Family Honor

"It's time for me to live up to my family name and face full life consequences!"
John Freeman who was Gordon Freeman's brother, Half-Life: Full Life Consequences

Family honor is the feeling or pride a person has for their own family or clan, whether because of a unique family history, the achievements of ancestors, the elevated social status of their family, or because of some cultural aspect of their homeland that places a strong emphasis on associating personal identity with family identity. Central to the idea of family honor is that the actions of one member reflect on the reputation of the entire family, and the reputation of the entire family reflects on the individual member. Compare to Thicker Than Water, which focuses on a characters obligations to another member of the family, which may or may not be expressed in terms of family honor.

For a character that values family honor, it normally works as a motivator for them to try to act in a way that preserves the dignity and reputation of their family. In cultures that practice dueling, this often includes a willingness to fight against those that insult the family name (which can result in a full-blown Cycle of Revenge when two families each constantly feel the need to avenge themselves for the other's latest slight against them). However this also includes less violent expressions. Family honor need not just be a motivator for revenge, but can also motivate honesty, courage, hard work, faithfulness, loyalty, etc.

Certain cultures and social classes tend to be more likely to place an emphasis on family honor than others. Some characters might come from a family that has a particularly high status in society, and therefore are under a particular pressure to live up to their family name. Aristocrats, especially of the fighting variety such as European knights and Japanese Samurai, tend to place a high value on family honor. Likewise, frontier cultures outside of the protection or hindrance of The Government might maintain a similar, though less refined code out of survival necessity. Other characters might have to deal with social disabilities that come from being a part of a family that is in disgrace or otherwise has a reputation for dishonor.

Just a few of the ways that concepts of family honor (and honor in general) can be incorporated in a story include:

  • A character's sense of integrity is closely tied in with their family identity. Not only do they try to do the right thing because it is good in and of itself, but because they want to live up to and preserve their family's reputation for honorable behavior.
  • A scenario arises where the actions of one individual are said to bring credit or disgrace on their entire family, especially if such credit or disgrace is reflected in how society starts treating members of the family. In some scenarios, this may result in the point of formal privileges or disabilities being given to the entire family because of the actions of one member of the family.
  • A character must go on a quest to restore their family's honor, often by either making right what a family member did wrong or clearing an ancestor's name of something falsely attributed to them. Sometimes, this involves Honor-Related Abuse, though not always.
  • In societies where family honor is given particular importance, families can often act like a mini-state with policies, alliances, and enmities all carefully arranged. Family Honor can be a measurement of success as well as a way of getting more.
  • Arranged Marriages are commonplace; marriage is used primarily as a means to strengthen a family's sociopolitical alliances and produce heirs. They will commonly be arranged as business transactions between the parents or guardians with little or no input from the children involved. (Sometimes, even when a Child Marriage Veto is technically allowed, it will be strongly discouraged, or the prospective bride and/or groom might be threatened with disownment or death if s/he does not accept the marriage.)
  • Or on a smaller scale, a character could be a "Well Done, Son!" Guy, hoping to please his/her parents (or Obnoxious In-Laws) in some way, shape, or form.
  • A character could be caught between their family's traditions, and a desire to live the more modern lifestyle their peers are living.
  • In patriarchal cultures, the honor of women and children may be seen as a reflection on (particularly) the men in their lives (fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, etc.) (For example, if a wife cheats, her husband is seen as unable to keep her under control, and therefore "less" of a man.) The honor of women and children in this type of setting can only decrease; a man's honor in a setting like this can either increase or decrease depending on his actions. (Getting rid of the "wayward" wife/daughter/son/etc. might be seen as a way to increase it or gain it back.) The trope Men Act, Women Are is very much at play.
  • Sins of Our Fathers could be a theme, too. Especially in the case of Feuding Families.


