What to call people?

I have noticed that Nepali people don’t call each other by name. Instead they use more relationship terms or titles. This made it very confusing for me in the beginning, I couldn’t understand that a person called “cousin” or “brother” didn’t have to be an actual cousin or brother but could be a good friend. When B talked of his “cousins” and “brothers” I was surprised about how big his family seemed to be. At first I didn’t think much about it but after a while it started to seem very unrealistic to have so many people to call brother. So I finally realised that all those people were not, what we would say here, real brothers and cousins, but instead seem to be a way of expressing that you are a close friend. It took me quite a long time to get this and I still usually have to ask if it’s really a cousin or if it’s a friend.

It seems to be the same thing within the family as well. I’ve found it a bit odd to not use peoples names and I still feel unsure about what to call people in B’s family and Nepali friends. So when in Sweden I usually go with calling people by name since that’s how we do here in Sweden. But when I go to Nepal next time I’m not sure what to call people, I guess it’s best to start asking people what they want to be called, or to check with B what the proper custom to call people are.

There’s one example with this practice that I can see as helpful. That is that all small boys are called babu and small girls nanu. I’m not sure why it’s like this but I can imagine it’s easier in a big family, especially when including the extended family and there’s a lot of names to remember.

I can really relate to this since we already have this problem with remembering the names of kids in my family sometimes. In our case it’s not even a very big family, my sister have four kid and me and my brother don’t have any yet. For example my sisters oldest son sometimes gets called by my brothers name or the youngest sons name, or her daughters names gets mixed up or called by my name. When people have many nieces, nephews, cousins and other kids around it must be difficult to remember everyone’s names. So having just one name to call all girls and one name for all the boys suddenly seem appealing. It must be more polite to use that instead of saying the wrong name or taking long time to remember the name. Must be easier for the older generation as well, starting to get problems with the memory and having a big family with lots of names and new names to remember doesn’t seem like a good combination.

The only thing I’m wondering about is if there’s many kids in a room or place and you call for a specific child and say babu or nanu, how will the kids know who you mean?

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