lalaki and granddaughter is apong babae.

Aunts and Uncles

The word for aunt is tita or tiya. The word for uncle is tito or tiyo. The parents of friends can also be called the same thing. An example is my younger son’s former girlfriend. Out of respect, she called me tito and my wife, tita. There isn’t any other word to describe the parents of your intended spouse.

I disagree with the Wikipedia article on Philippine kinship because it depends on where you live in the Philippines. No one who’s grown up in Olongapo uses tiyo or tiya, which is used more in Manila.


A first cousin is called a pinsan while a second cousin is called a pinsan pangalawa. Things get a bit murky when you go beyond to third cousin and on. Any kind of cousin, once removed, is called the same thing as a niece or nephew, pamangking. Which reminds me…

There are three words that are so close to being pronounced the same, most Tagalog speakers only use one of them. I’ll list them all:

This example is one of the reasons many Tagalog speakers prefer to use some English words in place of Tagalog, which has created an alternate language in wide usage called “Taglish”.

Other Relatives and Relationships

When a child is christened in the Catholic tradition, the parents pick godparents. From then on the child refers to those godparents as ninong (male) and ninang (female), unless they’re already relatives in another way. An uncle who’s also a ninong might be called ninong tito. When one member of a couple is made either a ninong or a ninang, the other member is automatically given the same status, even if it isn’t in writing.

Witnesses at a Catholic wedding are sometimes called ninongs and ninangs, but this isn’t correct. When there are multiple sets of godparents for the same godchild, the men are related to each other as compares and the women, comares.

Here are some more relationships:

I’m sure I’ve left out a lot of relatives, but I can’t write what I don’t know.

The official language of the Philippines is Pilipino, which is based on Tagalog. I haven’t met a single person in the Philippines who speaks it. People moving from one province to another may carry some of their [other] language with them. Many people who speak Tagalog also incorporate Visayan words (Cebuano and Waray).

If Tagalog sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Like American English, there’s usually a few ways to say something, with none of them being explicitly wrong. The words I’ve used for relatives are those that I’m familiar with, having lived with a Filipina (my wife) and having lived in Olongapo for many years (though I’m not there now).

Photo Attribution: TheDigitalWay from Pixabay
Edited and updated. Originally published at one of my other websites in July 2014.

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