Name that unconventional relationship
November 27, 2017 5:22 AM   Subscribe

Do you have an unconventional relationship with a person in your life? What do you call them? Examples: nonbinary family members; chosen family; various kinds of romantic and sexual partners.

I started thinking about it because I don't know what I want my nieces to call me (I am genderqueer), and then continued down that path because my friend and I don't know what to call each other either (we are romantically and sexually involved but are committed to maintaining a lot more independence than you usually see in romantic relationships). But I'm also very curious about all the different kinds of relationship-names people here use in their daily lives.
posted by libraritarian to Human Relations (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm adopted but talk regularly with my biological mom and my biological half-sister. I didn't meet them until I was 20. It was important to me to have language to use for them that was loving and respectful and familial, but different from the language I used with my family
who raised me, so as not to appear to diminish those existing and very important relationships. So when I'm talking about my biological mom, I usually call her "biomom", or I call her by her first name. When I'm talking to her, I always just call her by her first name. As far as my biological half-sister, I call her my sister. I think these names work well for me because I am an only child, so the name "mom" was taken, but the name "sister" was available.
posted by cnidaria at 6:15 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mostly I just refer to my chosen family as exactly that, "chosen family." One exception is that I have been known to refer to one particularly close and beloved friend as my queerplatonic partner, or if I am in a situation where I know I can expect the other people in the discussion to understand the term I might opt for "zucchini." (But usually not, that's a step too silly for me most of the time. Once in a while it's appropriate, though.)
posted by Stacey at 6:21 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a much-younger half-sister (she'll be 5 this week!) whom I refer to as my sister.

Also, in my family, it's a mark of respect to refer to older men and women who are close to us as "Grandpa" or "Grandma", regardless of whether or how they're actually related. We call my grandma "Honzee"*.

*My grandpa has always called her "my Honey". When my cousin and I were much younger, we were overheard wondering aloud why Grandpa kept calling her his Honzee and Honzee she became.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:40 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My partner is, well, my partner in a fairly heteronormative sense. But I've called him my sweetheart since we got together about six years ago.
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:03 AM on November 27, 2017

I have a bunch of stepsiblings and I call my stepsister my sister, because we have worked in our adulthood to be siblings. I have one stepbrother who feels close enough to call brother, and one with whom I have no contact. The other doesn’t seem to feel I’m his sister and that’s okay - the last time we saw each other was in 1997.

My stepdad I always called by his first name, but when I described him to others he was my stepdad. My mom’s current partner I call by his first name and he doesn’t mind not being my dad in any sense. We are close, and when I think how he might be related to my kid, ‘uncle’ is my default. My dad’s current partner is ‘firstname,’ never stepmom, and while she calls herself my kid’s grandma I always feel a reservation in my own mind. My kid loves her and calls her grandma firstname and that is fine with me - I think of it as a tiny gift I am giving both of them.

I call my partner my partner although we are in a cishet marriage. It feels right not to relentlessly gender our relationship - plenty of that work gets done for us.

What’s the inverse of nibling? I’ve seen people online use nibling to avoid gendering those who might otherwise be nieces or nephews and I always like it - it makes them sound extra cute somehow. I have no idea what the etymology of that word is but maybe there’s a word there for you?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2017

I have a close nb friend who describes me as their sister. They are my kin.
posted by Laura_J at 7:19 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

My husband's family is pretty small and he's very close to his cousins. When I married him, I started calling his cousins my cousins, and when they got married, I started calling their partners my cousins, and now I call their kids my cousins and all of those people are my kids' cousins.

Those cousins have cousins from the other side of their family that we are also close to and those are also our cousins, as are their partners and children. Cousins everywhere!
posted by padraigin at 7:25 AM on November 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm a trans man and was out to my sister, but not out in public when she had her kids. She had the kids call me by my first name and didn't refer to me as their uncle until I transitioned. (But she also never referred to me as their aunt.)

My partner is NB and is just... my partner. They also refer to me as their partner or "the pumpkin", instead of "boyfriend".

My mother was widowed when I was 27 and remarried a widower when I was 39. I suppose her husband is technically my step-father, but I just refer to him by his first name or as "my mom's husband". We have a warm relationship, but his role isn't that of a father, nor does it need to be.

I'd also never think to refer to his adult sons (late 30s) as my step-brothers -- we have zero contact because they are being piss-babies about the marriage. (They don't approve of their dad remarrying at *all* out of "respect" to their dead mom.) And as middle-aged adults, there's no need for us to force a relationship. I refer to them by their names in polite company.

I am very active as an out trans man in various fandoms and many college-aged trans folks whom I've mentored call me Dad. :3

I have a step-grandmother who has always been referred to by her first name within the family. I call her my step-grandmother, which is a term that seems to surprise people...?
posted by Wossname at 7:33 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Within various complicated family ties, my family seems to have just chosen to use the most direct names (like "grandmother", "cousin" or "sister") even for people who are technically, biologically, legally or generationally NOT that, as long as it serves the social purpose of the relationship.

