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You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to

The son of The Legal Genealogist‘s niece is a little boy named Jack.

Jack.1He is my brother’s first grandson, the light of all of their lives, and a total charmer whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this week, just in time for his first birthday.

Which goes a long way towards explaining the dearth of blog posts lately.

But his very existence creates a question…

Is he my great nephew (or great-nephew) or my grand nephew (or grandnephew)?


(Drum roll please…)


Despite a rather persistent effort by genealogists to standardize the reference,1 the simple fact of the matter is that either term is just fine, thankyouverymuch.

The dictionary definition of great-nephew — at least from Merriam-Webster — is “grandnephew,” giving a first reference year for the usage of 1581.2

But that same dictionary — after defining grandnephew as “a grandson of one’s brother or sister” — gives the first reference year for that usage as circa 1639.3 Which means that great-nephew came first and grandnephew is a Johnny-come-lately.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines great-nephew as “A son of one’s nephew or niece”4 and grandnephew as “Another term for great-nephew.”5

Now there are good reasons why genealogists want to standardize the reference one way or the other — to reduce confusion and clarify relationships.6 But just as some of us say jean-ee-ology and some of us say jen-ee-ology, some of us are going to say great nephew and some of us are going to say grand nephew.

Which makes me a great aunt.

Or, as my own aunt would say, whenever any of the children of her nieces and nephews would ask if she was their great aunt, “Honey, I’m your greatest aunt.”

Cue the music: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to…


  1. See e.g. Amy Johnson Crow, “Great and Grand Aunts,” Ancestry blog, posted 25 Oct 2013 ( : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “great-nephew.”
  3. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  4. Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “great-nephew.”
  5. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  6. See generally Robert Resta, “And Bob’s Your Uncle: A Guide To Defining Great Aunts, Great-Great Grandparents, First Cousins Once-Removed, and Other Kinfolk,” The DNA Exchange, posted 16 Apr 2013 ( : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
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