Names for mother's boyfriend/unmarried "father" in laws..
September 14, 2020 11:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a story featuring a character who is the boyfriend of the mother of my protagonist and am looking for as many terms for this role as I can find.

These characters build a family unit and he is an active parental figure, a step-father in all but law. I am looking for as many words as possible - colloquial, archaic, kind/pejorative nicknames etc - for a mother's boyfriend/unmarried step-father figure from a childs perspective. Thanks!
posted by mani to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My kids called my mother's husband, John. Also called "Saint John" because he dealt with my mother without complaint.
posted by AugustWest at 11:38 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]

posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:04 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

AugustWest's response is very similar to my experience. Unless you're looking for a title, that person is typically referred to by their actual name.
posted by wile e at 12:34 AM on September 15

(Sorry I mis read, I called mine by his first name, or dad as I got older.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 AM on September 15

I would always say "my mum's partner" or "my mum's boyfriend" but really I would avoid using any words at all because it would draw people's attention to the fact that a) my mum and dad aren't together and b) my mum is dating/not married. So when people would ask about "my parents" I would say "my mum does x" etc.
posted by london explorer girl at 2:07 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

In Sweden he would be called bonus father
posted by TheRaven at 2:19 AM on September 15 [10 favorites]

Just to clarify slightly I am looking to use these in a long conversation the protagonist has about these types of names, not for her to use when actually referring to the step-father figure. For that she uses his first name, as in AugustWest's example above. Thanks!
posted by mani at 2:39 AM on September 15

Everyone I have ever met has referred to my dad's partner as my "um, stepmother", and I'd always counter that she wasn't my stepmom because my mom wasn't dead, and they'd say impatiently "Yeah of course I know, but...", implying that there was no better word for it and I should just suck it up. Was annoying as fuck.
Might be helpful for your convo?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:47 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

posted by inexorably_forward at 2:49 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]

A bit of a stretch from your question, but Omnomnom brought back a memory: I never knew what to call my stepfather's mother. She never invited me to call her Grandma or whatever her blood grandkids called her, although I was only seven when my mom and her son got married. I defaulted to saying "Um..." if I ever needed to get her attention, so she became "Um" when talking about her with my friends.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:26 AM on September 15 [10 favorites]

In a different era I heard shack-up honey. Also partner, dude, boy toy, prick, “feller,” (pronounced with verbal air quotes), buddy, lover-boy, associate, “sweeeeetie” (dripping with sarcasm), sugar daddy (ditto) and arsehole.

(I have creative nephews.)
posted by warriorqueen at 3:42 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

A really awful person could call him Uncle Claudius.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:50 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

In high school, my friend called her de-facto-then-legal-stepdad "my Bill." It was so intimate and sweet that I was envious even though my parents were married.
posted by headnsouth at 5:46 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Mum's latest
Genghis Khan
William the Conqueror
The Boarder
Mr. Murdstone
That Guy
Him/He (capitalized in the middle of sentences)
Humbert Humbert
The Man of The House
New Father
The Gentleman Caller
Alexander Zalachenko

Terms referring to personal traits:
Mr. Pipe-and-a-Cardigan
Mr. It's-a-lovely-morning-Honey
Mr. Morning-Cigarette-in-the-Bathroom
Mr. Nose-Hair
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:49 AM on September 15

My dad has been living with his girlfriend for over thirty years. I like her but she didn't raise me, so I don't think of her as my mom at all. I call her Linda when speaking to her or if I need to refer to her to people who know us.

But one time we were at breakfast with a big group of church friends and I was telling some sort of anecdote in which I mentioned "my dad and stepmom." My husband piped up loudly and said "why did you call Linda your stepmom? Did they get married?" At which point I had to give him my most withering look as I explained in front of the whole room full of people that since the exact nature of their relationship wasn't relevant to the story, I'd decided to save time by referring to her as stepmom rather than "the woman my dad has been shacking up with for 30 years." It got a laugh.

As far as other names for a not-quite-step-parent, I think a lot of people these days either just go with stepmom/stepdad to save time, and/or insert some kind of awkward explanation "well their stepdad... I mean, he and the mom aren't married but they've been together since the kids were little and they think of him as their dad..."

