“Bonus Mom” and other name alternatives: what are your favorite terms for additional parents?

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Photo by trharla.
Reader Brigitte recently emailed us about using the term “Bonus Mom” an awesome alternative to step-mom — which reminded us of this comment on Offbeat Mama:

I am a bonus-parent — a term I read in one of the MANY books I devoured when I first became involved with a man that had FIVE kids from a previous marriage. I’m an extra parent. “Step” always makes a person think of Cinderella and her evil stepmother and sisters.


Brigitte loved the term so much that she came up with a couple of ways you can use it: when Dad remarries to a man (Bonus Dad!), Dad wants to be called Mom now, and additional parents in Poly families, to name a few. Clearly bonus [insert parent here] is great since it can be applied to so many relationships, but what other terms are you guys using in your families?

Let’s continue the discussion found at What do you kids call you? and What can we call ourselves besides aunt and uncle?

Comments on “Bonus Mom” and other name alternatives: what are your favorite terms for additional parents?

  1. I would love to hear peoples thoughts on this! My wife and I are using our best friend as a known donor, and we’re all still collectively searching for what to call him and his wife. We’re all fine with some version of ‘Dad’, but then what do we call his wife? Weird if she’s “aunt” and he’s “dad”, but super creepy (to us – I know some people love it) if he’s “uncle” and also literally dad. Three versions of ‘mom’ ‘mommy’ and ‘mama’ seems rather excessive. So I can’t wait to hear everyone else’s awesome bonus names!

      • Both they and my wife are from the south and honorifics are pretty much socially required. Kids use ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ for both actual relatives and close family friends, or “Miss (First Name)” and “Mr (First Name)” for all other adults. First names only are not considered polite.

        • I would almost go with the Aunt/Uncle in this case – simply because it *could* be a little confusing if he’s a variation of Dad and she’s Aunt!

        • People wonder why my son calls people “Miss (First Name) and “Mr (First Name)”. For some reason, when I respond, “Because I’m from the south,” they don’t understand. He absolutely doesn’t call anyone by their first name — in my region, it’s rude.

        • My mom is from the south too, so we always grew up calling everyone by proper titles. My parent’s friends were always “Aunt Laura” or “Uncle Dave” or “Miss Janet”
          I still do it with my son. My husband’s best friend is “Uncle Jim”
          Old habits die hard ๐Ÿ™‚

        • That’s a Southern thing?

          I have wondered about why my cousin (who is from Oklahoma) seemed so concerned with finding an honorific/kinship term to use when talking about me to her kids. Neither “Cousin” nor “Aunt” seemed quite right and so she often calls me “Miss [Name]”, which sounds weird and archaic to me, but she can call me whatever she likes, as far as I’m concerned.

          But if, in the South, honorifics are required, that totally makes sense.

          I’m from central California and we don’t use honorifics much here. Even most of my collage professors went by just their first names (Except my Japanese teacher, who we called Sensei).

        • Dude I’m from the South, and up until I was a teenager I referred to my half brother as “Brother Ryan”!!

          I always thought adding some kind of honorific was just what one did. I didn’t realize until adulthood it was a Southern thing.

    • If she, you and your wife are all okay with the the title of bonus mom, I think that’s fitting. I have two bonus families. It’s how I’ve always referred to them. I’m not super close with my bonus parents, but I use the term out of respect. She may prefer that your child simply call her by her name though. My siblings do that…I’m the only one who uses “bonus.”

    • I donated my egg to my BFF for a traditional surrogacy. She named me God mother, but mostly calls me Aunt or Auntie. I think it’s a nice generic term for family that’s not in the family unit.

    • When explaining her role in your child’s life to others, I would say, she is his/her bonus mom. In terms of your child rerferring to her, I think Miss first name is good,or some nickname that your child comes up with all on his or her own. One of my friend’s sons calls his bonus dad “Mitten” and has since he was two. No one knows why, it just evolved very organically.

  2. We call ourselves The Family Hunna since there are multiple last names involved. DD would call my DH dad all the time, but does say step when talking to my ex. I will let her choose what to call her father’s fiancรฉe as soon as they are married!

      • Typically, DD/DS mean Dear Daughter/Dear Son and DH is Dear Husband. Or so said the one or two parenting forums I’ve visited… and later fled. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • while I understand what they mean (and this is not about acronyms), I find it SO WEIRD that it’s DEAR [relative]. For example, I call my husband “husband”, “hubsy wubsy” “hunbun”, “cupcake head” or just “James”. I may refer to him as The Husband. But DEAR husband is WEIRD and totally foreign. Yet I’ve used that exact acronym on other sites. Any get me?