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     Anime & Manga  

  • Naruto - Ninja clans and their politics are often a plot point
    • Uchiha Clan
      • Uchiha Sasuke now exists solely on this trope. During The Team introductions, he stated that his sole "ambition" is to kill his treacherous brother and then rebuild his clan. When he found out this trope was pretty thoroughly unsalvagable, he was left with only vengeance, and went completely off the deep end. Those who'd thought he was already there were startled.
      • Uchiha Itachi seems to have cared about this. Apparently this was all Danzo led him to believe he could save of his family, that and Sasuke's life, given the choice between preventing the Uchiha rebellion under the cover of massacre and letting a civil war begin that would destroy all of Konoha, he made the choice that at least salvaged his family honor.
      • Complexly, the clan was rising for the sake of their honor and considered him a traitor for not agreeing, and therefore supporting their disenfranchisement compared to the Senju. Itachi felt that they would lose all the honor they had ever had by betraying the village.
    • The Hyuuga are also very much about this. It is portrayed as a force for evil. All good decisions made by Hyuuga in the series are for personal reasons. For the Family, there are just nasty sacrifices and cruelties.
      • Hizashi dying not for the clan but for his brother,
      • Hinata finding strength for her own sake and in honor of Naruto that she could never summon just to be her father's heir,
      • Neji learning to hope.
    • The Senju on the other hand apparently worried little enough about this that they are almost extinct as a clan, and have only spiritual successors from a variety of other bloodlines. Though Naruto at least comes from a Senju training lineage on one side and a family that had a history of intermarrying with them on the other, and has been half-adopted by the last survivor, so he's as close as you can get without actually being related. He hasn't noticed.
    • Naruto himself plays with this a bit. He deeply admired and respected the Fourth Hokage Minato Namikaze long before he ever found out that the Fourth Hokage was his father.
  • If it wasn't for this then Ranma ˝ would be over in two volumes at most. The Saotome family honor is in seriously jeporardy because Ranma's father is a conartist that engaged him to many girls to pay off debts.
  • Ping Pong: Kazuma's reason for doing everything.

     Fan Fiction  

  • Royal Business - Both Twilight Sparkle and Spike feel this sentiment regarding their clan, which is an attribute of the Canterlot gentry.
    Twilight's eyes misted slightly as she recognized the attitude. It was her own, the ethos of a young member of the elite scholar-gentry of Canterlot. It was the culture she had absorbed as a small filly from her parents and her big brother, and now Spike had learned the same lessons from her. Be smart. Be honorable. Be diligent. Never let your family down.

     Films — Animated  

     Films — Live-Action  


  • In A Brother's Price, this is enforced, as all family members are punished by the law if one steps out of line. One can get out of this by claiming that the family is estranged and was not working together, but it is automatically assumed that they did work together. After Heria and Jerin Whistler save the life of a princess, Queen Elder compliments Eldest Whistler (who wasn't even there at the time) for acting in accordance with the law, even though this endangered Jerin, a valuable boy. However, they also value their honor in the more abstract sense; Jerin's sister Corelle, when she notices that he's being courted by a noblewoman who thinks the Whistler family is beneath her, remarks that they will not be looked down on by their future sisters in law, and rescues Jerin from the unpleasant company.
  • Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa takes this trope and turns it up to eleven.
  • Lucy Valentine, star of novel series bearing her name, had given up her sizeable trust fund, because she didn't think she deserved it. Though she is not a wild girl, or done anything to besmirch the family name and honor, she felt unworthy of benefitting from the family's success since without her ESPer gift, she could not contribute as Valentines before her had.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth - Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of the commander of the IX Legion, destroyed by barbarians in what is now Scotland, goes on a mission to recover the legion's eagle standard, in order to restore the his family honor, and by recovering it he would also ends up restoring the honor of the legion.
  • RCN - family honor is a big deal to the aristocratic families that rule the Republic of Cinnabar, and most especially to the lead characters, Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy. Each character strongly associates their personal honor with the honor of their family, and the strongest promise they can give is on the honor of their family name. The reputation of their families also has a strong impact on how others treat them.
  • Many stories set in Scotland. Truth in Television.
  • Vatta's War
  • Dune - The Great Houses and the Fremen take their Family Honor deadly seriously.
  • In The Lord of the Rings it is the proudest boast of the house of the stewards that they never made themselves kings . Other aspects of this come in. For instance Aragorn is proud of his descent but considers it his duty to atone for Isildur's failing 3000 years ago.
  • Vorkosigan Saga has tons of this. It even has the name of a fictional dynasty in its title.
  • A Running Gag in Jeeves and Wooster is Bertie's exaggerated sense of family honor and strict adherence to "the code of the Woosters", which dictates, above all things, Honor Before Reason. His Aunt Agatha is equally obsessed with family honor, but has a different idea of it than he does, most of it revolving around not marrying into the lower classes.
  • The Harry Harrison alternate reality novel Tunnel Through the Deeps (aka A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah) has British engineer Captain Augustine Washington working to complete said tunnel to restore his family's honor lost when his ancestor George Washington was shot as a traitor to King George III.
  • Seen in Harry Potter, primarily with the older pureblood families such as the Blacks, Malfoys, and even the Gaunts. Can overlap with (or be superseeded by) Thicker Than Water, depending on who is involved.
  • In Honor Harrington, the Manticoran royal family have strong traditions of duty and integrity. It's more or less mandatory for Wintons to enter some form of public service, generally either the military or diplomatic corps. They also have a reputation of keeping their word. In Shadow of Freedom, Michelle Henke (first cousin to Queen Elizabeth III) trades on this when she starts setting up diplomatic agreements with the star systems she's just liberated from Solarian control, knowing that it is extremely unlikely Elizabeth will repudiate said agreements.
    • The Arranged Marriage department; while Winton princes and princesses are encouraged to marry relatively early to ensure the succession, the current heir is required to marry a commoner.
  • Kindling Ashes: The Dunslade family is a dragonslayer family and all of Corran's angst in this book is about living up to this reputation.
  • Very important to Aunt Alexandra of To Kill a Mockingbird, who believes that the Finches are not just run-of-the-mill people. It motivates many of her actions throughout the book, most notably trying to get Scout to act more ladylike and feminine.
  • The Silerian Trilogy: This is taken very seriously by Silerians, resulting in many vendettas.
  • In The Expanse avenging the family name is the sole motivation of Melba Koh, aka Clarissa Mao for most of the third book.

