Ju/'hoansi Namesake Kinship

The Ju/'hoansi kinship system recognizes two types of relationship, which might be distinguished in Western terms as biological and fictive kin. Biological relatedness follows standard genealogical considerations, which are given careful attention. Name relationships take no account of genealogy and create kin ties solely on the basis of people's names and those of their consanguineal and affinal relatives (Lee 2002:69-72). However, a close interconnection between the two systems occurs insofar as:
  1. The rules for giving people personal names are based upon genealogical relationships and add a special connotation to important kin terms and interactions.
  2. People with the same names and their close relatives assume specific kinship obligations to each other.
The Ju/'hoansi have a fixed system of personal naming. The implications of this system are worked out (for males) in the following hypothetical genealogy to which names have been applied according to the rules specified above.. (Note that birth order is declines from left to right).

Allocation of Names according to Kin Relationship

An important implication is immediately observable. The reoccurrence of a personal name (at least for first and second sons and daughters) mirrors the pattern of the identification of alternating generations as an automatic consequence of the naming custom, i.e., Twi occurs in the odd numbered generations, and Toma occurs in the even ones. In addition, several cousins in the same generation will have the same name, because of a shared grandparent. Accordingly, members of the same and alternate generations are brought together both by the use of common kin terms and their reciprocals -- kuna/kuma (see Ju/'hoansi kin terms) -- and by shared names. In fact the apparent kin terms are actually naming terms. Kuna means "old(er) name(sake)", and kuma means "small (younger) name(sake)". This double system of identification strengthens the affectionate and joking relationships that occur among cousins and between grandparents and grandchildren. It similarly reinforces avoidance relationships between members of adjacent generations. It also serves as a shorthand way of recognizing a relationship without the need for detailed genealogical tracing.

The other side to the linking of personal names and kinship ties is the tendency of names in themselves to connote a kin relationship, the basis of the San "name relationship" system. If two people have the same name they can assume a (kuna/kuma relationship) according to their relative ages. This tie institutes a friendship which follows the customs of a joking relationship and can also involve the assignment of kinship rights and obligations. It can lead to an invitation to camp in the settlement of a "namesake". Furthermore, the kuna/kuma status results in the establishment of the appropriate ties to each other's immediate kin. A man will develop an reserved relationship with a namesake's avoidance kin and will be forbidden to marry a mother or sister of a namesake or a woman with his mother or sister's name. He will accordingly developing joking relationships with people that have the same names as his joking kin. Thus namesake relationships are not substantially different from genealogical ones. They add an important element of flexibily to the Ju/'hoansi social order by widening the scope of kinship and kin relationships to people who have no traceable biological connection.

While the double system of classification often involves a reinforcement of ties, it may also create contradictions insofar as two peoples' kin and name relationships can involve different and sometimes opposed sets of obligations. This situation regularly occurs as a consequence of naming third and subsequent sons and daughters after brothers and sisters, which occurs approximately 20% of the time. For example the Bos of the third and fourth generations in the diagram are biologically related as tsu/tsuna (uncle and nephew) but because of their common name are also kuna/kuma. The former is an avoidance relationship, and the latter is a joking one. In this instance there is no specific rule to determine which set of behaviours to follow. Lee suggests that in general the older member of the pair has the descretion to decide which of the two alternatives to follow. Raymond Firth, commenting on a similar situation in the Pacific island of Tikopia, maintains that choices in ambiguous kin term situations are governed by strategic interests such as economic and political gain or sometimes by just a simple desire to reduce confusion (Firth 1930).

© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: Janurary 2001
Last updated: September 2003