For example, I have "cousins" who I call "cousins" because they are my age and we share ancestors, but technically their DAD is my cousin, so they are my ....cousins-once-removed (?) and I am their second cousin (??). Maybe the other way around? See, I don't even know if that's right. Too complicated. Cousins it is.

(In your case, would you feel comfortable if your nieces just used your first name? I know lots of people just address aunts and uncles by their names without the aunt/uncle prefix, and it doesn't seem strange to me to leave it out for that relationship, and would solve your problem. Alternative, there's the word "auncle", which I only learned about recently through this.)
posted by easternblot at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2017

Oh -- my uncle remarried a few years ago and at 34 I got a new cousin out of the bargain. She's wonderful, lives in the same city as me, and we hang out once a week or so. I call her my pseudo-cousin.
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:49 AM on November 27, 2017

When I got pregnant, I had a partner, but there was never a plan to co-parent. 15+ years later she is still an important person in my daughter's life who is not a parent. She sees my daughter once a week, every week, and we consider each other family. At first we called her the "Special Aunt", but mostly she's just Auntie.

My gender is a bit in between and I often feel weird IDing myself as my daughter's mother - it's not wrong but it's not quite right either. So when IDing myself on the phone or to other parents or whatnot I usually say, "I'm So-and-so's parent" instead of saying I'm her mom.
posted by latkes at 7:50 AM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a linguist and I'm nonbinary and have nephews, so I've thought about this a bunch, and I think the solution is babytalk.

Like, lots of families have special private kids' versions of kinship terms, right? So grandma and grandpa either get called 'grandma' and 'grandpa' in some other language (bubbe and zayde, or nainai and yeye, or whatever) or they get called some babytalk version of those names?

In my family, the babytalk versions of 'grandma' and 'grandpa' are both boppa.

And, y'all, it's fucking magic. People who ordinarily roll their eyes at gender-neutral coinages (nibling, chairperson, gestating parent, whatever) just smile and go along with this one, I guess because it's cute and funny and fits the tradition of weird grandparent nicknames. I don't think most of the family even realize that they're Using Gender Neutral Language when they call my dad 'boppa David.' They're just doing the cute fun family babytalk thing that my nephews do.

Anyway, if I were Queen of the Universe, I'd totally have my family do the same thing with 'aunt' and 'uncle,' so I could be 'umma Leah' or whatever instead of 'aunt Leah' and my dude cousin could be 'umma Alex' instead of 'uncle Alex.'
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:59 AM on November 27, 2017 [25 favorites]

People who ordinarily roll their eyes at gender-neutral coinages (nibling

YMMV, I universally get smiles when I use "nibling", and I came here mainly to recommend that as a good usable non-gendered word for a familiar relation.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:28 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mr. Ant and I use 'pelvic affiliate' to describe couples of any gender who don't live together, or we're unsure of their status except we know they're involved somehow. It's a bit crass and a bit funny, and we find it useful to describe relationships we don't know (and would never ask) the details of.
posted by workerant at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2017 [12 favorites]

A friend uses “wusband” for her nonbinary marital partner. Other poly friends use “spice” as a plural for “spouse” (like mice/mouse).

My sex partners of various levels of casualness have been referred to as my lover, paramour, or fuckbuddy.
posted by metasarah at 9:42 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dad was adopted and we met his biological father and his maternal grandparents. I called the grandparents Grandma and Grandpa TheirSurname, even though they were my great-grandparents. We called Dad's biodad Grandpa Shane.

This is similar to how we called my mother's stepmother - we called her Grandma Laverna.

Dad's biomom is still difficult for me. We've never met her because she adamantly didn't want to meet us, yet I do mention her a bit because we did meet and have a good relationship with her parents, so she comes up in conversation. I call her "my dad's birth mother", which seems long and awkward, but I also feel weird calling her "my grandmother" because she really wasn't a grandma to me. I guess I need a name for her...

I do agree with the previous poster who suggests to just make up a name for yourself. We called my mom's mom "Mutti" because they lived in Germany and that's what my mom called her. My niece and nephews call me "Tía Sarah" because they already have an Aunt Sarah on the other side of their family. It will turn into a great family story one day when your descendants gather around the Christmas tree and ask, "Hey, why did you guys call your grandfather 'Bunny'?"
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:06 AM on November 27, 2017

I will probably catch shit for this, but it wasn't my idea, so...
I have a very good friend who has a daughter who is younger than my daughter. The daughter and I also became very good friends. I am white (well, jewish/spanish/native american), and she is black. She refers to me as her white mom, and to herself as my black daughter. So I usually refer to her as either my 'other daughter" or my black daughter.

