Serbs are the people who nurture family and relative relationships. For a long time, Serbs preserved a sense of importance of tribal or clan affiliation, as all the clan members celebrated the same family patron saint’s day. Even today, when searching for the lost family members, knowing who the common clan patron saint is can an important information, almost as important as the knowledge about the common ancestors. Serbian language has a rich vocabulary of family relationships, using words and expressions that cannot be translated into other languages, including the Slavonic ones, in only one word. One of the reasons for such a branching family terminology is that the Serbs were the only Slavic nation to keep the joint family household organisation well into the 20th century. As a result, a foreign word was adopted, family (otherwise used mostly for a nuclear family), meaning in Serbian an extended family and all the cousins and relatives one is in contact with; similar to the rural joint family household, but more extended.
Serbian language contains specific words and expressions for very particular family relationships, which other languages would describe only as relatives.
A first cousin, whether paternal or maternal, male or female would be in Serbian terms referred to as a brother or a sister – to give just a small example of how important and close to heart the family ties in Serbs are. For instance, some would emphasise “my own cousin” (the same way one would say ‘my own brother’) in order to distinguish one’s first cousin from a cousin twice removed, as he would also be regarded as a ‘brother’.
An authentic Serbian family – besides immediate relatives – distinguishes and nurtures: a paternal uncle (stric, čika, čiča), a father’s brother; a paternal uncle’s wife (strina), not a blood relative; a maternal uncle, a mother’s brother (ujak); a maternal uncle’s wife (ujna), not a blood relative; an aunt (tetka), both maternal or paternal; an aunt’s husband (teča), not a blood relative; a nephew (sinovac, bratanac), a niece (bratanica, bratičina), one’s brother’s son and daughter in relation to one’s brother or brothers; then again another words for a nephew and a niece, depending on the relationship: nećak and nećaka or nećakinja, sister’s son and daughter and how they relate to maternal uncles, mother’s brothers and to paternal uncles, father’s brothers; sestrić and setričina, sister’s son and daughter and how they relate to mother’s brothers or sisters; first cousins: brat od strica, stričević and sestra od strica, stričevina, relation between the children of two brothers; brat od tetke and sestra od tetke, one’s aunt’s son and daughter; brat or sestra od ujaka, one’s maternal uncle’s cousins.
And then, there is a list of a rather complex relationships with the in-laws and various generation relationships:
A wife’s father-in-law is svekar and a wife’s mother-in-law is svekrva; a husband’s father-in-law is tast or punac and a husband’s mother-in-law is tašta or punica. Zet is either a brother-in-law to the wife’s brothers and sisters, or a son-in-law to the wife’s parents. Snaja or snaha is either a sister-in-law to the husbands brothers and sisters, or a daughter-in-law to the husband’s parents, or even a granddaughter-in-law to the husband’s grandparents. Šurak is a husband’s brother-in-law (one’s wife’s brother) with šurnjaja as his wife (a sister-in-law). Svastika is a husband’s sister-in-law (one’s wife’s sister); pašenog, pašanac, svak or badža is a husband of one’s wife’s sister (or again, a brother-in-law). Svastić, svastičić and svastičina are one’s wife’s sister’s son and daughter (children of one’s sister-in-law). Deveris a wife’s brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, with jetrva as his wife (also a sister-in-law). Zaova is a husband’s sister, a wife’s sister-in-law. Prijatelj is a father to one’s daughter-in-law or son-in-law and prija is a mother to one’s daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
We’ll drink this cup in the host’s health. May God grant him and his sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, grandsons and granddaughters and all his posterity health and happiness, fertile fields and home, full granaries of wheat, thrashing floors of straw and hay, pens of sheep and cattle and cows and mares and oxen and bulls and fillies…
An old celebration toast of Kosovo