Kin Groups and Descent. The formal organization of Mossi society is by patrilineal descent groups. Lineages are grouped into larger clans, which share a presumed common ancestor and a totemic animal whose avoidance as food is explained by the clan origin myth. Individual lineages within a clan may not be able to trace any genealogical links beyond their apical ancestor. In general, with the exception of chiefly lineages whose members have claims to power to maintain, genealogies are shallow and mutable. For most cultivators, all that is necessary is enough depth of genealogy (perhaps three generations) to clearly validate one's rights to a house plot and fields. Whereas formal authority in a lineage is assigned by genealogical seniority, in day-to-day life other elders, with perhaps less seniority but more wisdom, function as leaders. Indeed, a man might be represented in marriage negotiations by an elder not of his lineage, if circumstances of local knowledge and standing made that desirable.
Kinship Terminology. A consequence of the relative weakness (or, in positive terms, the adaptive flexibility) of the patrilineages is that there is only one word— buudu —for "clan" and "lineage"; it spans all descent-based groups above the immediate household compound. Members of a clan share a surname, although the formalities and mutability of this practice are not well studied.