Kin Groups and Descent. The fundamental unit of Dogon social organization is the patrilineage, or ginna. Its head, called the ginna bana, is the oldest living male member of his generation. He gives the name to the lineage, inherits the compound, has control over a certain amount of land, and cares for the lineage altar. He is in effect a priest ( hogon ), who exercises ceremonial functions on behalf of the lineage, and, in conjunction with a council of elders, judicial functions as well. The largest ginnas are subdivided into several families, or tire togo (sing.). Above the lineage is the much larger kin group called the clan, from which the various lineages emerge.
Kinship Terminology. In referring to relatives, linguistic usage distinguishes between the forms of address and the specific relationship. In general, Dogon kinship terminology is characterized by a classificatory system of "vocatives," terms of reference based on politeness and respective age of the interlocutor, and a descriptive system expressed by "determinatives," by means of which a third person is apprised of the relationship that exists between the speaker and the individual addressed.