     Live Action TV  

  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "There All Honor Lies", a Minbari clan tries to avenge their members killed by Sheridan during the Earth-Minbari war by framing Sheridan. While questioning one of the members, Delenn points out that Lennier is a member of the same clan and has brought honor to the clan. Lennier calls out his own clan on using dishonorable methods, however Delenn and Lennier decide not to go public with the fact that the frame up was ordered by the leaders of the clan, in order to preserve its honor.
    • Centauri clans are always squabbling among themselves. This may be a subversion as it is more about family power then honor, but honor is not totally absent.
    • Londo kills his friend in a Duel to the Death that obliged the winner to take on the loser's dependents as his own. His friend had, as it happens, deliberately arranged the duel to ensure the protection of his family.
  • Star Trek - Klingons wear this as one of their hats. Worf's father was accused of betraying the empire by Duras of helping the Romulans attack Khitomer. Worf would eventually accept a ritual loss of honor from the Klingon High Council in order to protect the Empire from a scandal that had framed his father, falsely dishonored his house and could potentially lead to civil war. While Worf decided to accept this dishonor, it was decided to keep the true identity of Worf's brother Kurn secret in order to protect Kurn's honor.
  • Kung Fu - In "An Eye for an Eye", Caine meets a small southern family whose honor had been besmirched via a Union soldier raping and impregnating the old man's daughter. The old man and his son are out for revenge.
  • Family's Honor - A Korean drama about how a particular tries to uphold their aristocratic reputation.
  • In Game of Thrones, this concept is the motivation for Lord Tywin Lannister, The Patriarch of the villainous Lannister family. Made particularly clear in the speech he gives his son Jaime during Tywin's first appearance.
    Your mother's dead, before long I'll be dead, and you... and your brother, and your sister, and all of her children. All of us dead, all of us rotting in the ground. It's the family name that lives on. It's all that lives on. Not your honor, not your personal glory, family.
  • In The Northandthe South, this is a major plot point that occurs several times in the miniseries:
    • When Charles Main gets in fights, it's bad for the family's honor, but when he gets in a duel and shows compassion for not shooting a helpless opponent, he impresses Orry Main because of how his actions made the family look good.
    • Any time the Hazards visit Mont Royal or the Mains visit Lehigh Station, there tends to be an argument that leads to an insult of one of the families' honor.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Ninja Burger uses this as a core mechanic (treating the franchise as the family unit).
  • Dungeons & Dragons supplement Oriental Adventures (1985). Upholding the family honor was very important to characters created under these rules, which covered campaigns set in the Asia-like region called Kara-Tur.
  • Aslan in Traveller. Other cultures often have this as well but Aslan are notable for it.


