What Does Black Sheep of the Family Mean?

Black Sheep Meaning

Definition: The oddball member of the family who does not fall in line with the others; the worst member of the family.

Also used as the shortened phrase black sheep, the black sheep of the family is someone who makes bad decisions or has a bad reputation within a family unit. While the rest of a family may follow laws, the person who is the black sheep of that family may have been to jail or is simply the “odd man out” when it comes to family relations.

While often used to describe a person with drastically bad behavior, the phrase can also be used to describe somebody who does not fit in with his or her family.

For example, a girl who wants to join the cheerleading squad while the rest of her sisters and mother are all competitive swimmers may feel like she is the black sheep of the family because she does not fit in with them.

Origin of Black Sheep of the Family

define black sheep

This phrase may have originated from the fact that black sheep were less valuable than white sheep because their wool was more difficult to dye various colors.

This phrase can also be traced to the Bible. A 1535 translation of the Bible includes the phrase “all blacke shepe amonge the lambes” [all black sheep among the lambs] in Genesis 30:32.

In this biblical sense, Jacob is negotiating a wage from Laban. Sensing Laban’s extreme selfishness, Jacob proposes that he be paid with animals, not with money, and that he will accept only the black or speckled sheep. Of course, that vast majority of sheep are white, so his pay would be very little.

Additionally, in the 1600s, Religious Puritans who immigrated to the Americas began using this phrase to describe people with unwanted behaviors. Thomas Shepard wrote In The Sincere Convert,

  • Cast out all the Prophane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, lyers, which the Scripture brands for blacke sheepe…

Commonly, the word black references negativity or evil, and so black sheep continues to be a phrase to describe an outsider or negative person.

Examples of Black Sheep of the Family

black sheep effectSomeone who has done something illegal or has been to jail might be called the black sheep of his or her family because he or she has embarrassed the family. However, a person does not have to have committed a crime to be a black sheep.

A man who has cheated on his wife might be referred to by his family members as the family’s black sheep because his family does not support his immoral choice.

People might also say, “I feel like the black sheep of the family” if they feel as if they do not fit in with the rest of their family. It is common to hear teens describe themselves as “black sheep” and emphasize their differences.

More Examples

  • Scott said Gomez killed Rosas because she wanted him out of her life. “He’s the black sheep of the family,” Scott said. –LA Times
  • “I’m in plastics,” says Alan, 59, “Eddie calls me the black sheep of the family [because his brothers work in music together instead of in the plastic industry]” –Chicago Tribune


The black sheep of the family is a person who makes bad or very different decisions and may not fit in within their family.