Friday, 6 August 2010

Addressing people correctly

Since coming to live in Turkey 12 years ago, one thing that has fascinated me is the way people address each other.   I was thinking about this yesterday, because of something an English friend (who like me is married to a Turk) said.   She objects to being called yenge rather than by her first name.   Yenge simply means "wife of.." so what she means is that she is just considered her husband's appendage and not an individual in her own right.

I never really considered it that way. In fact I don't object at all.  It makes me feel like I am accepted.  However, it got me thinking  a little more about terms of address.

The words for the immediate family are fairly straightforward. Anne (mother), baba (father), kız çocuk (daughter), erkek çocuk (son), ağabey (older brother), abla (older sister), erkek kardeş (brother) and kız kardeş (sister). But, when referring to relations beyond the immediate family it gets a little more complicated.

On the maternal side there is anneanne (grandmother), dede (grandfather), teyze (aunt) and dayı (uncle). Enişte (the maternal aunt’s husband), yenge (the uncle’s wife), yeğen (nephew or niece), and kuzen (cousin). Yeğen, kuzen and enişte are used for both maternal and paternal relatives.

Yenge, also, does not just apply to a maternal link. It is also used to indicate a woman married to the brother on both the maternal and paternal side, as well as a foreign woman who has married into a Turkish family. When used by someone outside of the family, the term yenge is used to recognize the fact that a foreign woman has married into the larger family of Turks in general. 

On the father’s side there is: babaanne (grandmother), büyükbaba (grandfather), hala (aunt) and amca (uncle).

In addition to these expressions, there are more complicated ones to be added to the mix. Elti means sister-in-law and refers to the relationship between two brother’s wives. Baldız is another term for sister-in-law, but is only for use in reference to the wife’s sister while banacak is the husband of the wife’s sister. The wife’s brother is kayınço, and the husband’s sister is görümce. Finally, the mother-in-law is kayınvalide or kaynana, and the father-in-law is kayınpeder or kaynata.

I hasten to add that I have never grasped all this. I had to research it again to be able to do this post. We have been fortunate in that we have never lived close to immediate family, so I haven't had the opportunity to get it wrong!

Children of close friends may refer to older people as teyze, amca, abla and abi.  I'm referred to as teyze by the children in the village, and Mr Ayak is referred to as amca.  This denotes a close personal tie and is a sign of respect, even though there are no family connections. So naturally I like this, because it shows that even after a relatively short time, we have been accepted by the village.

Even in business transactions titles are used alongside names. It is common to hear the word hanım following a woman’s first name, as in Mary Hanım. Bayan is also added sometimes to a woman’s first name, but usually before the name, as in Bayan Mary. For men it is easier, as you will usually only hear the word bey added to the man’s first name, for example, Mustafa Bey.

One explanation about the use in Turkey of titles to indicate relationships both inside and outside the family structure is that this practice is left over from times before the surname law was enacted. Prior to 1934, Turks did not have surnames and so titles were a way of establishing a person’s place within the family unit, as well as their place in society. While the custom continues and is a way to show respect to others, it is an often confusing minefield for foreigners!


  1. Hooray, your comments thingy is working again.

    You have written some really interesting stories about your life in Turkey and I couldn't comment on them for ages.

    Hope all is going well with Mr Ayak business.

  2. So in 1934 everyone just picked a name they fancied? That must have caused some arguments. Hime Outdoors is falling about laughing at all the people called Mustafa Surname!

  3. 'Mustafa Surname' is very funny!!!!

    I like this, I know it is complicated to learn, but it shows and clearly displays family ties and connections. It show cohesion. Something our society lacks. Cohension means you can stop other children misbehaving, you do care who is robbing becuase noone is an island. Yes I like the Turks more and more.

  4. Monalisa: Hi..welcome back and thanks for your nice comment.

    Rosie: It was Ataturk of course who introduced this, and what happened generally in families, is that either they took the name of the oldest member...the patriarch..and made it the surname. This happened with Mr Ayak's his great (x however many)-grandfather would then have been called Ayak Ayak.
    Other than that sometimes the name was taken from what the head of the family did for a living, ie...farmer = Çiftçi. It was really left for each family to decide.

  5. Kelloggsville: Yes that's entirely the way I see it and it is representative of how important the family unit is in this country.

    And incidentally I think Mustafa Surname is very funny too Rosie :-)
    Actually there are some names that often make me smile...There is a famous singer here called Mustafa Sandal...which appeals to my silly sense of humour.

    As does the name of the guy who used to deliver our gas bottles in Goreme...Fahti (pronounced farty) the Gasman (snigger)

  6. Thanks for the explanation of the terms. Isn't fun to do research on these topics and what a wonderful way to learn! (Of course, most of it went in one ear and out the other)
    I had a student by the potentially translated name of Oily Underwear. In all respects a nice young fellow.

    But cursed.

    A friend of mine tells me he encountered a person by the name of Yeter Yalama-
    which could be translated as "Enough, Stop Licking!"

    Speaking of names.. you see this?

  7. Nomad: There are some beautiful Turkish names around...well they are until you translate them into English, then they lose their appeal.

    I love "Oily Underwear" :-))

    Had a look at that link...what on earth are some parents thinking when they choose names for their offspring. In this case it's quite sick isn't it?

  8. Re: the article
    I only wish the courts had been more honest. After all, naming your kids after infamous Nazis would probably be considered a form of abuse alone and without the vague charges that were used in this case.

  9. Ayak, what a super explanation. Good old Ataturk, dragging a country into a modern world...and not doing it from the top down, but right across society.
    Pity to see his heritage being whittled away at by the current regime...using the demands of the ignoramuses of the European Union to change the Ataturk constitution.

  10. Fly: He was an amazing man wasn't he? Way ahead of his time. I know I've said it before but he would turn in his grave if he could see what's happening today.

  11. the word "yenge" also has a sub but very important meaning. as we already know, men tend to think with their you-know-what. if you call someone "yenge" it means that you respect the fact that you are another man's woman there is no sexual intention involved... at least, in theory :))

  12. Jedilost: Yes I've heard about that too. And of course it probably makes women feel a little safer?...also at least in theory! ;-)

  13. Omg how confusing lol, but good that by what u r called u have been accepted in the community xx

  14. Bomb: Very confusing and even though I've researched and written about it today...I still can't remember most of it!

  15. I am often called 'bhabhi' which means 'brother's wife' by the friends and cousins of my husband. I am called 'aunty' by lots of children and even by some adults. If you go over to my FB page you might see me being called 'chachi' (Hindi for 'aunty' by some nieces and nephews).

    I should do an Indian version of this post. My rakhi brother Ramana could do an even more different one, because he is from south Indian background where the language is different to Hindi.

  16. gaelikaa: Oh please do..the Indian equivalents would be very interesting. It's a fascinating subject isn't it?

  17. I'll do it soon, Ayak! I love to get inspiration from my posts from reading other blogs....


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