Serbian Family Tree Explained: Who is Who in Serbian Extended Family

A group of adults and children at a beach.

In English, family relations are a no-brainer. You’ve got your aunts and uncles and a bunch of cousins. But what if each of them had their own title, depending on the side of the family? On that note, welcome to the Serbian family tree, where there’s a word for every member, and you need a dictionary to understand who everyone is.

If making sense of this sounds like a mission impossible, don’t worry. We’ve made a simple guide on Serbian extended family relationships. Read on so you can finally understand who is who!

Immediate Family in Serbian

Before we get into the more complicated stuff, let’s first go over the immediate family. In Serbian, the members of a nuclear family or porodica are:

  • Majka – mother (or mama – mom)
  • Otac – father (or tata – dad)
  • Sin – son
  • Ćerka – daughter
  • Brat – brother
  • Sestra – sister
  • Muž – husband (formal: suprug)
  • Žena – wife (formal: supruga)

Then, when your siblings have children, you’ll get:

  • Bratanac – brother’s son (if you’re female)
  • Bratanica – brother’s daughter (if you’re female)
  • Sinovac – brother’s son (if you’re male)
  • Sinovica – brother’s daughter (if you’re male)
  • Sestrić – sister’s son
  • Sestričina – sister’s daughter

Next, we can use the following expressions to talk about siblings who share only one parent:

  • Polubrat – half-brother
  • Polusestra – half-sister

And if your parents marry other people, the new spouses are:

  • Maćeha – stepmother
  • Očuh – stepfather

Other members of the immediate family that don’t belong to a nuclear family are the following:

  • Baba – grandmother (or baka – grandma)
  • Deda – grandfather (or deka – grandpa)
  • Unuk – grandson
  • Unuka – granddaughter 

Then, we can extend this further to include the great-grandparents:

  • Prababa – great-grandmother
  • Pradeda – great-grandfather
  • Praunuk – great-grandson
  • Praunuka – great-granddaughter
A boy and a girl standing in a field.
Brat i sestra 🙂

Serbian Extended Family

With the immediate family out of the way, let’s dive deep into the complex world of Serbian relatives. First off, we should point out that Serbian extended families are huge and often very close-knit. That probably explains why there are so many words to describe their relationships.

So, to make it easier to follow, we’ll split all these into blood relatives — rodbina and in-laws — tazbina.

Blood relatives

One of the reasons why the Serbian family tree is so complex is that Serbs make a difference between maternal and paternal relatives. But don’t worry, we’ll walk you through both, starting with the former.

Maternal relatives

So, the following are maternal relatives:

  • Tetka – aunt (mother’s sister)
  • Teča – aunt’s husband
  • Sestra od tetke – cousin (aunt’s daughter)
  • Brat od tetke – cousin (aunt’s son)
  • Ujak – uncle (mother’s brother)
  • Ujna – uncle’s wife
  • Sestra od ujaka – cousin (uncle’s daughter)
  • Brat od ujaka – cousin (uncle’s son)

 

Paternal Relatives

Then, these are the relatives on the father’s side of the family:

  • Tetka – aunt (father’s sister)
  • Teča – aunt’s husband
  • Sestra od tetke – cousin (aunt’s daughter)
  • Brat od tetke – cousin (aunt’s son)
  • Stric – uncle (father’s brother)
  • Strina – uncle’s wife
  • Sestra od strica – cousin (uncle’s daughter)
  • Brat od strica – cousin (uncle’s son)

In-Laws

Unlike in English, where you can just add -in-law to any family member and get on with your day, Serbian has a word for each of them.

So, the parents of your wife’s family are:

  • Tašta (mother-in-law)
  • Tast (father-in-law)

 

At the same time, you’re their zet (son-in-law).

On the other hand, your husband’s parents are:

  • Svekrva (mother-in-law)
  • Svekar (father-in-law)

 

In this case, you are snaja (daughter-in-law) to them.

Moving on, the parents of your child’s spouse are:

  • Prijatelj (father of your child’s spouse)
  • Prija (mother of your child’s spouse)

 

At this point, we’re mostly done with the essential relationships. Even if all this seems like a lot, memorizing it will help you navigate family life in Serbian.

Next, it’s time to introduce the rest of the in-laws. But keep in mind that this is an advanced level, and even some Serbs don’t bother to remember all these words. So, we’ll list them for your reference but don’t worry if you can’t remember all of them.

  • Dever – husband’s brother
  • Jetrva – husband’s brother’s wife
  • Zaova – husband’s sister
  • Šurak – wife’s brother
  • Šurnjaja – wife of wife’s brother
  • Svastika – wife’s sister

 

Amazingly, the list could go on. But what we’ve mentioned so far is likely all you’ll ever need to talk about Serbian family relations.

Finally, if you can’t recall the right word when you need it, just use the vocabulary you know to describe the relationship. For example:

Instead of — Ovo je moja svastika. (This is my sister-in-law.)

Say — Ovo je sestra moje žene. (This is my wife’s sister.)

An elderly man holding a baby.
Deda i unuk 🌞

Kum and Kuma

All the aforementioned relationships are either based on blood or formed through marriage. But, there’s another type of relationship — kum and kuma (godfather and godmother).

These are neither relatives nor in-laws. In a nutshell, they are the people you choose as honorary family members. By doing that, you create a sacred, lifelong bond.

Notably, these people play a central role in two important events — venčanje (wedding) and krštenje (christening or baptism). In the past, people commonly inherited family kum and kuma, but recently, picking close friends for this purpose has become more popular.

Either way, if someone asks you to be their kum or kuma, you should know that they are doing you a great honor. So, even if you don’t accept it, you should still be very respectful.

Why Are Serbian Families So Complicated?

As a foreigner, you might be surprised at how many words Serbs have for different family members. Then again, depending on where you’re from, the typical Serbian family dynamics might also strike you as odd.

So, you may have noticed that most Serbs are really close to their parents and siblings. But in many cases, that closeness extends to relatives and in-laws.

In practice, this means attending countless family events, such as weddings, christenings, and birthday parties — sometimes weekly. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how much you like partying.

On the plus side, with such a huge family, there’s always someone to help you out when necessary. But on the downside, spending too much time with relatives can lead to conflicts.

So, for Serbs, it’s not uncommon to have cousins, uncles, and even siblings that they haven’t talked to in years because of a grudge. 

In any case, this family-centric culture is a crucial part of Serbian identity. So whether you like it or not, you should be aware of it, especially if you’re planning to live in Serbia or marry a Serb

Serbian Extended Family: Conclusion

At last, we’ve come to the end of this Serbian family drama. There are many words to memorize, but once you do, you’ll be able to talk about extended family and understand exactly who’s who.

And, while you’re trying to wrap your head around all this, why don’t you subscribe to our newsletter? Do that, and you’ll receive our self-study worksheets twice a week for free. Happy studying!

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