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Family. Kinship. Parentage

In Basque-speaking areas, several main terms - etxekoak, familia/sendia, and senitartekoak/ahaideak – related to the family and relatives had been found. In the Spanish-speaking areas, the terms to do with family, kinship and parentage are described.

In both cases, the nouns are polysemic and the context where they are used frequently has to be considered to understand their exact meaning.

Extended family community

Barandiaran provided reflections on the data that he collected in the San Gregorio neighbourhood of the charter town of Ataun (G), generally applicable to the Basque rural world at the start of the 20th century. He noted that there was a double family or marital association, in other words, the parents and heir with his/her spouse and children in nearly all the homes of the rural world. They were an economic unit, a social community and a religious entity. All the members of the family ate, prayed and worked together[1].

In the past, three generations of a single family – the parents with the son or daughter who remained at home and the grandchildren – would frequently live in the same house. They could and usually was also an unmarried sibling of the parents, the unmarried siblings of the heir and, sometimes, a servant living there.

Family names

Family name or surname

Barandiaran explained that the surname or family name often coincides with the name of the homestead in which the family first lived.

It can be seen from the data gathered in our surveys that the majority of native surnames in some places were onomastic and, in contrast, patronymic in others. Awareness of the provenance has been lost in most places and the surnames were passed on from parents to children, with those of the father alternating with those of the mother. Caro Baroja confirmed that the members Basque basic family unit of famers were never known by the father’s surname, as in different parts of Europe, but rather by the “farmstead name” where they live and which often dated far back in time[2].

Most common first names

In the past, children were usually given the name of the saint of day they were born, eguneko izena, taken from the calendar of saints or also the name of the godfather or godmother[3].

Names rooted in popular traditions have been kept, either due to the proximity of a shrine, the place’s patron saints or individual devotions. The custom of calling girls Maria (Mary) or the name of Maria followed by one of the forms of Our Lady was very widespread.

In general, the trend of using Basque names could be seen from the 1970s.

Way of referring to people

In Basque speaking rural areas, but not exclusively as it has also been seen in small rural settlements in other areas, the common way of referring to a person is to mention the farmstead and the first name and, sometimes, only the farmstead.

In other locations, it was reported that people were called by their first name or by the first name followed by the surname if the town was large, but without excluding, at times, the name of the farmstead when possible. There were also numerous reports referring to the trade or job of the head of the family.

A married woman's surname

In the part of the Basque Country falling within Spain, it is common for married women to keep her surname which she passed on to her children as a second surname. In the part falling within France, married women do not keep their maiden name, but take their husband’s. As Barandiaran found in Sara (L), the wife taking her husband’s surname was a custom adopted in the 20th century. Married women had formerly used their father’s surname or the name of their childhood farmstead throughout their life. In Obanos (N), it was seen that women keep their surname but it is followed with the name of the paternal farmstead from which she came, thus: “M.ª Carmen the one from Rebolé”.

Names and forms of address between relatives

In general, the use of usted (formal you) in relationships has today fallen into disuse and is being replaced by (informal you). In some locations, it was reported that and usted are mixed in conversations and in the ways of address, and that its use depends on the family. In Basque there was, and still remains to an extent, different ways of address berori(ka), usted; zu(ka), usted-tú; and hika, tú; but the zu(ka) has practically taken over from the other two.

Some people surveyed indicated that the use of usted in the past was to show respect to the other person and the use of today is to express trust and proximity.

  1. José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. “Aspectos de la transición contemporánea en la cultura del pueblo vasco” in Etnología y tradiciones populares. Zaragoza: 1974, p. 12.
  2. Julio CARO BAROJA. “Sobre la familia vasca” in Baile, familia, trabajo. San Sebastián: 1977, pp. 123-124.
  3. ETNIKER EUSKALERRIA. Ritos del nacimiento al matrimonio. Bilbao: 1998, pp. 182-185.