Kin Groups and Descent. Below the level of the two rudimentary and somewhat hypothetical phratries, the basic unit of traditional Nenets society was the patrilineal exogamic clan. Each clan had its own territory with pasturelands as well as hunting and fishing grounds, a cemetery, and places of worship. Some 100 clans survive, each possessing a more or less well-preserved tradition concerning its origin. Most important in the present society, each clan still has a name of its own, today used as the official surname of the clan members. Thus, the Nenets are one of the very few among the small minorities of the Far North having a set of their own non-Russian (and even non-Russianized) surnames. Given names, on the other hand, are rarely of Nenets origin today, although an unofficial Nenets given name may occasionally exist beside an official Russian one.
Kinship Terminology. The Nenets system of basic kinship terms distinguishes between three senior (grandparent, parent, elder sibling) and two junior (younger sibling, child) age categories. The terminology is slightly more differentiated for males than for females, but several important categories (sibling, younger sibling, child, parent-in-law of husband, younger sibling-in-law of husband) are expressed by sexually undifferentiated terms.
Marriage and Family. Until recently marriage was a matter decided by clan leaders; there were occasional cases of polygyny and levirate. In the family, the position of women was once inferior to that of men, and taboo restrictions limited women's activities, especially in connection with menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. On the other hand, the strict division of labor in the severe arctic conditions—the men being concerned only with subsistance activities and the women taking care of dwelling, clothing, and children—tended to favor equality rather than inequality of the sexes. Children, too, used to be encouraged to be independent and are still being introduced today, at a very early age, to the sexually differentiated responsibilities of the adults.