          • In my circles, adding “dear” is kind of a gentle put down, meaning “this person is a little less capable, so you should have some sympathy for them.” (If you’ve seen the Disney movie Brave, Merida says of one of the suitors “ah, wee lamb.” Something of that nature/tone.)

            Consequently, I’ve always read the “dear husband” as affectionate mocking, in the same vein as “the poor, dear man.” Now you’ve got me wondering what people were actually trying to convey!

      • I know that many people claim that the DH/DS/DD label means “Dear/Darling Husband/Son/Daughter”, some circles will agree that sometimes the “D” means “[email protected]”. I guess it depends on the context of the conversation. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. My girlfriend raises a son with her ex and his biological is Mom, my girlfriend is Gaga, and I go by my name. My 2-year old still calls my girlfriend by her name but has been tossing in Gaga after hearing his “brother” use it. I love it all ๐Ÿ™‚

    • And when a kid at the park referred to Gaga as “your Mom,” her son, who is 7, clarified, “That’s not my Mom. She’s kind of like.. my MomDad.”

  4. I know the whole thing is complex, and there’s no one answer that works for even a slice of the population. We let the kids decide what they wanted to call me. They mostly always used my first name. When their friends would call me their mom, as in “ask your mom” or “your mom called” they mostly just let it ride, not worth it to argue, since their actual mom was not in the picture. I also was the recipient of a lot of the mother’s day projects from school and such. I didn’t make a big deal out of any of it, just showed reasonably appropriate appreciation (and then usually locked myself in the bathroom and cried tears of joy/pain for how much I loved and how little she cared for them and how damn wrong it all was.)

    Bottom line, doesn’t matter much what they call you. It matters what you DO with/for them. That’s what really defines the relationship, IMO

    • the fact you would cry tears of Joy/pain for how much you love them and how sad you are for the situation they are in…THAT my friend, makes you a mom..what lucky lucky little ones they are to have you! And trust me..they know.

      • Oh Shanda, thanks so much for your kind words. And they aren’t little ones anymore. They are grown men. One in the air force, and the other just graduated college and is getting ready to go IN to the air force. As for lucky to have me, well, I am pretty sure they both feel that way, but more importantly I feel so lucky to have had them! Even if I never hear the words, it was so worth it, to have them with me, and see them become good people. Talked to one on the phone last night, he’s my boy, that’s for sure!

        • Well you did good Momma..that brought tears to my eyes. You have so much Grace and Love in your words..I wish many more “step” or blended parents had your insight to raising children. I see so many of my friends trying SO hard with their “step” children instead of just Loving them and being there for them… thats all they really want. I myself have a 20 year old son, a 13 year old son and 3 month old daughter..my two sons from a previous marriage. My husband and I are letting the relationship happen slowly and naturally..I do see that they ask him for certain advice that they would not ask their father. Since my boys are older and close to their Dad I know the relationship with my husband will be a different one..I just hope and pray they see that they have alot of love around them and people who care..Like you said…thats all the really matters.

          • “..I wish many more “step” or blended parents had your insight to raising children. I see so many of my friends trying SO hard with their “step” children instead of just Loving them and being there for themโ€ฆ”

            This isn’t always easy and love isn’t automatic. I think the important thing is that they’re trying.

  5. I just call my stepmom by her name, but I do call stepgrandparents Grandma [her name], Grandpa [his name], everyone seems to like it. My stepmom can’t wait to become Gramma [her name] to my kids!

  6. My boyfriend’s son calls me Gocky, because when he first started trying to say “Jacki,” that’s what came out. We were leaving a store and he was afraid I was getting left behind (I was looking at something else as they left), and he was barely 2, and was frantically calling, “No! Gocky!” ๐Ÿ™‚

    I like it because it came from him, authentically. Right now he calls my parents by their names but I hope that someday he’ll affix some grandparently endearments to them ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I like that! I had the nickname ‘Ooie’ growing up because I couldn’t pronounce my own name. It came from a time when my brothers were running away from me and I toddled behind them yelling, “Boys! Ooie!”

  7. we have [first name]-mom and [first name]-dad from my husband’s renfaire family. we’re still working on what to call his ‘aunt’ as both his biological aunts and his renfaire aunt have the same name (so we currently have 3 aunt [first name]). And i have no idea what we’re going to do once we start reproducing.

  8. I guess you can tell your kids to call you whatever. I refer to my step parents as “step parents” or “partners”, and call them by their first names when talking to them. My son calls all of them Grandpa, or Grandma (or Pop and Gram, because his step-cousin calls my dad and step mom that). We started calling them all by strange names, but my son got confused and just started calling them all by what he wanted. So I suppose you can call yourself what you want so as to make it less confusing/less hurtful to yourself, but know that your kid still knows you love him, and how you fit into his life no matter what your title.

