O Cousin, Where Art Thou?

When we say ‘cousin’ today, we mean the son or daughter of our father or mother’s brother or sister. Which saves a lot of words, and is generally very helpful.

It wasn’t always so. In fact, we may use ‘cousin’ to refer to anybody with whom we share a known common ancestor. Maybe I should call dad ‘cousin’ in that case. Except I imagine that the rules are that if somebody is your parent, sibling, grandparent or aunt or uncle, that takes precedence and you cannot call them ‘cousin’. It would be rude.

You can call people your cousin when you have no idea what their relationship is to you: ‘our American cousins speak almost the same language as us’ is an example.

Now my baby daughter Lily has a cousin, and we went to see him today. He lives in another part of town. Lily was supposed to be spending the day with him and his mummy, as she usually does. On arrival, and having got the double pram out of the car however, she was sick and I decided to bring her home again. Sometimes only a mummy will do.

Lily is also expecting a second cousin, which sounds misleading, because the baby will be a first cousin, but the second one of them. Her daddy’s brother and his wife are due today, so we are very excited and are awaiting the news. The new cousin already has a cousin on the other side, which Lily is in no way related to, but I find this kind of thing fascinating. Your cousin’s cousin may be no relation to you. Or they may.

For some reason, I was thinking about addressing people by their relationship with you the other day as well. I realised that in Shakespeare, people would call their friends / relatives / noblemen / housemates ‘cousin’ or ‘coz’ or similar. Today I would not address someone as ‘cousin’ or talk about ‘cousin Nikki’ or ‘cousin Sarah’ in that way, unless we were being silly. And I have grown past the point of needing to address my aunts and uncles with a prefix. I do not say ‘sister’ to my sister, although nuns still do, and they are not normally related at all. It is enough to make one rather confused.

A word ought to be said here about what a second cousin really is. I got this information from my uncle (the one who was helicopter pilot of the year), from his aunt (the one who loves family history).

A first cousin is what you normally refer to as your cousin. You have grandparents in common.

Second cousins have great-grandparents in common. They are the children of people who happen to be cousins.

Your own first cousin’s child is your first cousin once removed. And so on.

Maybe there is some fun to be had. If you have nothing better to do, you can discover genealogical links between, say Sarah Palin and Princess Diana (10th cousins). Apparently Obama and Bush are eleventh cousins! If you believe wikipedia, you may discover that most of the American Presidents appear to have been related in some way, sometimes to British royalty! It is all a conspiracy, I am sure.

My head is starting to spin with all this cousin-talk. Let me take a break and get another lemsip.


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