Being the youngest of five siblings, with relatively old parents, I’ve always referred to my aunts and uncles as such, even though in fact only one of each pair is a blood relative. It never occurred to me as a child that in fact Uncle Ron was my father’s brother, but Aunt Pat was related to me only via marriage to Ron. So is she really my aunt?

I raise this because I’m in a situation where I’ve married a woman whose brother has a young son. He was age two when we were first acquainted, and as his aunt and I were not married I was, quite reasonably, not given immediate uncle status. His aunt and I have since married, however, so does this mean I should now be referred to as his uncle?

For some reason I feel uncomfortable referring to him as my nephew — I have other nephews and nieces via my own siblings — so I usually resort to “my wife’s nephew” or “my wife’s brother’s son”.

Any thoughts on this issue of when aunt–uncle status is acquired? Is marriage a precondition? Does the marriage need to predate the birth of the niece–nephew?

  • 4
    Of course you should be called Uncle! it's a nice title.
    – Thursagen
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 3:51
  • @Third Idiot: I agree, although the horse has bolted now. I've never been called Uncle by this particular kid and it would seem strange to start doing so just because I exchanged vows with his aunt. Commented May 10, 2011 at 4:03
  • It's really for the sake of Formality
    – Thursagen
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 4:14
  • Related question: do you lose these titles upon divorce? Commented May 10, 2011 at 10:01
  • Yes, and gain new ones:ex-uncle
    – Thursagen
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 12:40

6 Answers 6


Once you are married to anyone, you immediately assume the titles which the different relatives have to address you with. Remember, you have to get married before you get these title(i.e. you're not a brother-in-law, unless you are married and then by law you are a brother, although not a blood-brother).

It is not necessary that your marriage pre-date the birth of any of your 'gained' relatives. For example, your step-son will call you step-father even if he was born before you married his mother.

  • Idiot: My issue with aunt/uncle is that the nomenclature is the same for blood relatives and non-blood relatives. I have no problem with steps and in-laws. If there was a generic term for a parent's sibling - say 'XYZ' - I'd be happy to be called a 'XYZ-in-law', but gaining uncle status simply for marrying the aunt seems strange to me. This is evidenced by my reluctance to use the uncle/nephew terminology in my situation, whereas I have no problem using brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and so on. Commented May 10, 2011 at 4:00
  • Oh, I see. Well, I'm afraid, I can't help you. Interestingly, though, in Chinese, there are different titles for addessing relatives gained through marriage.
    – Thursagen
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 4:04
  • 3
    @Snubian: You're entitled to call each other what you like within your family, but to some people "my wife's niece/nephew" will sound a little odd... if you feel uncomfortable about it not being a blood relationship, it may help to remember that it's not uncommon in some families for children to refer to close friends of their parents as aunt/uncle, even though they're neither related by blood nor by marriage.
    – psmears
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 5:46
  • I am referred to as uncle by the children of some friends who were initially friends of the the woman who is now my wife. So I wouldn't worry about the lack of rules for becoming an uncle. Commented May 10, 2011 at 7:49

In English the words "aunt" and "uncle" are used to refer to:

  1. Your parents' siblings
  2. Their spouses
  3. Close friends of your parents

Additionally, "niece" and "nephew" are used to refer to:

  1. Your siblings' children
  2. Your spouse's sibling's children

Then there are the other related terms, like "brother-in-law" and "sister-in-law":

  1. Your wife's siblings
  2. Your siblings' spouses

We usually don't have more-specific words for these relationships, unlike Chinese and other languages, where there might be different words for all of these plus different words for which side of the family they are on, and the relative ages. So, English is ambiguous, but easy to use.

  • Nieces and Nephews are also the spouses of your sibling's children and your spouse's sibling's children. I proposed an edit to include them.
    – lkessler
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 3:59
  • Is marriage strictly necessary? I guess so. But it seems unfair if an unmarried couple are together for 50 years and can't use these terms. Maybe it will be acceptable in future. Or, maybe, spouses will stop picking up these terms. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 10:15
  • @AaronMcDaid language isn't contractual. If a couple is, for all practical reasons, living as if they are married, then they are married. In fact there are many legal jurisdictions that treat them as legally married. So they can use the aunt/uncle words. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 12:24

There is no special term in English for the spouse of a sibling of a parent, it is the same as the sibling. The official definitions, whether prescriptive or descriptive I can't tell) define an aunt uncle as the sibling -or- spouse of a sibling of a parent.

That is what the names mean in English. But what you are called is a different matter. So to follow Lewis Carroll, you:

  • are the husband of an aunt and only became one at marriage and so by definition are an uncle (and became one at the time of marriage).
  • are called...well, whatever is socially acceptable between everybody. You could have been called Uncle Snubian (?) before marriage, or may want to keep being called Snubian despite the change, or whatever.

Not any in-laws or Steps, there is only one answer. The person got married and after the marriage when the couples gives birth to any child, then the fellow Men will become Uncle and the Women will become Aunt.


I think it is normal to feel the way you do about this. Since you acquainted this boy while not being married, and didn't take the "uncle" title it is difficult for you to switch your mind to suddenly be "uncle".

I think that children born after you got married will definitely call you "uncle" because they are born into that understanding, but it is up to you and the "already born nephew" to have a feel for if you will be called uncle or not by him. There is a chance that he suddenly finds out "who" you are and starts calling you uncle.

Difficult to give a perfect answer since there are personalities and people involved.


As a North American child I had "Uncles" and "Aunts" who were related neither by blood nor marriage, merely long or close friendship to my parents. In some other cultures, anyone of your parent's generation may be referred to as "Uncle" or "Aunt". "Uncle-hood" is a state of mind and is in essence a relationship that does not require an immediate blood or marriage bond. (Except perhaps when reading a will!) We are all related, after all.

  • 1
    As a British child in the 50s and 60s I called family friends 'Uncle' and 'Auntie' because it was considered bad manners for a child to address an adult by their given name alone. This custom no longer exists because forms of address have become much more informal. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 10:33

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