Definition of Family

What is family? Let’s first study the etymology of the word, then its definition, before giving a commentary.

The etymology of “Family”:

At the end of the Middle Ages, the family designated people living under the same roof.

1. famulus in Latin meant “servant

2. family, derived from famulus, came to designate a group of servants, slaves belonging to a single individual or attached to a public service

3. family took on the meaning of “people living under the same roof” especially in the 14th century.

4. The term family is extended, for example by Guez de Honoré de Balzac in 1658, to a group of people with common characteristics.

Current definitions of the “Family”:

General definition of family:

Group constituted by families (branches) and individuals related by alliances, by blood, descended from common ancestors.

Definition in Family Law:

A legal institution that groups together persons related by marriage, by blood, possibly, by virtue of a covenant, by ties of adoption.

Minimum definition of family:

The grouping of a couple of parents and their children.

Figurative definition of family:

A set of individuals related by similarities in beliefs, ideology, temperament, artistic technique.

Dictionary of the French Academy definition:

The Dictionary of the French Academy (9th edition) distinguishes 2 major meanings:

I. A group of people united by heredity or marriage

II. (in science) A group of beings and things with common characteristics


The definitions in the Dictionary of the French Academy seem the best starting point for making sense of the term“family”.

They are general definitions (though detailed in the full definition), and therefore the most flexible, which is most likely to capture the progressive changes in the concept in today’s society, where the traditional “family” is increasingly replaced by new forms of kinship or ties.

It is interesting to see that the family, today sacralized in the form it took in Europe during the modern era (father, mother, children), derives in fact from the word servant, therefore a person precisely different from the members of the family understood as a family of blood, or by marriage. The servant by definition is the intruder of the family, the excluded from the family, always in the sense of the family of blood. It is hard to imagine how a slave could be a blood brother to his master.

It is rather through the notion of domicile, of the roof, that the meaning of the “family” was constructed: from then on, “family” is to be linked directly to the notion of home.

It is as if, in the very etymology of the word family, the family of the heart, the community of life, had prevailed over the family of blood, which has been valued until today, although a general movement of denuclearization of the family now seems to be giving right again to this medieval sense of the family.

(Nuclear family: family based on the couple)

→ All courses on the Family

3 thoughts on “Definition of Family

  1. @Floriane: * Guez de Honoré de Balzac, died in 1654, the expression being thus used posthumously in 1658 in the work De la Court, 1st speech. Thank you @Floriane for removing this ambiguity!

  2. Honoré de Balzac? In 1658? Is this a mistake or a misunderstanding on my part? Otherwise, this article lays the groundwork, and the good ones Thank you

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