A Guide to Inclusive Gender-Neutral Family Terms
As more LGBTQ+ people marry and have families, they’re welcoming a growing number of nonbinary, gender-neutral, and gender-expansive relatives. But the titles used for relatives tend to be old-fashioned and heavily gendered. If someone has nonbinary elders or children, for example, they may find themselves unsure about the best gender-neutral family terms for “uncle” and “aunt” or respectful gender-neutral words for “niece” and “nephew.”
However, there are gender-neutral family terms for every branch in one’s family tree. Though some of the labels are instantly familiar and understandable — like “parent” or “sibling” — others may seem newer and less familiar — like “moppa” or “pibling.”
People even make up new, unique terms for nonbinary and gender-neutral family members all the time to help describe the unique relationships they have with their relatives.
While some of the newer family terms below may require a bit of explanation so others can understand them, using these terms regularly will help normalize them, making them more widely accepted in the mainstream. (There’s also a complete list of gender-neutral pronouns to help make nonbinary people feel welcome at any occasion — though some people use “rolling pronouns” too.)
Let’s explore some of the most adopted ways to ungender various family member labels below:
Mother /Mom / Father / Dad
Naturally, “parent” and “guardian” are the most commonly understood terms for someone with legal or parental rights to a child. Many of the words in this section, however, are less common and more endearing, leaning even into affectionate “child-speak.”
- Bapa: Uses the “b” from nonbinary with soft “a” vowel sounds
- Bibi: Uses the “b” from nonbinary and hard “i” vowel sounds
- Dida: Combines the hard “i” and soft “a” vowel sounds
- Nibi: Uses the “b” from non-binary and “i” vowel sounds (either hard or soft)
- Nini: Uses the “n” from non-binary and hard “i” vowel sounds
- Maddy / Moddy / Muddy: Combines “mommy / mummy” and “daddy”
- MaiMai: uses a hard “a” vowel sound
- Mombo: Combines “mom” and the hard “o” vowel sound
- Moppa: Combines “mommy” and “poppa” (popularized by the transgender TV series Transparent)
- Zaza: Uses soft “a” vowel sounds
- Sibling/Sib: short for “sibling”
- Sibster/Sibter: a mixture of “sibling” and “sister” with a hard “b” sound
Most of the terms in this section are more commonly understood.
- Oldest: referring to one’s eldest child
- Youngest: referring to one’s most recently born child
- Spawn: a humorous term, usually applied to underwater creatures
The gender-neutral terms for “uncle” and “aunt” either combine the two words or use affectionate “child-speak” nicknames.
- Pibling: a mixture of “parent’s sibling”
- Auncle: a mixture of “aunt” and “uncle” (though make sure to emphasize the “au” vowel sound)
- Titi: a mixture of the Spanish words for “aunt” (tia) and “uncle” (tio) — though “titi” is Spanish is similar to “auntie”
- Zizi: a mixture of the Italian words for “aunt” (zia) and “uncle” (zio) — though “zizi” is also French child slang for “penis”
- Unty/Unitie: a mixture of “uncle” and “auntie”
Gender-neutral terms for “niece” and “nephew” tend to combine the words or acknowledge the child’s relationship to one’s own sibling.
- Nibling: a slang mixture of “non-binary” child of a “sibling” (Jennifer Lopez uses this term!)
- Chibling: a mixture of “child of my sibling”
- Sibkid: a mixture “my sibling’s kid”
- Nephiece: a mixture of “nephew” and “niece”
- Niecew: a mixture of “niece” and “nephew”
- Nieph: a mixture of “niece” and “nephew”
“Grandparent” and “grandchild” are the most commonly used nonbinary terms for these relatives, but some people use the less common nonbinary slang terms for parents or aunts and uncles to designate grand-relations (like “zaza,” “bibi,” or “titi.”
“Godparent” and “godchild” are the most commonly used nonbinary terms for these relatives.
- Beloved: formal, implies serious devotion
- Birlfriend: combines “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”
- Bothfriend: emphasizes one’s nonbinary gender identity
- Boygirlfriend / Girlboyfriend: combines “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”
- Casual partner: implies a non-exclusive relationship, possibly sexual
- Companion: implies a longer-term relationship
- Cuddle Buddy: implies physical contact, but possibly non-sexual
- Datefriend / Datemate: emphasizes the dating aspect of the relationship
- Enbyfriend: emphasizes one’s nonbinary gender identity (enby/NB)
- Feyfriend: “fey” is sometimes confused with “fae” or “fay” (old words for fairies or queers)
- Loveperson: emphasizes their non-gendered identity and romantic feelings
- Lover: implies a sexual relationship but can also refer to romantic partners
- Mate: can be a bit ambiguous unless one specifies “romantic”
- Mavourneen: an Irish word meaning “my darling”
- Other half: implies a serious, long-term relationship
- Partner: can be a bit ambiguous unless one specifies casual, romantic, sexual, etc.
- Personfriend: a neutral alternative to “boyfriend / girlfriend”
- Significant Other/S.O.: formal, implies a serious, long-term relationship
- Soulmate: can imply a seriously close bond, either platonic or romantic
- Sweetie / Sweetheart: affectionate, slightly old-fashioned, emphasizes romantic feelings
Fiancée / Fiancé
“Betrothed” is an old-fashioned word that means a person that one is engaged to marry. However, some of the terms for girlfriend/boyfriend listed above may also work.
Wife / Husband
“Spouse” and the somewhat disparaging “ball and chain” are both gender-neutral terms that can refer to one’s married partner. However, some of the terms for girlfriend/boyfriend listed above may also work.
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Gender-Neutral Family Terms Are Here to Stay
Gender-neutral family terms are becoming increasingly popular as a way to break down traditional gender roles and create a more inclusive language for families of all kinds.
By introducing gender-neutral terms such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father,” families can avoid unnecessary assumptions about their structure and foster an environment of respect and understanding. This doesn’t just apply to the queer world.
With the growing recognition of the importance of gender equality, it is likely that the evolution and use of gender-neutral family terms will continue to be embraced in the years to come.