How to address relatives

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Thu Sep 2 15:17:40 EDT 1999

On Thu, 2 Sep 1999 18:53:54 +0100, Philip.Belben at wrote:
>Sally wrote:

>> children say!  More difficult were the courtesy aunts and uncles we
>> collected. In my teens I felt silly saying "Auntie Claire" and "Uncle Ross"
>> to people who were no relation, and tried to change over to "Mr and Mrs
>> Bennet". That hurt their feelings, and they offered first names as an
>> alternative. I couldn't manage that though... it seemed disrespectful. In
>> some cases I compromised with Mr and Mrs D etc.
>Philip said:

>Aunts and uncles - another dimension.  Few of my aunts, courtesy or otherwise,
>were ever called Auntie (thankfully).  Most others were Aunt Joan, etc.; one
>aunt insisted right from the start that we address her as ******** - but then
>she thought I ought to call my parents by their first names...

I read a story once--probably in Reader's Digest--about a woman who didn't
want her grandkids calling her Granny or Grandma or Nana or anything like
that.  She said she had always wished she were called Delilah and that's
what she wanted the kids to call her.  (It was not her real name.)  Her
husband got in on the action too...only I've forgotten what he wanted to be
called, only that it was also a proper name that was not his own.  It was so

I always used "Aunt" when referring to my biological aunts, but when I'm
talking about my siblings and sibs-in-law with my own kids, I just use their
first names.  Of my parent's friends, we got around it by saying "Jill's
mom" or whatever, or (if they were members of our church) "Sister So and So"
for courtesy.  I knew I was a grownup when I finally felt comfortable using
those people's first names when speaking of and to them.

>To bring this back on topic, I notice that in Sudden Wild Magic, Zillah, when
>talking to Marcus, refers to herself as Mum, but Marcus always addresses her as
>Zillah (and his aunt as Amanda, FWIW).  Is this common among small children?  It
>certainly adds an extra touch of individuality to the characterisation.

It's not common for small kids to pick up on this on their own.  Most kids
use whatever title their parents come up with.  My theory is that it
reinforces the idea of the parent as an authority figure--something kids
generally care a lot about.  Calling a parent by her first name brings her
closer to the level of a peer.  But other than the parents who request that
their children use their first names, I don't know when or why a child would
do it on their own.  It IS a nice touch in Sudden Wild Magic, too!  (When my
kids were babies, for example, I'd play games with them like peekaboo and
say "where's Mommy?"  Also you get to the point where you're desperate for
them to start speaking and you repeat things like "can you say Mama?" and
naturally they pick up on that.  Two months later when they're actually
talking you begin to wonder why you didn't appreciate the silence when you
had it.)

Melissa Proffitt
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