Hello fellow Open Anthropologists,

This a trial launch of a project to reclaim terminology from the depths of jargon.

Why? I often use this site:  http://dictionary.reference.com/ and I really enjoy one of their features, "word of the day". The day's word is on the homepage, or you can have it sent to you (don't, because it's a daily e-mail). I wonder if we could have something similar here on the OAC? A lot of anthropological terms may be seen as jargon, but arguably sometimes they can help writing to be more precise and accurate. Using  academic terminology can be the most eloquent way to write.

I suggest using this thread to post terms with a definition, example of usage and ideally a reference or two where possible. I would be able to update this perhaps once a week, but I hope anyone will feel free to add, comment or post a term. It doesn't to be one you like and one term may trigger another in someone's mind. We can also take requests for enlightenment!

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Teknonymy (noun)

A kinship term, which refers to the practice of naming a parent after the child(ren)

According to Rajah, (on Karen kinship):

"When a child is born, however, spouses then refer to each other in one of two ways. The first is by referring to each other as “male child’s mother” (phokhwa mo), “male child’s father” (phokhwa pa) or “female child’s mother” (phomy mo), “female child’s father” (phomy pa), according to the sex of the child. This form of teknonymy also constitutes the form of address used by spouses and, thus, supersedes those used prior to the birth of a child, that is ma and wa. Alternatively, spouses may refer to each other teknonymously through the use of the name of the child. The basis of teknonymous reference (which is also used by others with respect to the two spouses) in this form is always the name of the eldest surviving child. If there is only one child, and the child dies,then the referential and addressive system employed by spouses reverts back to that used before the child was born. Where others are concerned, the spouses would then be addressed and referred to by their proper names." (Rajah, 2008: 62)

According to Lowie, (1917) the term was first coined by Edward Tylor (ibid: 265), but he declines to mention where (any ideas?). Has anyone used teknonymy in their own work?

Lowie, R, (1917) Edward B. Tylor. American Anthropologist N.S 19(2) pp 262-268.

Rajah, A (2008) Remaining Karen: A study of cultural reproduction and the maintenance of identity. Australian National University: E-Press.

Here's one.

en·sor·cell or en·sor·cel   (n-sôrsl)
tr.v. en·sor·celled or en·sor·celeden·sor·cel·ling or en·sor·cel·ingen·sor·cells or en·sor·cels
To enchant; bewitch.

[French ensorceler, from Old French ensorcerer, ensorceler : en-intensive pref.; see en-1 + sorciersorcerer; seesorcerer.]

en·sorcell·ment n.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


en•sor•cell or en•sor•cel (ɛnˈsɔr səl) 

v.t. -celled or -celed, -cell•ing or -cel•ing.

to bewitch.
[1535–45; < Middle French ensorceler to bewitch. See en-1sorcerer]
en•sor′cell•ment, n.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
This was a word I learned from Victor Turner, who in the context of African ethnography saw it as meaning the act of a sorcerer, who ensorcels, as opposed to a witch, who bewitches. The former is manipulative magic, the later the effect of innate power. 
Does anyone know of parallel distinctions outside of Africa?

Hi John, nice post, and a great word, certainly a new one on me. This seems to me to have gendered connotations? No particular reason just that the ideas of agency and nature seem to be there and are often assigned as masculine and feminine. Since you knew Victor TUrner, did he hint at anything like that in his interpretation?

Not that I recall. In an African context (or at least the context provided by the ethnography of African peoples I was reading back then), a "witch" was as likely to be a man as a woman. 

Yes I think it's a relatively modern European idea to think of witches as women, certainly the fairy tale witches seem to be all women.

I wonder how modern? It has been a long time since I read Keith Thomas' Religion and the Decline of Magic.Can't help wondering how the gender skew in attribution of witchcraft relates to the Protestant Reformation, the Counter Reformation, and the rise of the bourgeoisie. 

well, and this is not based on rigorous scholarship, I think during the seventeenth century witches were still any gender e.g. matthew Hopkins and his ilk which is way after the 1st reformation, I think James vi of scotland/ 1st of england was implicated in this somewhere? Then of course you have the Salem witch trials- which I only know through Miller's crucible. Of course, all these examples- which may be allegorical anyway- are generally cast as politically-motivated, begging the question who was ensorcelling who? :)

Speaking of teknonymy, Wikipedia has this to say:

Teknonymy is the practice of referring to parents by the names of their children. This practice can be found in many different cultures around the world.

An example of teknonymy can be found among the 'Malays' of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where parents are known by the name of their first-born child. For instance, a man named Hashim and his wife, Anisa, have a daughter named Sheila. Hashim is now known as "Pak Sheila" (literally, "Sheila’s Father") and Anisa is now known as Mak Sheila (literally, "Sheila's Mother").

