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Please see Title. I'm not specifically referring to which language they came from... but if they come from something else. In other words, do they come from words with other meanings.

For example, do words for children come from a word that means "being that comes from one's loins" or something.

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If you would be asking the origin of the four words you listed, the question would be acceptable. As the question is about an undefined number of words, it is not acceptable, IMO. –  kiamlaluno Aug 23 '10 at 4:03
etc. removed. I thought that it would be clear that I was also including other ways of referring to family members. –  Armstrongest Aug 23 '10 at 7:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I extracted the following from the online Webster Dictionary. It's interesting to see how all these words were transformed from Latin/Greek/Old High German/Middle English to the current English words.

Note: I know that this does not exactly answer your question, since you actually want to know if the words derived from words with other meanings. But I think that having the full list of originating languages here may be useful as other answers to your question may refer to it.


Middle English, doughter, from Old English dohtor; akin to Old High German tohter daughter, Greek thygatēr

First Known Use: before 12th century


Middle English sone, from Old English sunu; akin to Old High German sun son, Greek hyios

First Known Use: before 12th century


Middle English, from Old French ante, from Latin amita; akin to Old High German amma mother, nurse, Greek amma nurse

First Known Use: 14th century


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin avunculus mother's brother; akin to Old English ēam uncle, Welsh ewythr, Latin avus grandfather

First Known Use: 14th century


Middle English moder, from Old English mōdor; akin to Old High German muoter mother, Latin mater, Greek mētēr, Sanskrit mātṛ

First Known Use: before 12th century


Middle English fader, from Old English fæder; akin to Old High German fater father, Latin pater, Greek patēr

First Known Use: before 12th century


Middle English cosin, from Anglo-French cusin, cosin, from Latin consobrinus, from com- + sobrinus second cousin, from soror sister — more at sister

First Known Use: 13th century


Middle English nevew, from Anglo-French nevou, neveu, from Latin nepot-, nepos grandson, nephew; akin to Old English nefa grandson, nephew, Sanskrit napāt grandson

First Known Use: 14th century


Middle English nece granddaughter, niece, from Anglo-French nece, niece, from Late Latin neptia, from Latin neptis; akin to Latin nepot-, nepos grandson, nephew

First Known Use: 14th century



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Yeah, I found some of those as well. Nephew/Niece is interesting. It looks like the root also is used in words like "nepotism" but that's just an observation. –  Armstrongest Aug 23 '10 at 16:32
It's not necessarily obvious above, but uncle in Latin is "little grandfather." The first-degree relations are pretty much straight from German roots. –  moioci Aug 24 '10 at 2:46
Thanks moioci. I wonder how far back we can trace the meaning of words like mother and father, though. I would guess that these words have been around for so long that their original meaning is perhaps lost. –  Armstrongest Aug 24 '10 at 14:59
@Atømix probably mother was among the first words ever invented by the human race. Father may have come a little later. When did the cavemen realize that people had a father? :-) –  b.roth Aug 24 '10 at 15:53
I'm sure there are newer origins, though. Take Japanese/Chinese pictographs, for example. The character for mother is basically the same as for woman, except it's enlarged and has two strokes in the middle(pregnancy + nipples maybe?). 母=mother. 女=woman. I wonder if we can even trace these familial words back far enough to know if they have another noun/adjective/adverb as a root word. –  Armstrongest Aug 25 '10 at 16:20

Mother, father, son, brother, sister have pretty much always meant what they mean today. It's clear that mother and father are ultimately derived from adult reinterpretation of babies' babbling things like /mamama/ and /dadada/; this is a worldwide process that gives us both informal and formal words for parents, and is constantly self-renewing. Brother and sister may also be of this type.

Daughter, however, is ultimately 'milker', from the Proto-Indo-European root *dheugh- 'press, touch, milk'; this change in meaning goes back to before PIE broke up into the various families. All these words except sister have a common suffix, whose meaning is unknown; sister picked up its /t/ at the Proto-Germanic stage, and the other language families do not show /t/.

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The ‘milker’ etymology is somewhat dubious. For one thing, the ‘daughter’ word does not appear to have *-gʰ-, but *-gh₂-, while the milking root has a clear *-gʰ-. This could be due to the fact that the kinship suffix is really *h₂ter-, rather than just *-ter-, but then we’re left with the unfortunate state of having to explain why a kinship suffix seems to also be an agent noun suffix (like *-ter- is). ‘Father’ suffers from the same problem. ‘Sister’ (PIE *su̯ésōr) is almost certainly *su̯e- ‘self, own’ + an archaic noun *sor- ‘woman/girl’, i.e., ‘(our) own woman/girl’. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 9 '14 at 16:22

etymonline.com gives the origins and original-language meanings of most of these words (with the exception of the meaning of "daughter", which John Cowan describes in his answer).

In brief, focusing on meanings:

Mother meant "female parent" in Old English, and presumably something similar in its origin languages. It was

"[b]ased ultimately on the baby-talk form *mā- (2); with the kinship term suffix *-ter-"

Father derived similarly, but there is this additional note:

Spelling with -th- (15c.) reflects widespread phonetic shift in Middle English that turned -der to -ther in many words

Son is ultimately

a derived noun from root *seue- (1) "to give birth"

and came to mean "son, descendant" in Old English.


from Latin consobrinus "cousin," originally "mother's sister's son,"

Nephew in PIE meant

"grandchild," and in a general sense, "male descendant other than son"

This became "sister's son, grandson, descendant," in Latin. Niece is a Late Latin feminine form of the Latin for "nephew".

Aunt has this:

from Latin amita "paternal aunt" diminutive of *amma a baby-talk word for "mother"

And uncle:

from Latin avunculus "mother's brother," literally "little grandfather," diminutive of avus "grandfather," from PIE root *awo- "grandfather, adult male relative other than one's father" [...] Replaced Old English eam (usually maternal; paternal uncle was fædera).

Child, similar to the example sentence in the question, relates to words meaning "womb"/"pregnant", coming to mean ""fetus, infant, unborn or newly born person" in Old English.

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