    In our family, too, Aunt and Uncle is for both biofamily and very close friends. Cousins are any littles closely related by blood or marriage, even if they are actually 2nd or 3rd cousins of cousins or what have you. I think it’s a southern cultural thing.

    • Not just a southern thing! I call a lot of my mom’s friends Aunt or Uncle and all my cousins are cousins. I think in my case it comes from having a really small family. Mum’s brother passed away before I was born so there were no official aunts and uncles on that side but she had lots of close friends who I saw more than my actual aunt and uncle. And I only had 2 1st cousins, neither of whom lived close. But I went to school with other cousins. My dad’s family also used to gather regularly so it was just easier to assume everyone was a cousin than work out actual degrees of anything.

      Plus I’m adopted and none of my family growing up was biofamily. So all those titles were flexible for me anyway.

  9. My stepson refers to me as his skater mom since his dad is a skater and I’m his partner. He calls his bio mom his Florida mom since that’s where she lives.

    • That reminds me of what I called my Nanas, as I had one on each side of my family. I had a Kitty Nana (she had a cat) and a Juice Nana (she always had juice at her house).

  10. I call my stepdaughter my “stepdaughter” only when explaining her relation to me to somebody new. Otherwise I call her my daughter. When she was younger she referred to me as Mama Julie. I really miss it. She decided against it when she got older and now only calls me by name.

    • I considered trying to make Bonus Mom happen, but it felt forced and a little too cute. The kids have so many friends with blended families that using step-anything just isn’t that loaded for them, so I realized that I was trying to solve a problem that, for us, just didn’t exist.

  11. Right now, everything is fine. If/when I have kids, I feel for them. They will have three sets of grandparents (on my side I have a dad/stepmom and mom/stepmom). We’ll have to figure out what to call all of them. My cousins are my best friends, so I will refer to them as my children’s aunts and uncles. One day when they come across family relationships in school, they’re going to be in for an explanation!

    • The great thing about grandparents names is that there are a BAJILLION to choose from.

      My parents are deceased, but my grandparents are still with us. So my son calls them Nana and PawPaw like I did (they were in their 40s when I was born and felt too young to be Grandma and Grandpa). When my mom was alive she said she knew she would be Grandma so when I talk about her to my son I call her Grandma Elaine.

      My son’s paternal grandparents are Granny and Grandpa, and now he has a bonus set of grandparents via my fiance. we talked for awhile about what to call them, and tried Grandma Gail and Papa Eddie. Papa Eddie stuck but Grandma Gail because Gigi. (which I LOVE).

      When/if you do decide to have kids don’t fret. There are so many options everyone will be able to find something they like. I even recommend checking out other languages. A friend’s children call his parents the Armenian terms for grandparents cause they lived there for awhile. The choices really are just about endless.

  12. Growing up I lived with mom/stepdad then dad/stepmom. I always referred to the parents I wasn’t with by their location. I had an Ola mom and a Clarksville mom. I referred to them both as Mom when with them and used qualifiers when away. My family also has lots of shortened names used as terms of endearment–“Gigi” for Ginger, “Megs” for Megan, and more. It’s an easy/guilt-free/all-encompassing way to voice a special relationship without a title.

  13. I think it wasn’t until I got older that I realized how complicated families are. My parents both came from mixed families so I had extra relatives (both my grandfathers remarried and had more kids). I guess I just always assumed I was lucky and had extra grandparents. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I know my parents always just referred to their step-moms by their first names, but I think that’s because their dads remarried when they were older/out of the house.

  14. My stepdad essentially forced my brother and I to call him Dad, which I always resented. When talking to friends, we would usually say “my other Dad” to differentiate which one we were talking about. I actually don’t remember when/why we started using that term. When my Dad remarried, I was 11, and started calling my stepmom by her name, and then moved in with them when I was 14 and started calling her “Mumsey” on my own. I think that when not pressured, kids will generally come up with names on their own. I felt strange calling my stepmom’s parents by their first names since they were older, and it didn’t really seem respectful, but her mom was very sensitive to this and casually told me a story about their nicknames, and for a while I used them, and called them “Cuddles” and “Sparky.” Over time, as I grew more comfortable with them, I switched to Grandma and Grandpa on my own. I thought it was very sweet of her to gently suggest another name that she was ok with, and then completely leave it up to me.