Teknonymy can also be found in:

  • the Korean language;
  • the language of the Madurese people of Indonesia;
  • Balinese culture.[1]
  • the Arab world. For example, if a Saudi man named Hasan has a child named Malik, Hasan will now be informally known as "Abu Malik" (literally, "Malik's father"). "Mother of Malik" is Umm Malik.
  • The Betsileo of Madagascar;[2]
  • West Africa; and,
  • Amazonia.[3]
  • The Kumaoni Language. For example, wife of Ramesh will be informally called as Rameshe Saini(Saini means wife).
  • the Zuni language

I note some differences from the Kachin case Elain has cited: (1) the form "father" or "mother" of "name," where the reference to the child is a personal name instead of an anonymous pronoun, and (2) the "wife of Ramesh" example, which extends the notion to other relationships. The latter makes me wonder about "Mrs. X," where X is the surname of the husband. It is easy to imagine a Martian anthropologist translating this as "Wife of X."

I wonder, too, how common teknonymy is in the UK, where I live? I suppose it depends who you ask. Some of the examples above note that people are "informally" known as.... So what about children? Invariably they talk about adults teknonymously where possible, as in, "...but Sam's mum is letting him (do/ have whatever)" Would this be the informality referred to above?

One possible source of muddle is the difference between words or phrases used to refer to people in the third person and terms of address used when you speak to the individuals in question.

Here's an example from Japan, a true story from the long, long time ago when daughter Kate was still in a local Japanese kindergarten. My wife Ruth was walking up the hill toward our apartment complex when she passed two little boys, one of whom was in the same kindergarten as Kate, the other a visitor from some place else.

The visitor saw Ruth and said, "Gaijin da! Gaijin da!" (Foreigner! Foreigner!),

to which the local boy replied, "Gaijin ja nai yo! Kei-chan no obasan da yo!" (That's not a foreigner! That's Kate's mom!)

To further complicate things, the word that I have translated "mom" is obasan, which means, more literally, "woman of my mother's generation" and, in other contexts, would be translated "aunt." The little boy didn't use okaasan, with which he would formally address his own mother, or haha, with which he would refer humbly or informally to his mother.  Neither would be correct, since to him Ruth wasn't his mother. She was a woman of his mother's generation, who happened to be Kate's mother.

If there is a generic lesson here, it may be that, like a lot of other terms in anthropological theory "teknonymy" doesn't have a single definition that applies uniformly everywhere. It is, instead, a shorthand way of framing a problem: X refers to (or addresses) Y by alluding to Y's relationship to Z; what, then, are the relationships of X, Y and Z and what does understanding them tell us about the ways in which the group to which X, Y and Z belong constructs social relationships? Or, more briefly, "teknonymy" is a pointer to a set of interesting questions — not an answer to those questions.

You've given a very nice example there, John, and what I especially like in your response is when you say:

like a lot of other terms in anthropological theory "teknonymy" doesn't have a single definition that applies uniformly everywhere. It is, instead, a shorthand way of framing a problem: X refers to (or addresses) Y by alluding to Y's relationship to Z; what, then, are the relationships of X, Y and Z and what does understanding them tell us about the ways in which the group to which X, Y and Z belong constructs social relationships?

Which was kind of my point with this thread. The right terminology can give writing so much context, far more than we could elegantly express without it. I would hope that for its part this thread is aiming somehwere towards democratising terminology and halting a general attitude for dismissing actually useful, if sometimes a bit clunky, terms as stuffy jargon.

ALso, just thought about formal institutions to do with children, schools, health services etc. These will often address correspondence "to the parent/ guardian of......"

Now, correspondence to a child's parent is addressed teknonymously. Here, teknonymy is used in a context which is based around children- can this be said for any of the other examples of the use of teknonymy? Certainly this rings true in your Japanese example, but could we talk more generally about teknonymy being primarily used in contexts where descent is unimportant? Hmmmm......

OK, here's a different way of doing it. My word is distribution.

In business today it means how products get to their users. But it is being supplanted by the word logistics. This is an example of a common process in English. Most common words are Germanic in origin, while professional, bureaucratic and academic words tend to be from Latin. If a Latin word becomes commonplace, users can trade up to Greek, as in this case. Another example would be the word poll, meaning to count heads, This was replaced by survey, questionnaire and other French-Latin words. When these words appeared often in the popular press, experts might claim that they do demographic analysis instead. Think what words anthropology might have replaced.

In classical political economy, production was considered to be primary. Distribution was the process whereby various classes got their share. This was then exchanged between individuals and finally consumed. But modern economics abolished the concept of distribution, claiming that market exchange was the only intermediary between production and consumption. In the process, inequality became hard to discern.

But the point of this story is to the word's origin. When the Latins were a rabble, they felt the need for more social organization. So they divided themselves into three parts (tribus or we would say tribes) and occasionally sacrificed a cow, sharing the meat between the groups in a regular way. This symbolised their unity in diversity. The word division is not just about separation, but also integration. Emile Durkheim had this in mind when he wrote his PhD thesis (later his first book) on The Division of Labour in Society.

Of course distribution is also an important concept in statistics, but that's a whole other story. Well, almost.

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