     Video Games  

  • Sebastial Vael, a Religious Bruiser from Dragon Age II, risks excommunication to restore the honor of his (massacred) family.
  • In Art of Fighting this is pretty much Kasumi Todoh in a nutshell. Back in the first AOF, her father Ryuhaku was defeated by Ryo Sakazaki (practitioner of the rival Kyokugen School of martial arts) and subsequently left for parts unknown for self-training, leaving young Kasumi in charge of her family's dojo. As such, she hounds the Kyokugen-ryuu users (specifically Ryo) in Art of Fighting 3 and throughout The King of Fighters series with the hopes of besting them so that her father can return home (little does she know that Ryuhaku is actually following Kasumi to see how she's progressed as a heiress to the style). Kasumi holds no real ill-will towards the Kyokugen Team (she even teamed up with Ryo's kid sister Yuri on the Women Fighters Team in KOF 2000); it's simply a family obligation.
  • Mass Effect has Ashley Williams, Military Brat following in the footsteps of her father, grandfather and great-grandmother. Unfortunately, her family has been unofficially blacklisted since her grandfather surrendered to the turians during the brief First Contact war (even though his only other option was letting his troops starve).
    Takes a special kind of thickheaded to march into a job where your family's blacklisted. Did it anyway.
  • Tomb Raider (2013): Played straight and then subverted with Lara's friend Sam, a descendant of Himiko. She begins the game admiring and respecting her ancestor to the extent that Lara remarks that she loves telling Himiko's story. Near the end of the game, after everything they've been through, Sam explicitly states she hopes she never hears Himiko's name again.
  • Not a particularly prominent examples, but the von Karmas from the Ace Attorney series certainly qualify. Manfred von Karma is a prosecutor who has never lost a case in forty years, and he's raised his daughter, Franziska, and his adopted son/student, Miles Edgeworth, to do the same.
    Franziska von Karma: A von Karma is someone who is destined to be perfect! Miles Edgeworth... You are no longer worthy! You are no longer worthy of being a von Karma! And neither am I!
    • To a much lesser extent, the Fey family. Being the future Master of the Kurain Channeling Technique appears to have its ups and downs for Maya Fey, but, if nothing else, it seems to be the source of a lot of pressure and uncertainty.


     Web Original  

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, family honor is a big deal to the more traditional Yamatian clans such as the Hyuga and the Ofuchi, so much so that many Yamatians would rather commit suicide than bring dishonor upon their clan.

     Western Animation  

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - Zuko had a confused and skewed idea of what having honor entailed. He sought to earn back his honor in his father's eyes, before realizing that his Uncle had already taught him to be an honorable man. Walking the Earth for a while helped.
  • Ewoks - the first season episode Wicket's Wagon is centered around this, as the Warrick brothers find an abandoned battle wagon in the forest. Having learnt that it's built by his grand-grandfather, Wicket decides to rebuild it and later, when the Duloks steal it, get it back.
  • Deconstructed in The Book of Life. Manolo wants to make his family proud, but he doesn't want to follow the bullfighting career, if it means killing the bull. There's also how his love for music is choice of career. This leads to some estrangement with his father. Reconstructed when Manolo uses his music skills to calm the demonic bull and earns his family's, including his father's, approval.

     Real Life  

  • Ancient Romans had a belief that psychological and moral attributes were passed down geneologically. As a result family honor could decide elections.
  • Almost universal in societies that haven't an effective state and often hangs along even then. People need help to survive and the obvious one to turn to is one's cousin. As everyone else in the area will be doing the same, family honor is one way of regulating the relations between different families.
  • The Middle-Eastern concept of namus.
  • Many Asian cultures, especially the Chinese and Japanese, are ancestor-worshippers.

Alternative Title(s): Family Honour