I understand that this paper will examine 3+ definitions of the word family, and then your definition will be compared to each of these definitions. Finally, your definition will be examined with how it is significant and relevant to society.
The word family has been defined numerous times throughout history, and each definition has a different but somewhat related meaning. Some of the most widely known definitions modern definitions have been published by Merriam Webster, whereas the older and less known definitions are available to review online at Century Dictionary, and Online Etymology Dictionary. Although these definitions vary, their commonality has been analyzed by academics, and the across all definitions of the word family is the common theme of unity (Bessette, 2010). My personal definition of family, is a group of people who are not necessarily related by blood but who love and can depend on one another for emotional and mental support and at times physical, support too without having to repay one another for support. My definition is socially important as it highlights that family does not equate to a union via marriage, or stemming from being genetically related, and this is becoming increasingly common in our globally connected and progressive society.
Perhaps some of the earliest definitions of the word family use language that is dissimilar to my definition, but the overall symbolism of the definition is quite similar to my definition. The word “family” falls into the category of words that have been adapted from another language. Interestingly enough, in the reworking of the word from its language(s) of origin into English, the actual meaning has changed somewhat. Most experts researched by this writer agreed that, most likely, the word “family” was adapted from the Latin word “familia,” which meant “family servants, domestics collectively, the servants in a household” as well as “members of a household, the estate, property; the household including relatives and servants,” and also from a word of unknown origin, “familus” which meant “servant, or slave.” Other possible origins are the Latin words “famulanter,” meaning “in the manner of a servant,” “famulitas,” meaning “servitude,” “familaris,” meaning “of one’s household or private,”familiarcus,” meaning “of household slaves, “ or familiaritas,” “close friendship.” (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2016). Although my definition of family does not literally include servants, or for that matter slaves, my definition does incorporate that a family member has a duty of servitude to its family members. In my definition, this servitude is voluntary and done out of love, and not for payment. Similar to this definition, those that are part of the family share very close friendships. Overall, this older definition seems to have been created for utilitarian purposes for estate owners, whereas my definition has been created for less of a utilitarian purpose and more for a sociological and humanistic purpose.
Later definitions of the word family are quite similar to my own definition, with the exception that my definition of family does not exclude people that are unrelated by blood, or include people simply because they are related by blood. The use of the word “family” with a meaning somewhat closer to what we think of today, did not begin until the 1540s according to Century Dictionary. The word at that time had come to mean “a collective body of persons who form one household under one head and one domestic government, including parents, children, and servants and sometimes even lodgers or boarders.” By 1580, the meaning of the word “family” had become “those who descend from a common progenitor, a house, a lineage” as well as “any group of things classed as kindred based on common distinguishing characteristics.” By the 1660’s the meaning had morphed again, to “parents with their children, whether they dwell together or not” and extended to mean “persons closely related by blood, including aunts, uncles, and cousins.” The scientific meaning of “family” as “a classification between genus and order” was also coming into play (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2016). Hence these definitions do fit my definition of family, so long as those who are related do in fact provide emotional, mental, and/or physical support to their family members. Hence, in my definition, simply being related by blood is not sufficient to deem you as part of your family, as one must partake in supporting the family members in some capacity.
The first two definitions of the word family, from the modern Merriam – Webster Dictionary, are almost in full disagreement with my definition of family, where as the third definition is in full agreement with my definition of family. The first two definitions are (1) ‘A group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head’, and (2) ‘A group of persons of common ancestry; clan; A people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock’. My definition of family does not require people to be considered family if they do not live in the same home, or in fact even the same town, city or state. Thus, so long as a family member can provide emotional, mental, or physical distance, even if it is from a far, then they can still be considered part of the family. Moreover, my definition of family does not include ethnic background or ancestry as those traits do not define the personality and character traits of an individual, and thus are not included in my definition of family. In my definition family members are there to help and love one another, and genetic relatedness does not matter. Accordingly, the third definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary is completely aligned with my definition, as it defines a family as “A group of people united by certain convictions or a common goal.” Hence in my definition of family, the common goal is to aid your family in members in being healthy and happy.
Perhaps, the linguist, Bessette (2010), describes family most similar to how I have seen it evolve over time, and parts of this definition are how I define the word family. Bessette describes “family” as being made up of four concentric circles at the center of which is the individual. At first, the “family” is very insular, very close in relation. The inner circle is made up of immediate family; the spouse, children, siblings, and parents. Further out, the circle grows looser, the focus less defined. Here you have an extension of the inner “family.” This level consists of one’s friends and acquaintances from various walks of life; school, church, work, etc. Anyone, of any age, who is considered a peer is included in this circle. The last circle is the societal “family.” Here we have the neighborhood, community, political figures, media, and governing bodies. The final circle, the one that encompasses them all, is made up of our history. It is here that our ancestral family, as far back as can be seen, resides. Compared to my definition of family, this definition almost makes the word family too broad and too impersonal. My definition of family would include the extension of inner family to a degree, and would stop before it extends to the societal family, and before it reaches the acquaintance level. I feel this way because family members share intimate experiences, feelings, and problems, and you would typically not share these things with acquaintances.
From reviewing the definitions of “family” in a chronological manner, it is apparent that originally the definition of family was quite narrow and has expanded greatly over the years. I think that the definition of family has become broader overtime as our cultures, becomes more connected globally, and our work lives become more challenging. Moreover, I think the media is now portraying various forms of family on television, making my definition of family more and more common. For instance shows like Modern Family, Two and a half men, and Fuller House, all demonstrate different familial bonds that were not included in the earliest definitions of family. I think the media does a sound job demonstrating my definition of family, such that it is group of people that love and support one another, and may not necessarily be related by blood, but rather a common purpose or goal of helping one another to succeed and prosper.
Overall, I think my definition of family positively impacts society. It allows people to rely on one another and find solace in loved ones, despite not living together or being the same background, or of the same lineage. I think my definition allows people to be open minded and to feel a sense of freedom to invest their love and support in those who are deserving rather than those who are just connected via genetics. My definition lets people form their own families, and not feel like they must adhere to a family concept which may not exist for them, if their family members have passed, or are in utter disagreement about their life choices, morals and/or ethics. Thus my definition of family is positive, inclusive, and can improve the overall quality of a person’s life by having a core group of loved ones to rely on and support. Personally, my family by blood does not live close by, and at times I need emotional and physical support in person. Accordingly, I have adapted to have my closest friends be considered family, as that is the healthiest and most practical way for me succeed and live my life.
There have been radical changes in the way people think of or define the word family. We have shifted from the times when family had clearly defined gender roles; men as the wage earners and head of household while women were typically stay at home moms and took care of the house to a time where the meaning of family now includes everything from the general make up of a household to how businesses are organized. In the future we may see even further evolution of what family means as cultures continue to integrate and new technologies are invented that shape and change our way of life.
Bessette, M. (2010). Hegel’s Analysis of the Family in Elements of the PHilosophy of Right: An Interpretation. Midwest Political Science , 1-22.
Merriam Webster . (n.d.). Family. Retrieved from Merriam Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/family
Online Etymology Dictionary. (2016). Family. Retrieved from Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=family
Oxford Dictionaries. (2016). How many words are there in the English Language? Retrieved from Oxford Dictionaries: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/how-many-words-are-there-in- the- english-language
The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. (1902). Volume Two. New York: Meredith.