As a kid in the 70s in the midwest, after my parents divorced my mom had live-in boyfriends well before it was fashionable or acceptable. People referred to them in various ways: "The mom's boyfriend" could be neutral or ugly depending on whether it was spoken with a nasty curl of the lip and an emphasis on the word "boyfriend." "Shack-job" got some play, as did "the man that the mom is laying up with" and "her live-in". If there were any kind ways of saying it, I never heard them back then.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:58 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

On re-read of the question, as a kid I myself would have referred to the guy as "my mom's boyfriend" or "Frank" or "my step-dad." Nothing clever or creative, I just settled on a good-enough term and used it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:20 AM on September 15

Another Swedish term, less positive than bonus-pappa is plastpappa, or Plastic Pop. Uncle Name is a classic of course. My partner always referred to her mom’s husband of many years, but who my partner never shared a home with as “my mothers husband”. I usually referred to him as my father-in-law as he fulfilled that role as my mother-in-law’s husband, even though he was never my partners father.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 6:22 AM on September 15

I had a friend who called the one in her life "the consort."
posted by jgirl at 6:37 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

My teenage kids call my partner their quasi-stepdad, sorta-stepdad, not-quite-stepdad. And also their mom's boyfriend.
posted by yawper at 6:40 AM on September 15

Mom's next husband. Or just Mom's Next.
posted by jenquat at 7:41 AM on September 15

If he's a non-legal father figure, maybe some other fatherly name that hadn't been used for their own father? Pop, papa, "father" in another language (my technically step-grandfather goes by Pepe, an affectionate French term for grandfather, with much more love than my grandmother's first husband.). If he's been parenting them since they were quite young, maybe a malapropism of his given name.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:07 AM on September 15

"-equivalent" is what I use for my long-time partner's family. So mother-in-law-equivalent, and (probably) stepfather-equivalent.
posted by Dotty at 10:18 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

Everyone I have ever met has referred to my dad's partner as my "um, stepmother", and I'd always counter that she wasn't my stepmom because my mom wasn't dead

I don't quite get this. Isn't it possible to have a stepmother even if one's mother is still living?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:37 AM on September 15 [9 favorites]

It might be different in English. In German, the word very much has the connotation of "marries your father and takes the place of your mother".

Which might be relevant if you actually lived in their household rather than at your real mother's house, or if your mother were out of the picture as a mother. Otherwise, it feels off.

I would have thought, "your dad's girlfriend" would suffice, but people really shied away from that, as if there were anything wrong with it. Instead, they preferred to call it a quasi-filial relationship which was emphatically not the case.

"Stepmother" is such a hold over from a time in which a man whose wife died took a new wife because someone had to run the household and parent the kids. We need better words.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:03 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

I used to call my stepdad "my dad" (and my biological father "my father"). This reflected the levels of affection I felt for the two men. (stepdad married mum eventually, but for 10 years they weren't married)

Also news to me that stepmother/Stiefmutter implies the mother is dead. My stepmother and I used to joke that she was the "böse Stiefmutter" (in fact I loved her a lot). My mum is very much alive. Interesting tho: "von germ. *steupa, *steupaz, gestutzt, Stief, ähnlich dem idg. *steup-, stoßen, schlagen, Stock, Stumpf".
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:26 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

My family uses out-law for most 'not legally binding` relationships like this. Also extra, as in extra-sister. The one I used to need to talk about but couldn't find a word for is non-married partner of an aunt or uncle, there were a bunch of those relevant at various times growing up.
posted by buildmyworld at 1:12 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

I'm using "Acting Father" and "Acting MIL" for my partner's confusing family.
posted by gakiko at 1:13 PM on September 15

Everyone I have ever met has referred to my dad's partner as my "um, stepmother", and I'd always counter that she wasn't my stepmom because my mom wasn't dead, and they'd say impatiently "Yeah of course I know, but...", implying that there was no better word for it and I should just suck it up. Was annoying as fuck.

Hahahahah, this sounds like reading Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, in which Ivan has the same problem and "um stepfathers" awkwardly all the time and everyone else thinks he should suck it up too.

I say "my mother's boyfriend" if he's around so as to not freak him out, but "honorary stepfather" or "honorary stepbrother" are what I think of the unofficial relatives in my head.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:33 PM on September 15

mom's boyfriend-in-law
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:03 PM on September 15

I know several who refer to this person as a "bonus dad" and "bonus daughter/son/kid"
If the kids are older and not living with him, "my mother's partner" is tried and true.
posted by metahawk at 6:11 PM on September 15

Adjunct father
Adjunct dad (Dadjunct!)
posted by doift at 6:24 PM on September 15

I keep changing how I interpret the question every time I re-read it, so here's my answer to both interpretations:

If you're asking about ways to refer to the family of a partner that one isn't married to, who would otherwise be an X-in-law, I've always used "out-law." My boyfriend's dad is my father-out-law, my sister's boyfriend is my brother-out-law.

This is both humorous and sincere. Because it is funny, but it's also a genuine, natural, standard usage for me and many people I know.

If you're asking how to refer to the person who would be your stepdad if he were married to your mom, but is instead all-but-married to your mom, I've heard and used:

future stepfather
mom's, uh, friend
that guy who's always hanging around

But those are all definitely intended to be silly or snarky. I don't know that I've heard a more standard/official name for this besides "mom's boyfriend".
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:20 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

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