And an entirely different situation - my best friend of twentyish years (who is something like 15 years younger than me) is planning to have kids soon. And we are looking into having me officially adopt her (my best friend) so that I will legally be the kids' grandmother. We don't yet know what names we're going to use for all that.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:28 AM on November 27, 2017

My NB partner is using ankle for halfway between Uncle and Aunt. It's a little clumsy with the body part having the same pronunciation so I don't know if it'll last.
posted by Candleman at 11:03 AM on November 27, 2017

I'm nonbinary, my oldest sister has 2 sons and a daughter. Neither me or my other sister have titles, we both just go by nicknames. I'm both kiki and kake. It works both as a name and an honorific. "How was your day kake?" and "Give your kake a hug goodbye". ((My mother, when we still talked, tried very hard to get the kids to refer to me and my other sister as "aunts". We were adults, though, and promptly shut that down, much to her anguish. ))

My aforementioned sister has a platonic life partner sort of deal, she refers to him as her squish, babe, and bestie.

omg, metasarah, "spice" is the best thing ever??
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:48 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

A fellow NB friend of mine uses "untie" or "unty," pronounced un-tee. It's the first half of uncle and the second half of auntie, or the reverse of Candleman's suggestion.
posted by zebra at 12:20 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I’m a cis, fairly-het woman who has been “involved,” “seeing,” whatever, my best friend, who is a cishet man, for 7.5 years. We are good friends and physically intimate and more Feelings™ than my usual FWB. We have an unorthodox situation for Reasons, including separate residences, both frequently busy/ out of town with work, he has kids, etc. I generally refer to him as my partner, because he’s not my boyfriend and he’s not my husband, but he’s not just my booty call, either, and we bounce a lot of life decisions and problems of off each other. No one, even in my conservative field, says anything (at least to my face) and accepts and uses the terminology I have chosen.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 12:38 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

When talking to others about your friend, "Companion" has a long history as a flexible term for someone who is closer than is generally signified by "friend" and less monogamous than "partner"

As an adult, if you were your niece, I would refer to you by first name directly and "father's sib" when talking to others. For child, I think something like zebra's suggestion of "un-tee" would be perfect.
posted by metahawk at 1:07 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My son refers to my younger half-sister as his "zeezee." She was a teenager when he was born and questioning her gender at the time, so this was much more appealing to her than aunt. Even though she now identifies as cis, the name has stuck.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:33 PM on November 27, 2017

Oh gosh, I love companion. What a perfect word. I floated the idea past my friend and her response is "it has sort of the same feeling as romantic friend, which I also like but is weirder to say in conversation." I think that's the winner.

Metahawk, your suggestions are very good ones. Since the nieces are little I'll talk to them and my sister about what they might like to call me, but I am definitely in favor of just going by my first name if they're game.

It makes my heart happy to hear all these descriptions of the complicated relationships we have.
posted by libraritarian at 1:36 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

bro (non-gendered IMO)
"we are very close" or "we are extremely close"
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:38 PM on November 27, 2017

also sometimes I just say their name and add on "who I love"
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:38 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I briefly tried to make "manpal" happen because I was feeling too old for "boyfriend" and have always thought "partner" sounded like we owned a donut shop together. Which sadly we do not. It didn't stick and I'm back to boyfriend or partner, depending on context.
posted by Smearcase at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2017

My friends from high school and I call one friend's mother Mom, even though she's only technically Mom to one of us. She calls us all her kids.

I've definitely been Auntie Limeonaire or Aunt Limeonaire to a couple friends' kids so far.

I'll occasionally call one of my best friends my platonic life partner. She basically is, except we live across the country from each other and I'm married to someone but yeah.
posted by limeonaire at 8:16 PM on November 27, 2017

A friend is expecting a niece/nephew but doesn't know or care the gender, so she calls the fetus her "nibling", which I find adorable. (I see from this thread that "nibling" is A Thing Others Also Do, but I think she made it up without knowing that!)

I know a queer family where the femme parent is Mommy and the butch parent is Poppy.

Another queer family where the co-parent is DiDi (sounds enough like Daddy to slip past strangers' ears without them making a fuss in casual conversation, also sounds cute, and the parent's actual name starts with D so it makes sense)

Caribbean people sometimes give their Aunties the nickname "Tantie" (from the French word for aunt = tante). Maybe the title "Mantie" (as in, Hi Mantie Joe!) could be cute in some queer contexts?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:14 PM on November 27, 2017

My closest friend and her husband have two small children who both call me Auntie. Their parents refer to me as the children's Auntie or their Fairy Godmother. Hence, I refer to them as my nephews or my godsons. We refer to each other as 'dear friend'.

My mother's closest friend calls me her daughter and I call her Nana. I occasionally refer to her as my godmother.
posted by ananci at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2017

My brother's ex-wife is my sister outlaw.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:29 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

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