Words for Relatives in Bulgarian

05.06.2012 § 10 Comments

Bulgaria is a place where you cannot be farther than 500 km away from your family, no matter how hard you try. Families often live in the same area or, if they don’t, one can always take a quick holiday to visit the folks на село (na selo, meaning “back in the village”). In fact, children often spend the summer months with one or the other set of grandparents somewhere in the country: in a village, a town or a small city.

The centuries-old familial traditions and bonds are reflected in the Bulgarian language. Much like the proverbial Inuit and their many words for snow, there are five different words for “uncle” in Bulgarian, four for “aunt”, three for “brother-in-law” and four for “sister-in-law”.

But, let’s start with the easy ones. (Words preceded by an asterisk don’t have a known (to me) equivalent in English.)


Parents, grandparents and children:

  • Баща (bashtá) – father, usually called “tatko” or “tate”.
  • Майка (máyka) – mother, addressed as “mamo” or “mayko”
  • Син (sin) – son
  • Дъщеря (dushteryá) – daughter
  • Внук (vnuk) – grandson
  • Внучка (vnúchka) – granddaughter
  • Дядо (dyádo) – grandfather
  • Баба (bába) – grandmother
  • Прадядо (prádyado) – great-grandfather (and any male in his generation)
  • Прабаба (prábaba) – great-grandmother (and any female in her generation)


Brothers, sisters and cousins:

  • Брат (brat) – brother
  • Сестра (sestrá) – sister
  • *Батко (bátko) – older brother, often said with affection
  • *Кака (káka) – older sister, often said with affection
  • Братовчед (bratovchéd)- cousin (male)
  • Братовчедка (bratovchédka) – cousin (female)


Parents’ Siblings and Siblings’ Children

  • Племенник (plémennik) – nephew
  • Племенничка (plémennichka) – niece

The following are all words that correspond to the English “aunt” and “uncle”.

  • Чичо (chícho) – broad term for “uncle”, more specifically a father’s brother. This is also the name given by children to any adult they don’t know, similar to “mister” or “sir”.
  • *Стринка (strínka) – a father’s brother’s wife
  • Леля (lélya) – broad term for “aunt”, more specifically a father’s sister.  This is also the name given by children to any female adult they don’t know, similar to “madam”, but less formal.
  • *Калеко / лелинчо (kaléko or lelíncho) – a father’s sister’s husband
  • *Вуйчо (vúycho) – a mother’s brother
  • *Вуйна (vúyna) – a mother’s brother’s wife
  • *Тетка (tétka) – a mother’s sister
  • *Тетинчо (tetíncho) – a mother’s sister’s husband
  • *Свако (svako) – in Eastern Bulgaria, the husband of a mother’s or a father’s sister


By marriage:

  • Съпруг (suprúg) – husband
  • Съпруга (suprúga) – wife
  • Зет (zet) – the husband of a daughter, son-in-law
  • Снаха (snahá) – the wife of a son, daughter-in-law

The following are parents-in-law:

  • *Тъст (tust) – the father of a wife
  • *Тъща (túshta) – the mother of a wife
  • *Свекър (svékur) – the father of a husband
  • *Свекърва (svekúrva) – the mother of a husband

The following are what parents-in-law call each other:

  • *Сват (svat) – the father of a child’s spouse
  • *Сватя (svátya) – the mother of a child’s spouse

The following are all words that correspond to the English “brother-in-law” and “sister-in-law”.

  • *Девер (déver) – a husband’s brother
  • *Шурей (shúrey) – a wife’s brother
  • *Зълва (zúlva) – a husband’s sister
  • *Балдъза (baldúza) – a wife’s sister
  • *Шуренайка (shurenáyka) – a wife’s brother’s wife
  • *Баджанак (badzhanák) – a wife’s sister’s husband. Two men married to sisters are badzanaci to each other.
  • *Етърва (etúrva) – a husband’s brother’s wife. Two women married to brothers are eturvi to each other.

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§ 10 Responses to Words for Relatives in Bulgarian

  • Батко (bátko) – older brother, often said with affection. Is there a word for ” my little brother or my younger brother with affection?

  • […] on August 1st, all the зетове (sons-in-law) of a particular household gather at their father-in-law’s house and the oldest among them […]

  • Kabu says:

    Oh, that chart is a lovely thing. As are the more detailed write-ups below. None of the texts I’ve tried for Bulgarian have given such a useful treatment of terms for familial relationships. (I’m suddenly quite thankful that my family is a small one.)

  • […] mind five names for uncles, the definite article in Bulgarian is a truly cross-eye-inducing grammar […]

  • Todor Pandeliev says:

    Since I believe that a comment I made earlier has inspired this entry, here is my two-pence:

    This topic is closely related to the grammatical topic of “polite” and “vocative” forms in some languages, among them – Bulgarian. Many of the words listed here are mostly used to address others (vocative is the only rudimentary noun case in Bulgarian – compare with any other Slavic language: 6 cases in Russian, and non-Slavic – 4 in German etc.). In most cases, addressing is meant to be polite, and omitting the word is considered “rude”. E.g. addressing your older sister without “kako” – the vocative of “kaka” – means you are either mad at her, or not a native Bulgarian 🙂

    This is the norm when addressing somebody older or up the family tree; not so when addressing one’s own children, nephews etc. – then their first name, possibly in the vocative (“Velian -> Veliane”) suffices.

    • Kaylas says:

      I will be adopting a 5 year old girl from Bulgaria in the next year. Does this mean whe. My 3 yr old daughter is talking to her she calls her kaka Elena or kako Elena? Also my son is 7 so he is older than Elena. Will he call her just Elena or sestra Elena or can he call her kako Elena and the younger sister sestra Eliza? Should both girls call him batko Ethan and the baby brother brat Emmet? Or do you just call a younger sibling by there name only?

  • Wow, this is going to take some remembering!

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