  15. Both my husband and I come from divorced families, and we call all our ‘steps’ by their first names, even though we’re very close. My stepmom is also remarried after my father got out of the picture, and I call her husband by his first name as well. It just worked better for us. I do have step-grandparents, and over time we moved to calling them grandparent nicknames, though. I also call my Mom’s stepmom ‘Granny’.

    Once our kid is born now, we’ll be using grandparent nicknames for all parties involved, regardless of how they’re related. To her, they’ll all be the same thing, after all! It may have been weird to explain to people growing up, but I’m glad my kid is going to have more grandparents who adore her than she knows what to do with.

  16. This one is a complicated one in our family. My mom got married when I was a teenager. I called him by his first name, then made up some nicknames that each became more and more affectionate. Eventually, he and my mom got divorced and I stayed with him. I think that’s when he officially became Daddy. His parents I called the same thing all of my “step-cousins” did so they were Pap and first name. My mom remarried this past year, so her new husband I’ve always just called by his first name. My bio-dad I either call by his first name or refer to as my biological father.

    My son has been trying to understand the whole dad thing recently. He’s never met his bio-dad so the concept is confusing to him. He calls my daddy, Pap. His dad Pap pap and his mom nana. My daddy’s new wife goes by her first name to both of us. My bio-dad Grandpa Tony. The bio-dad’s wife grandma Yvette. My mom is Gramma, and her husband by his first name. Since we moved in with my boyfriend, now he calls him “my Mark”, but has been telling people when we get married he will be his new dad. My son is only 4, so I explain the relationships as age appropriately as I can. I try to let him approach his relationship with my boyfriend as naturally as possible. I figure it worked for me. I remember having a lot of pressure to call different people different things and being exhausted by it. I really appreciated my daddy letting me come to my own decision on how to address him. I ended up naming my son after him.

    • In our triad we have Mommy, Daddy, and Poppy (me) — the godparents are all “uncle” and “auntie” and all the grandparents are “grandma [firstname]” which just happened organically.

  17. My former roommate’s kid called me “Aunt Pizza” (because when he was two, he couldn’t say Kissa).

    My best friend’s mom has been like a second mother to me. I was over at their house so often as a kid that she began calling me “Alien Child” (as in, she’d come home from work, see that I was there, pantomime sniffing like a bloodhound and say with mock suspicion, “There’s an alien child in this house!”). It stuck, and now I call her A-Mum or Alien Mother.

  18. Our daughter calls her non-bio Mum MumL (pronounced Mummel), as her name is Laura. And I’m just Mummy. We all love it.

  19. As I was typing out a response, my soon-to-be daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, Mom, I love you Mommy!” There goes my ability to type coherently…

  20. I know a family that refers to bio-dad’s partner as their ‘two step mama’ because she loves to dance is just generally a fun and wonderfully lighthearted individual. A perfect fit.

  21. We started with “bonus mom,” but my son now refers to me as his “Steph-mom”. I realize this works for relatively few of us, but when he went from just calling me Steph to adding the mom designation, I melted.

    I struggle with “step” in both directions. Calling my husband’s son my step-son feels like I’m declaring to everyone that he’s not REALLY my son. Most of the time, I just refer to him as my son. The only time I end up referring to him as my step-son is when I tell anyone that I have three six-year-olds. I forget how difficult it can be to wrap one’s head around our family tree without using “step.”

    Then it goes like this:

    “You have triplets?”
    “No, my son is 17 days younger than the girls.”
    (sound of brain-gears grinding)
    “Oh, he’s my step-son.”
    (epiphany face)

    • You know, a lot of people seem to have negative associations with “step” but to me it is just helping explain, like you say–especially if there is a mom in the picture. I love my stepmother, but I usually refer to her that way because I also have a mother. And invariably, if I let it pass when someone refers to my stepmom as “your mom,” then my mom shows up or comes up in conversation and there is confusion…and it is fine with me to be referred to as a step-daughter. If she raised me, I might feel different, I guess.

      With grandparents, I don’t feel the need to explain as much–people are used to multiple grandparents, so nobody ever asks my son why he has six.

  22. My husband and I are god parents to a good friend’s daughter, she originally intended to refer to us as Aunt Steph and Uncle Trey…but since my friend trips over her words often, and we have always teased my husband about being especially feminine, we have become Aunt Trey and Uncle Steph.

    I’m from the south as well, and while I didn’t grow up with ms/mr for everyone, I had friends who did, so that all depends on family ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. While we’re at it, it would be GREAT to find new names for “ex-[spouses]” to refer to each other. When there’s a positive co-parenting relationship, “EX” sounds so negative — emphasizing how things are NOT rather than how things are… Any ideas??

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