Origin of nepotism?


 nep·o·tis·tic \ˌne-pə-ˈtis-tik\ adjective

This satirical cartoon by Robert Cruikshank an alleged  network of personal connections between those then running Guys Hospital in London in 1830.  The subtitle is 'Sevilty Rewarded'

Dictionary definition nepotism:

To allocate favour or advantage to family or friends (e.g. giving your cousin a job rather than a better qualified stranger).

Today nepotism is most frequently referred to in the slang term nepo baby - see below 


The origin is the Italian word nepotismo  which comes from the Latin nepos for nephew. Notoriously, some less scrupulous Popes appointed their nephews as cardinals to maintain dynastic succession without flouting their vow of chastity. 

For instance, Pope Callixtus III, head of the Borgia family, made two of his nephews cardinals. One of them, Rodrigo, later became  Pope Alexander VI.[6] 

Alexander then elevated Alessandro Farnese, his mistress's brother, to cardinal; Farnese would later go on to become Pope Paul III.[7]

Paul III also engaged in nepotism, appointing  two nephews, aged 14 and 16, as cardinals.

What's in a name?

In 1692 Pope Innocent put an end to this practice in the Vatican but appointing what the Spanish call 'los tuyos' (your family members) remained endemic in other spheres.  Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, appointed his brother Louis, King of the Netherlands. 

Such direct patronage is less common now In US politics, for example, there are names that confer the advantage of instant recognition - Bush/Clinton/Kennedy - but none guarantees a path to the presidency.

Nepo Babies

In the contemporary world of celebrity there is a clear pattern of fame being passed from parent to child. The beneficiaries are known as nepo babies. Examples include Sofia Copolla (daughter of Francis) and Miley Cyrus (daughter of Billy Ray).

Less commonly this passes through extended families or even generations - the Barrymores and the Redgraves being acting dynasties.